There is never a moment that I do not think about you. I love you more than the moon and the stars.
For the parent whose child has died, this is one of the most recurring and torturous questions that we wrestle with on a daily basis. Why? Why my baby? Why me? Why our family? I hear in the news all the time of abusive parents, yet their children are alive, and mine is dead. They don’t even want their children, yet I would give my life gladly and in one heartbeat if it meant that my child would live. Why did this have to happen? Why why why???
Shortly after Kai died I realized that my life from that day forward would consist of hard choices. The choices are endless… do I get out of bed and go to work or do I call in sick and cry all day? Do I smile when I pass a coworker or do I look down and pass by without a word? Do I eat well or do I give up and decide that it doesn’t matter what I put in my body? Do I take up a hobby I’ve been wanting to do for years or do I decide that nothing will bring me joy and so not bother? Do I try to numb the pain or do I face it and feel it and endure the depth and magnitude of it?
The choices are constant and endless, and the decisions I make have enormous power to shape my life as it is now and also, I believe, to determine my future. There is one choice that is more difficult than any other, as it is existential in nature and not so practical, as are many of the other choices. I have to decide if there is a reason Kai left this life when he did, whether or not I understand the reason, or was his death an accident, or perhaps some sort of punishment or retribution by God who, at least for the time being, feels far away from me. This particular decision is one that is slowly evolving. I am starting to choose to believe that yes, there was a reason for my son being born and leaving this earth just under six years later.
Our lives should not be measured by the number of years lived, but how we impact others during our time here. By that measurement, Kai was more successful in his six years than many people I can think of who have lived five or ten times as long as he did. My father used to remark about Kai that he did not have a mean bone in his body. We say that about people and usually it’s not quite true but in Kai’s case it was. He had an endless supply of love and affection. He was happy every single day. He found joy in so many things, from digging in the dirt to talking with a homeless man on the train and making him laugh and doing a fist bump to solidify their new friendship. When kids were mean to him, he didn’t dish it back. He wondered why his “friends” were being mean. He thought he was the luckiest guy ever when he won a crockpot in a raffle at my company’s picnic. He gladly let another child at the park fly his brand new kite. He made me feel that I was an amazing musician when I played my Native American flute for him, even though I was certainly not. He adored his brothers and our pets. Simply put, he loved life, he loved people and he made them happy. Being his mom for six years taught me more about life as it should be lived than I could have ever learned without him. And now that he is gone, I want to continue to learn what he was teaching me and become more like him in the process. It would be a great dishonor to him to do otherwise.
Does this mean I have accepted his death? No, I have not reached that point. I do not know if I will ever fully accept that he was taken before me. There are days, many of them, when I am so angry that I can hardly hold it in. Other days I am so full of sorrow and longing that the tears never quite stop flowing. I will never stop missing him, not even for one minute. But do I have an idea, a growing answer to the question of why? Yes, I do.
If only you could have seen your brother graduate, you would have been so happy and proud.
If only I could hear you sing Three Little Birds one more time.
If only you could kiss my tears away.
If only I could see the smile that made my skies blue.
If only you were here, I would never be lonely again.
If only I could, I would never let you go.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
~e. e. cummings
My older son CJ is graduating from high school this Friday. In two weeks he will be leaving for his summer job in another state, and from there he goes on to college even further away. I am so proud of the man he is becoming and of his many accomplishments, and although I expected to have mixed feelings, I did not expect the intense wave of grief that has overtaken me.
In the months since my last post, my grief for Kai has taken on a deeper and more profound place in my life, to the point where I have been unable to write about it. This grief, mixed with the reality of CJ’s departure now upon me, has made me feel that I am utterly lost, adrift in a nameless gray sea without any idea of where I am, where I am going, and even where I have been.
Our children anchor us. They provide purpose, meaning and direction in life. But what purpose, meaning and direction do we have left when our child has died?
I know some of the answers people give to this question, but these answers are of no comfort to me right now.
I only hope that in time, my path will become clear. And I hope to make both of my children proud.
When your child dies, you no longer fit into the normal world. There is now an enormous disconnect between my outward self and my inward, or true self. I believe many, if not most people maintain a disconnect between the outward and inward self, but for me, the disconnect is magnified now to a degree that I could never have envisioned before Kai died.
I am convinced that a large part of the intense physical exhaustion of grief comes from the sheer effort of living, essentially, as two people. How many times a day am I asked the usual question we casually ask each other, “How are you?” How many times do I respond as expected, “Fine?” How many times do I lie?
I am not fine, not at all. What kind of person would be fine after burying their child, their own flesh and blood, their future? Yet I keep up the façade, the image, the glossy airbrushed version of myself that I present to the world.
A few people have penetrated the shell and refuse to let me disappear, and were it not for them, I would not be surviving this new life. These people know who they are. They are family and friends alike… their emails and texts arrive consistently and often mysteriously at the right moment, their cards appear in the mailbox and their gifts appear on the doorstep or at the gravesite when least expected and when most needed, their flowers are left on the kitchen table when I come home to an empty house, yet again.
Yes, grief is a solitary journey, perhaps the most solitary journey one can take in this life. But I am not walking this path alone, and I am eternally thankful to those who are quietly walking beside me.
Grief can be described in many ways and with many words, none of which fully capture the experience of grieving the death of a child or close loved one. But right now, if I had to pick one word to describe my state of being, it would be raw.
I am raw.
When I first began riding motorcycles, I had a minor accident that resulted in what bikers call “road rash” on my right arm and hip. My arm took the brunt of the fall and the skin on the back of my arm was shredded from my elbow almost to my shoulder by the pavement when I hit on my bare arm and kept going. When the paramedics arrived and treated my injuries by washing them out with water, the pain was so excruciating that I began to faint. I’ve had my share of injuries, but in terms of sheer agony, none compared to that injury. I would guess there were thousands, or perhaps millions of nerve endings left exposed when my skin was torn off my body. Nerves are not designed to be exposed. They are meant to be covered, allowing us to feel sensations to a certain acceptable limit, as the nerves are shielded and protected by our skin. That is, until there is a trauma that rips away that protection.
The experience of my grief for Kai feels similar to road rash, except that this trauma has broken my heart and shredded my soul. There is no comparison to my physical injury.
The pain of a broken heart is intense. I have real, physical pain in my chest when my sorrow is at its most acute. The pain of my shredded soul is even worse. It is as if all my skin is gone, exposing every single nerve ending. I thought by now the raw pain might begin to diminish, even ever so slightly, but the opposite seems to be happening.
Perhaps this is why I have developed what I consider to be an odd obsession in the last seven months since Kai died. I am utterly obsessed with soft blankets. I look for them in stores, I search for them on the internet. I found a small, throw type blanket for $15 at the local Walgreens and so far I have bought seven of them. When these blankets are new, the fleece side is the softest thing I have ever felt in my life, softer even than Kai’s blue blankey, the one we buried with him. Once I wash one of these blankets, the initial incredible softness of the fleece that I bought it for is lost so I buy another one. I have one on my reading chair, one on my kitchen chair where I work on my computer, and every night I sleep with the newest one, the one that has yet to be washed. I will not go to bed without it. When I wake in the night and reality washes over me, I wrap it around me all the way up to my head. The softness of the fleece soothes me in a way that nothing else seems to and often I am able to fall asleep again. But it doesn’t make the agony of my longing for Kai go away.
My arm and hip healed in time. I have gravel and dirt permanently embedded in the scars, a reminder of the trauma of my motorcycle accident, but they do not hurt any longer. Will the same ever be true for my soul?