Our son, Ron, died on December 25, 2015, Christmas morning. Tuesday, December 26, 2017, was Day 1 of Year 3. That Christmas Eve and Christmas morning of 2015 run through my mind like an old newsreel. I am at once remembering everything I did, every conversation I had that Christmas Eve, while simultaneously imagining every step Ron was taking in planning to end his life. I contrast my Christmas Eve joy to his Christmas Eve sorrow, my Christmas morning happiness to his Christmas morning resignation of his fate and ultimately his death.
When your child dies, they take an almost unnatural place in the heart and the psyche of the parents. Perhaps the shock and pain of a sudden, tragic death exacerbates the intensity of the sorrow, which may seem to border on obsession at times. What is the way forward? Is true healing even possible? We love our other children and grandchildren very dearly. We love the place they hold in our lives. But the one whose death was so sudden and crushing has, at once, opened a hole in our hearts and our lives while, at the same time, taking up more spiritual, emotional and psychic space than the others.
As to our other children and grandchildren, not one day goes by that we don’t talk about them, laugh about them, wonder or worry about them. While they make us laugh, confuse or baffle us, their lives are their own and we are happy to bless them in that. We treasure each one and we are grateful for any real conversation with them, especially in those precious times when they open their hearts and their lives to us.
Our child who left us, however, has in some ways become a mystery to us. The one we thought we knew best, we knew least when it mattered the most. The one who lived with awareness of our day-to-day life, loved us deeply, the one so often at our side, the one we thought would accompany us on our journey to the end of our lives, is the one who left us behind, confused and grieving.
My grief therapist asked what I hope to be the outcome of my therapy. I told her that I hope to carry my grief a bit more lightly on my heart. Even as I said that, I was not sure exactly what I meant. Will healing mean that tears will no longer spring to my eyes at the small cruelties that people so carelessly inflict on one another? There are so many cruelties, large and small, I never really observed until I lost Ron.
My grief has made me far more vulnerable than I ever expected or wanted to be. At the same time, I don’t think I want to return to being less vulnerable. I have a deepened awareness now of the pain inside others that I never had before and feel empathy for people others hate and think are monsters. Such vulnerability sometimes makes me dizzy.
On Christmas morning this year, Tom and I, along with Ron’s brother, Joe and our priest friend, Tim, provided a joyous celebration for people who suffer from traumatic brain injury. We arrived there at exactly 9:30 AM. In my Ron timeline, that was the moment I believe he crossed into his next life. In that very moment I was being greeted with welcoming hugs and the brightest smiles imaginable. There was no time for me to run my newsreel of the events of two years ago. During the service we told our little congregation that Joe’s brother, Ron, died two years ago this very morning. With these folks, their emotional and psychological makeup only allows for love and empathy and they overflow with both. In return, that is what they call forth from us. Their generous outpouring of love deeply touched our hearts on Christmas morning of 2017 and Jesus was born among us, right in that otherwise institutional setting.
My niece, Shannon, wrote in a Christmas card that Ron is even closer to us in these days because he knows we need him the most. How deeply profound and comforting I found that. As we shared our Christmas morning service with our sweet friends, telling the story of the shepherds and the angels, singing the Glorias and weeping during Silent Night, Ron stood there in our midst in some way we cannot possibly understand. But he was there with us.
The prayer that is in my heart and on my lips every day since Ron left is this: “God, help me. I am brokenhearted. I don’t know how to do this.” In the days before Christmas, my sister, Patricia, who knows me inside and out, posted this for my benefit: Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break and all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go, love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. L.R. Knost, Author:
When I say, “I don’t know how to do this” I suppose the answer is that there is no way to do this but to do it – step by step, day by day, never denying my grief or the pain of others but, with love and intention, finding some way to transform it. Then, with God’s grace and the love that Ron had for us in this life and has for us now, healing will come when it will and as it will, to us, Ron’s parents for always.