Twenty years ago yesterday, I went to sleep in my hospital bed with the comforting memory of the strong heartbeats heard earlier in the evening ringing in my ears.
Twenty years ago today, I woke up to nurses not being able to find the heartbeats.
Twenty years ago today is the day of birth of my oldest two sons…it is also the day they died.
Twenty years ago today, my heart broke; it shattered, and I was changed forever.
I thought I might go crazy with grief. I didn’t know what to do with me…others certainly didn’t know what to do or say or how to help me.
Twenty years ago today, I got suddenly very old. I felt like I didn’t fit anymore. Others were going on blithely about their day, unaware that life was hard and painful and could be profoundly barren and ugly.
The world became untrustworthy, unfamiliar. I discovered that life could be cruelly unfair, and the magnitude of it all fairly took my breath away.
But I’m not the same:
- I think I’m more grateful of good things. Messy rooms, a mediocre grade or a gas tank left on empty are as much signs of glorious life as they are part of life’s frustrations. Sure, they bug me…but I’ve more room for life’s irritations as gifts that come from the life of others.
- I believe I treasure life as a gift, more than I would otherwise. To be alive is not something to be taken for granted. To wake up, to have those I love wake up means the day is something to be treasured and valued. I look at the World Vision commercials with a mother holding a sick and dying child with greater compassion, and I am moved to help more than I might have otherwise.
- I know my own strength in a way before it had been truly tested. Years later, when tragedy struck our family again, it wasn’t easy, and I cried again. A. Lot. But I could know that the feeling that I was going crazy was only a feeling, and I knew that grief may bend me hard, but it wouldn’t break me. I knew the sun would come out again with a bittersweetness that makes life worth living again, after a while.
- I think I don’t try to pretend that I have it all together. That pretense is gone. I fell apart twenty years ago, and now, being human for me includes being authentic to the fact that some days I don’t have it all together. Cuz I don’t think that anyone has it together all the time…and why should we have to fake it to others, or even ourselves?
- I understand the deep gut wrenching pain a person can experience. It doesn’t mean I have the same pain, or the same fear, or the same grief as a client of mine…not at all…but I think it puts me in a better position to truly honor the difficult experience of another. I think am more compassionate. I also think I understand the need to have others carry someone in grief for a time…that it makes sense for another to insist on a walk outside, or to mandate a visit over a cup of tea even when eveyrthing inside a grieving person says, “Leave me alone”.
- I understand that “everybody’s got stuff”. Every year when I go to the florists for white roses for the grave, I struggle to hold it together and I wonder if they look a little curious at this wild eyed woman who is preoccupied by her thoughts rather than the glorious wonder of the flowers in the shop. I’m thinking mothers of twin boys hold their sons a little closer when they see me gazing upon them steadily in the park. Can they know the thoughts that echo in my head; the longing that is in my eyes? It has me guess at others when they might be a little “off” that they may be triggered into their own memories of longing and sadness that I will never know about.
Yep, I’m older now than before they died…and not just because of the time passed, but because of the wisdom developed from the depths of grief. I think I’m a better mother, a better therapist and a better person because of their lives, and because of their deaths. I do think I have been carved into a different, hopefully kinder creature.
I’d trade in all that wisdom, in a heartbeat, if it meant I could have them with me again. Their death was not a fair trade for the wisdom gained.
But that’s not an option, so I’ll take the wisdom and use it.
There are more white roses on the table. White flowers from friends who remember. A little comforting stuffed animal from Melanie–she knows–she gets it that I was a professional at the office today, with a part of me set aside for the hurt of the remembering. A caring blessing from a friend. I continue to receive kindness and love two decades later…it still hurts. A. Lot.
But friends’ compassion helps. A. Lot. I think that is one other way I am different…more appreciative of the kindness of others…knowing how it is a lifeline on some days, and other days, now years later, heartwarming and lovely…and simply–valued greatly.