Today, I went to a party celebrating a dear friends sons’ graduation from high school. His older brother was one of the best friends of my then 15 year old son, who I lost very suddenly in 2006. It was difficult for me to go to this house where my son spent so many fun days and nights. It wasn’t going to my friends house that made it hard, it was going there to celebrate something that my son never go to do-graduate from high school.
I used to tell my son that I wanted to hear his name called out when he graduated, with the symbolic “with honors” tucked behind his name. Since that horrible day when I lost him, I would give anything to hear his name called out at graduation at all. He would be a senior in college this coming fall, an adult. When I looked at his friends’ younger brother today, I saw an adult, and choked back tears, knowing that I would never see my son make the transition that this young man has made since the loss of my son.
I find myself constantly wondering what life would be like had my son lived. I think of how he would look, what he would be doing, if I would be healthy now, happy now. I think of all the misery I have endured since his loss, the illnesses caused by the trauma of his death, the damage to my faith, my family, my ability to relate to others, how others relate to me. It is overwhelming.
I have struggled greatly during these years as I fought through the emptiness , the guilt a parent feels when they loose a child, the way people treat you so differently than they did before. The first thing someone I know thinks when they see me is, “She lost her son.” Mothers inevitably talk about their children, their accomplishments, their ages, their lives. When someone I don’t know, or who doesn’t know me well, asks me. “How many children do you have?” I cannot bring myself to say “five” instead of “six”-he was mine, I love him-present tense, he is a part of me, I refuse to simply say “five” in order to spare myself the pain of explaining.
When I say that I have six kids, they ask me about them and I have to, in some way, tell them that I lost my son. I open myself up to the untenable pain of explaining the unexplainable. I fight back tears, or maybe don’t win the fight. I have recently attempted to make a valiant effort to reclaim at least the part of my life that is possible to reclaim. The statement made famous by President John F Kennedy, but originally said by a man named Reinhold Niebuhr, comes to mind. It states: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
I think the last part of that statement is the hardest one to understand. Can I change the fact that my precious son is no longer with me? No. Can I regain my health in the state in was before his loss? No. Can ever find my faith again, reclaim the way my family saw me as strong, tough, enduring? I don’t know. Do I have the strength to keep trying? Maybe-I have for nearly six horrible years. It is the last part that confounds me-the wisdom to know the difference.
It seems that one day, I feel it is impossible for me to ever feel like I hold the place in my family, in the lives of those I encounter that I did before I lost my son. I feel they look on me with pity, sadness, not knowing how to act. It’s almost like they are afraid of me. They don’t know what to say or do or how I will react. I cannot bear the well-intended religious comments about “God being with me,” ” I will pray for you”. or “If you will turn it over to God…” I feel God let my son down, let me down, that I had turned “it” over to God when I felt something was wrong around my son, and couldn’t seem to figure out what it might be. Will I ever be able to feel the assurance that God cares again? Right now, I cannot imagine it.
That is my greatest issue at present-to decide what I can change, accept what I cannot change and somehow have the wisdom to know the difference.
As milestones in my life and in the lives of my children and other loved ones come and go, I find it difficult to react with the joy that I should, or maintain my calm in the event of sorrow. I feel great pressure to react in the “proper” way, to at least, in public, present that air of confidence and strength that I once did. As I struggle to “know the difference” and live under these new and oh-so-cruel rules that order my life, I wonder if I will ever come to the point where I can say that I can uphold the thoughts issued in the “Serenity Prayer”.
As we encounter those who have faced horrific losses, endured disabling diseases, or even been told that they or someone they love will not survive, please remember the inner struggles that these people undergo every minute of every day of their lives. Perhaps, we, as outsiders looking in, should find more compassion in how we deal with those struggling with fear and grief and loss. Maybe we can help them find that “wisdom to know the difference”.