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  • Writer's pictureJody Glynn Patrick

Hanging On: Avoiding sidewalk holes

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

If the “Why?” question was answered, would your sorrow be less?

No. Yet we dwell on that question just as surely as we focus on the day we lost our child more intently than all the days we had our child.

“Why” will not be known to us. Going down that road of questioning gives us no relief. This is a more straightforward truth: Because you loved, you grieve. Because you grieve, you suffer.

How can you bring the Past with you into the Future, without your child? It isn’t managing to live in the past, with a phantom, or going into the future alone. Mental survival is the ability to bring your precious moments with that child with you, and all the memories and love that you gave and received.

But the path is difficult. There are deep holes in the sidewalk. We stumble over our grief and fall into many holes on the way to Tomorrow. We don’t necessarily even want to go there – into another Tomorrow — without our child. That avoidance of our own future defines our truest grief.

In the 1970s, I bought a book of poetry that has become much more meaningful to me since my son died. I’d like to share Portia Nelson’s work:

Autobiography In Five Chapters

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost — I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in — it’s a habit. My eyes are open; I know where I am. It is MY fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

I walk down a DIFFERENT street.

The hole in my imaginary sidewalk is my grief. I try to take different streets, but some of those have potholes, too, and I don’t always see them before falling in. Some materialize under my feet – I’ll be driving my car, and the song “Daniel” – sung at my son’s funeral – will play on the radio, and I’ll be ambushed by tears. I can’t seem to build scar tissue deep enough to avoid that hole when I don’t even see it coming at me. It is not my fault and so I have learned to accept my tears and not hold myself up to a standard of “coping” beyond my ability.

On the other hand, another road that I choose to go down involves Daniel’s other funeral song. It took time, but now I listen to at least 10 different versions of “Danny Boy” some days. Eva’s Cassidy’s version is my favorite. It brings me comfort. Especially the lines But come ye back, when Summer’s in the meadow… Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow. Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

My daughter’s name is Summer, and so this has two meanings for me — and my loving my boy will always be a present-tense verb.

What are the holes in your sidewalk?

Before you can avoid them, you have to recognize or acknowledge the figurative holes in your sidewalk.

Some predictable holes are acknowledging sympathy cards or deciding what to do with your child’s possessions after the death. You see the holes gaping wide before you, and yet you fall in. Some falls are unavoidable. They are a fact of life – and death. No one can patch them for you or ease the injury to your heart from the fall.

Other holes loom ahead, and you can make out their shadow or outline. The birthdays and death anniversaries. The first “without my child” experiences or holidays. Will you fall in the same hole every year, or will you go down a different street? Find new ways to honor and celebrate the life and meaning your child brought into the world?

My advice, if you can’t avoid the street, is to plan the best ways to cushion those falls in advance, or ask for help getting out of the hole once you fall in.

I hope you find a hand reaching out to you here. Thanks for stopping by the watering hole and please, share your comments or suggest topics you’d like me to consider writing about. This is, after all, your site. 

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