Surviving grief, and living. The initial steps are simple, mindless, but the latter steps more…
I’ve never been one for clubs, but I now find myself a member of an exclusive club that no mother wants to join. The hallways of this club are convoluted, dark and lonely. The first few days after Ben’s death, I walked through these corridors alone, crying and beating against its walls for comfort. Then, a door opened. A mother who lost her precious child in the Sandy Hook, CT tragedy walked out and offered me her hand. As I lost sight and stumbled during those early days, she guided me and saved me over and over again, for she had walked these halls before. She guided me around each corner, carrying me across the chasms that threatened to swallow and destroy me.
She comforted me when I needed to know Heaven was real, the nights when I texted I cannot breathe, he’s so beautiful. Moments of unimaginable pain, in your soul. How do you get through? The day of Ben’s celebration service, the moment when I cried into the phone, searching I just need to know it gets better. If it does, I can fight to try to get through.
She promised it would. So, I fought.
Many of her words made no sense to me at the time, but I understand now. It hurts like no other pain and it feels like it will swallow you whole. Keep breathing. In. Out. This is a marathon that you will finish in order to get back to Ben. Talk to him. He hears your voice. He is all around you, wanting to help you. The brilliance of God and Ben that I have experienced since she first uttered those words is something I cannot even delve into through writing yet. But, she was right, I found Ben.
Weeks later, when I could concentrate enough to process sentences, I began to self-medicate by drowning myself in books, instead of other more destructive options. (I had to be strong for those that needed me the most.) As I devoured them, I found myself frantically searching for an escape from the feeling of isolation. I needed to hear “you are not alone.” I yearned to know that others had felt, not only the pain, but also the hope and energy of God, of their beloved child. As I raced through the books, underlining passages, some would be tossed aside with a No, that one doesn’t quite capture it or kept by my bed That one is close enough for now.
I have felt God at work, or maybe it is Ben I feel (are they different?), filling my needs in unexpected ways. This time last Sunday, after a rough few days, I woke up with an overwhelming, intense feeling in my chest. My heart needed something that was missing. It called me to search, for “something” - as I so often find myself doing these days. Coffee in hand, several websites later, I was led to Rare Bird, a story by Anna Whiston-Donaldson of the loss of her twelve-year-old son in a random flood. I drove 45 minutes that morning to locate it, and after several straight hours of reading, I sighed OK, this is the closest to my journey so far. Relief.
Two days ago, I received a package from a close friend from high school, who knows Anna. We haven’t seen each other in years. Unbeknownst to me, the Friday night before my heart inexplicably led me on my quest to find Rare Bird, my friend was telling Anna about our family and beloved Benjamin, asking her to sign a copy of the book for me. My friend’s note that arrived with the book reassured me that during those rough nights last weekend, when I was struggling greatly, our family had “even more prayers coming our way” from their little town. And, as I woke up that next morning, after the prayers, my heart knew. The power of God’s energy – it leads in mysterious ways.
Over time, my club’s membership has expanded, and it now includes women that have experiences beyond the pure grief of losing a child. There are various circles of friends behind each door, sitting, talking, sharing – those who were struck with sudden losses, those with longer battles, some who are experiencing the fear of death in their own life, and women who are rising above a variety of other challenges. Breast cancer, addiction, divorce, or just the challenges of “life.” But, the common thread: These Women are POWERFUL.
I asked my Sandy Hook friend what our club should be called. We are survivors, but we are more than that. We are warriors, but that doesn’t seem quite adequate either. I find that words carry their own energy, just like the energy we feel through the human connection or God or just experiencing life. So, yesterday I wrote down the words that had an energy connecting me to these women: strong, core, support, warrior, survivor, hope, energy, resilient, power, faith, change, dynamic, will, foundation, love. Maybe there is no single word that encapsulates who they are. But, I searched for it.
The message God needed Anna to share with me was greater than redemption and hope. It was that of courage and friendship. For there have been many dark days where I have felt very alone walking these hallways of trauma and grief. But, I have begun to notice other forms emerging from the fog, reaching out to support. They may not be members, but they are friends willing to “go there with me” if just for a moment. To risk joining me in the pain, in order to help me through. Anna gets it right, when she states the painful truth that “[i]f I'd made a list of who I thought would be there with us to try to pick up the pieces after a tragedy, that list would have been off.” The dirty truth of a tragedy goes beyond the immediate grief of the loved one lost. Life is much more complicated that that, but it is what makes us human. In her words, “[f]riends who grieve with us have to face their own version of leaning into or dealing with grief. They run the risk of being overwhelmed by it, pulled into their own form of depression, fear and bitterness.” As a friend said last night, it would be nice to know who those warriors will be before they are tested. But, this is not possible. And, I’ve come to believe that this discovery is part of the journey of grief and loss, and through it, Life.
But, for those who are courageous enough to face their greatest fear as a mother, to feel the pain for just an instant, to hold my hand through it -- I thank you. It is because of you that I can even begin to utter the words “Life is Extraordinary” and search for the light at the end of this tunnel.
You will find a thesaurus that lists “manly” as a synonym for “courageous.” But, I respectfully disagree with that social construct.
Women cannot comprehend their immense power – a power whose energy is only matched by the single word COURAGE.
For more thoughts on how you can help your friends or family through the deepest layers of grief, please see "5 Ways to Help Your Grieving Friend - Rare Bird Launches!!!" (blog by Glennon Doyle Melton), at momastery.com. One day, I will be able to write and share my own thoughts on this subject. But, not quite yet. Baby steps.