As I have noted, many of the blogs I read resonate with me. All of the parents in the “lost children” club use many of the same words, metaphors, and analogies to describe their experiences. Externally, we seem to be so different; our situations, ages, and life experiences vary enormously. The circumstances of our children’s deaths are wide-ranging. I won’t get into the litany of causes; that is not important. What is important is that all of us, no matter who we are, where we are, how old we are, what the events surrounding the passing of our precious ones may be, have the same reaction. Feel the same emotions. Walk around in the same fog, stand on the edge of the same desolate sea, have the same waves crash over us, the same hollowed-out feeling; we grope through the same darkness. We alternate between agonizing heartache and total numbness and every shade in between. We seek to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless universe, one that has taken our lives and turned them inside out in an instant. We are all ripped apart, devastated, crushed, dreams destroyed, futures stolen, hearts shattered into a thousand shards, nearly unable to go on, and yet somehow we survive. Despite our dissimilarities, at the core our grief is exactly the same.
And yet, we differ from one another in the myriad ways that humans do. The key difference here is that I have lost my son, but he wasn’t your son. In the same way, your child wasn’t my Jake. I can spend time with charming, witty, intelligent, beautiful young men, and for that moment, can enjoy their company, can smile for the time, but the underlying ache for my beautiful boy is not assuaged. Those wonderful boys are not he, can never be him. Each of our children, no matter how old, or how much time we had to spend with them, is an irreplaceable gift. We each had a special and unique bond with them. In this way our grief is completely different for every one of us.
Jake and I had a life of experiences together. Our conversational shorthand spoke volumes with few words. We shared many interests, could talk about the most diverse subjects, moving from one to another without a hitch; photography, science, technology, (although he was miles ahead of me there), books, art, machines, cooking, food, the list goes on. I always looked at him through the lens of his entire life. It is strange. I could always see all the Jakes, from the moment he was born, through his toddlerhood, childhood, tweens, teens and on into young adulthood. All 24 years simultaneously. All the millions of images blended into the picture of the person who stood beside me. No one could ever replace that; it would take a lifetime to re-create. Really, it’s impossible, because each one of us is unique. There will never be another Jake. Just as there will never be another of your beautiful children to replace the ones you have lost.
We all express our grief in different ways too. Some of us write, some paint, play music, knit, find counseling, go to meetings, grief classes. Some of us withdraw, some strive to reconnect. Some seek out companionship, others shun it. We all cry. There is no right or wrong way to do this. It is intensely personal and what feels right for one can be abhorrent for another. This is another place where, in spite of our fundamental sameness, we differ from one another. We each have to find our own way through this maze, discover what works for us. What is similar is that our lives will never be the same. There is no going back to the ‘before’, only the forging of the new way to be in the ‘after’. The tools to do that are available to all, but each of us wields them in diverse ways.
I am still learning how to use those tools. I have a long way to go. Knowing you are all on this voyage with me is scant comfort, but comfort nonetheless. We can share our knowledge of what works and what doesn’t as we learn together how to craft a new and different life. Like castaways, together we have to build a life raft to get us back to civilization. It is a daunting task. We have so few things to build with; there are so many missing pieces. But somehow, we have to learn to sail the Ocean of Heartbreak or remain stranded on the bleak and lonely shore.