People certainly do say the oddest things to create a bridge to us or to offer us hope or to try to show us they understand. Too often, what they actually do is reinforce how much they do not understand. They do not know. They could never imagine. Nor do we want them to know it or imagine it or even try to understand it. We just want them to let us experience it our own way, with their unspoken love and support.
If they must speak, how great it would be to hear, “I could never imagine and don’t want to imagine your pain — only to support you in your grief, however long it takes and whatever form it takes”. We want the “If you want to talk, I’ll listen, and if you don’t want to talk, we won’t” kind of friend who brings us chocolate and wine and then shuts the hell up.
And yet… yet in our solitude, we still want to speak with someone who DOES understand. With other grieving parents, or at least, those who feel some of what we feel or experiences grief somewhat as we do.
Unfortunately, and I’d like to address this now, here — this elephant in the room for some of you — the person who best “understands” may or may not be your spouse or partner. And that sets partnered people up for all sorts of other emotional battles. I was lucky, in a twisted way, that I was no longer married to Daniel’s father when Daniel died, so no one expected us to “help” each other. Otherwise, I probably would have murdered him within the month. I was flat out physically, emotionally and mentally devastated. He went back to work the next day. He worked the next day, too, and the next, right up until the few hours before the funeral. Neither of us was “right” or “wrong” in our grief, but it shows that we expressed our grief in very different ways that greatly aggravated the other.
My ex-husband’s pain was so great that his mind shut down to protect him, and he went on numb autopilot, finding relief in schedules and routine. My brain went into emotional and dramatic overdrive. Privately, I dwelt on the seduction of suicide, and the fear of sleeping and having to wake up to the reality of Daniel’s death every day, and… well, you know. Nights, I sat on his bed sniffing Daniel’s pillow for hours, crying, fearing I’d someday lose or forget his smell. People grieve differently, even two parents of one boy.
Today, I’m married to a man who is emotionally available. kind and supportive, and though he never knew Daniel, he gives me the grace to be able to share my memories if I want, and he goes with me to the cemetery when I want company there (so often, I do NOT want company there, and he understands that, too.) But even this well-intentioned, loving man can say the dumbest things. For example, on Mother’s Day, he said, “I know you must be thinking about Daniel today” as a kind reminder that he remembered my grief.
I replied, “Yes,” and he smiled and I smiled too, and the moment passed. But secretly, I resented him just a tiny bit for not getting it that I miss Daniel every single day, not just on special occasions. It reminded me that while he knows I still grieve, he doesn’t understand (can’t comprehend) the depth of the grief. Nor should he.
It is a scar I carry with me, a process I will go through every day for the rest of my life. I am functional, able to laugh and to feel joy again (a huge accomplishment) and to hope for silly things again in the future, and for great things as well. I’ve learned to take a memory into the future, instead of a beautiful living, breathing boy, and I imagine what his life would have been like, had he lived. I never left my son behind, to be “remembered” — he’s with me every day, in my heart. I will always be his active mother, actively loving him and caring about him, and bringing him forward.
I don’t think a parent can ever bury a child, and that’s what other people really don’t get. We can’t bury them. We bury their bodies, yes, we understand we can’t avoid doing that without threat of being locked up. But we don’t bury them.
Thank you for talking to each other as well as for listening when I blog. I think the best I can say sometimes is nothing at all, but rather I stand back and listen in as you support each other. Together, we make a safe place to talk about our grief and our loss and our fears and our dreams and yes, also our loves.
And we can hold one another up and hear with an open heart and mind because the person speaking and the person listening … both do know what it’s like.