Suffering

Talk about timely. I think God is probably trying to tell me something with this one, so I’ll share. The past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering. There are so many things that bring about suffering, but I think having your child buried in the ground is probably one of the top things. There are other things that are extremely painful, but that is the one I know about. So that is the one I discuss.

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This theme of suffering has really been floating through my brain. I feel like I’m getting to a point in my grief where I know that there will always be grief, but I’ve decided it won’t ruin me. It’s taken a lot to get to this point- lots of suffering, lots of crying, AT LEAST two cemetery visits week, and 85+ entries in my journal (which I almost exclusively write in at the cemetery). The cemetery is where I do my best thinking. I cry too, but I think. I contemplate life, death, my family, and the future. I contemplate how to go about continuing to live with my firstborn son buried. I contemplate my friendships, my work, and whatever else comes to mind. It’s a quiet and fairly deserted place. I can work through my suffering there and not have to worry about what anyone else thinks about it. It’s usually pretty peaceful and except for the occasional black bear visit it’s safe!

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But back to suffering. As I said this has been on my mind, and this morning we had a visiting Priest- and it’s like he was talking directly to me. His name is Fr. Jay Biber, and he is a retired Priest from Lexington. His homily (aka sermon) was about suffering. He discussed how we all go through suffering in our lives. And God gets us through it. We suffer and we move forward. Now going through grief I know it’s not a linear process. Sometimes I may take one step forward and three back, but I can say that most days I don’t suffer the way I did even a few months ago.

The thing that Fr. Jay said that really jumped out at me, though, was something he said at the end. I had to dig for a pen to write it down so I probably did not remember the words correctly, but here is the gist:

“I don’t have the answer for you, but I’ll be here while you walk through it”

(edited to add the actual quote: Thanks to a friend who wrote it down!
“I don’t have an answer for you, but I’ll go there with you”)

He was speaking to the children in particular at that point- how even a child can put their arm around a suffering friend and say those words. But those words mean a great deal to me. Because over the past 2 ½ years I have had several friends who did that for me. They didn’t (and don’t) have the answers. They couldn’t (and can’t) take away that suffering. This journey is mine alone. But they have been here, walking with me, as I walk through my own suffering. By walking with me in MY suffering and acknowledging it, they eased my pain a bit. They couldn’t take it away or rush the process but they have helped me ENDURE it. And for that I will be forever thankful.

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Lean on Me

 

Sometimes in our lives
we all have pain
we all have sorrow.
But if we are wise
we know that there’s
always tomorrow

 

Friendship. The world of a grieving parent is defined by the before and the after. The line between the before and after is THAT DAY. That awful day when everything changes and the world as you know it gets shaken to the core. So many things are different from that point on. And when the people involved become different, as we do, relationships change. I am not the same person I was. I know that. Truthfully it is not possible for me to be that person. That person was extremely optimistic, kind of Pollyanna like (some of you probably don’t know what that means). I did worry a lot about things like Gabe’s health, but it in general I almost always had a smile on my face and was just really positive.

When the worst thing that can happen DOES happen though it makes that kind of happy attitude change a bit. Some days I really can’t force myself to smile. There’s a man in Bridgewater who sits in the Dairy Queen parking lot EVERY school morning, rain or shine, and waves at cars and buses that pass. Before Gabe died I always smiled and waved back. Now when I pass him some days I smile. Other days I just can’t.

So I think it’s understandable if people back off. Not everyone is going to like this new me. I’m OK with that. When this tragedy happened though something else happened. There were people, some I knew mostly as acquaintances that turned into more. They stepped up and spent countless hours with me and with my family. There are a couple of friends who were there before and reached out and were there as much as we needed them. These people have all made this tragedy survivable. My friends have been there with hugs, coffee, meals out together, too many miles of walks to begin to guess, lazy time at the pool, pedicures, and even a wonderful day at the spa. They have continued to invite us to get togethers, girls nights (ok just me for that one), parties, and weddings, and they understand if we need to leave because we are sad. They have become a beautiful family to Doug and I. They love us in our happiness, but also in our sadness. That is not always an easy thing to do.

Through Gabe’s death there is also another category of friends that I have met. These people know the same pain as me. They have had to say goodbye to a child. There is a connection between us because we share a pain that is so deep it can’t be understood. We can talk about the horrible circumstances around our worst days and not have to be afraid of sharing too much. We don’t necessarily make the best friends because we are all dealing with grief, and forgetfulness, and lack of energy- but we all GET it! So expectation is low and we are very forgiving of each other. We form this club that no one wants to join- but we are all glad to have each other. There is power in looking at another Mom who lost a child so many years ago and seeing that life can still be OK, that it’s not how you wanted it to turn out but it can still be ok.

On Thursday of this week I will get the wonderful experience of meeting a new group of bereaved moms. These moms have all had children die due to heart defects. Some as babies, some older. We all come from very different backgrounds but we all share that one really big thing.  We will be free to talk about our children, living and dead, and not have to worry about saying the wrong thing. This will be a different kind of retreat and I think I will like it.

The day after

Yesterday was the day. The anniversary of the saddest day. I tried to write but couldn’t come up with anything. Sometimes there are just no words. Everything is jumbled and mixed up. Nothing seems right. Actually, that kind of describes a tiny part of child loss.

Today is the day after. And I very vividly remember the day after April 8. That was the day everyone started to arrive. On a day when the best thing probably would have just been to sit quietly and try to absorb what happened the day before, it was anything but quiet. I remember it started out with a wonderful friend who came and cleaned. She cleaned my house. It was quite a task (I’m not the neatest person in the world). She made all of the clutter disappear and made room on the counters and table for the things that would later arrive- mostly food and flowers. Lots of food and flowers. Friends stopped by. Wonderful friends who talked with us for hours in the kitchen.  Family arrived in the kind of reunion no one wants. Especially when it’s because of a child. We got our first meal delivered that evening. By someone who is now a very dear friend and brought food for everyone, and gluten free things for me, and love.

The day after was the beginning of a week long receiving line. It was a non stop stream of people into and out of our home. We don’t often have visitors. It was difficult. It was difficult to see people make small talk when the most devastating thing had just happened to us. It was just difficult in every way. Everything about it. We felt loved but everything felt wrong. The loudest, most exuberant member of our family was gone and no amount of visitors could fix that.

I’m going to leave today’s post with this. It is a beautiful poem that was read at a Memorial service held in December of 2016 and it sums up what I just wrote. Thanks for reading.

 

What People Give You By Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

Long-faced irises. Mums. Pink roses and white roses and giant sunflowers, and hundreds of daisies.

Fruit baskets with muscular pears, and water crackers and tiny jams and the steady march of casseroles.

And money, people give money these days. Cards, of course: the Madonna, wise and sad just for you, Chinese cherry blossoms, sunsets and moonscapes, and dragonflies for transcendence.

People stand by your sink and offer up their pain: Did you know I lost a baby once, or My eldest son was killed, or My mother died two months ago. People are good. They file into your cartoon house until it bows at the seams; they give you every blessed thing, everything, except your daughter (child) back.