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“What Does it Feel Like?”

I’ve been asked a couple of times, by friends who have not lost a child, what it feels like to have lost a 25-year-old son; a healthy son with high hopes for the future, a good, loving and humble heart, and someone I loved with all my being.  What does this feel like?  I have a very good imagination and thought I had an idea of what it might feel like to lose a child, before my son passed away.  I cried many tears for the handful of mothers I know, some personally and some from a distance, who have lost a child.  But my imaginings didn’t even come close to the heartbreak of actually losing a child.

I recently read a blog by a fellow bereaved mom; a mom whose loss is quite similar to my own – a young man in the prime of his life, adventurous and working toward a lofty career.  Something she wrote grabbed my attention and I have been mulling it over for several days.  She said that she didn’t just lose her son on the day he died, she loses him over and over again.  This very succinctly describes this journey.

I lose my son again every time he should be here with us, his family – every birthday, every Christmas and Thanksgiving, every Easter (which was also my son’s birthday the year he was born), every family dinner, every wedding, every new baby brought into our family, every single time we get together to celebrate and every time we gather just because we love each other and want to be together.

Some days I feel like I lose him again just looking at my Facebook memories.  This was in my memories from 9 years ago today: “This is the biggest city I’ve ever seen!” My Navy son (at 2 in the morning!!!), telling me about Hong Kong, China. At least I know where he is, and that he is alive!!!”

It breaks my heart all over again.

My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the world when I was growing up and into my early 20’s.  She meant more to me than most people I knew.  She taught me so much about life and living and loving.  I grieved deeply when she passed when I was 22 years old.  For many years, I grieved the loss of the wisdom, joy and love she shared with me whenever we were together.  But I didn’t grieve her loss every birthday, holiday or family dinner.  She was 83 years old and was ready to go home to her Lord.  She told me so herself the last time I visited with her in the hospital.  She was ready.  It helped me to hear that from her, because even knowing she had lived a long and full life and was at an age when we expect life to be nearing the end, I still didn’t want her to go.  But I knew she would, and was expecting it.

I sort of hate the saying, “Time heals all wounds”, because it doesn’t.  But in the case of losing an elderly person, I think it is true.  As the years have passed since my grandmother died, the pain of losing her has faded.  In fact, I would say that there is no pain at all when I think of her.  A year or so ago I visited her grave and cried like a baby, but it wasn’t because of the pain of losing herIt was because my son had died.  I cried because I wanted to talk with her about it, and because I know my son is with her in heaven now, and I don’t want him to be.  Time has healed the wound of losing my grandmother.

But I don’t think time heals the wound of losing a child.  My husband and I both feel that as time passes, this wound deepens.  It gets harder to bear the fact that he won’t be coming back.  He wasn’t supposed to die at 25 – or so it feels.

I think, before I lost my son, I felt like losing a child was something I may someday have to endure, then life would return to normal.  When I was a young adult, I had many fears, and being in a car accident was one of them.  We had a car accident when our 4th child was an infant.  All our children were in the car, and it was a minor accident, though it could have been a very serious one.  I remember thinking, after the fact, that I had gone through one of my greatest fears and my family and I were all okay, so life would go on as normal, and I had one less fear to worry about.

I think I subconsciously thought this about losing one of our children, before our son died.  I worried that it might happen, and I would have to endure some really awful grief, then my life would return to normal and go on.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Nothing will ever be the same again.

We have good times.  We are oftentimes very happy.  We thoroughly enjoy all that we have been blessed with.

But nothing we still have will ever replace the son we lost.  And nothing coming in the future will, either.

Nothing can cause the hole left in our hearts to fill back up again.  Like the children’s song says, “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.”  I had a full – one could even say over-flowing bucket before my son passed away.  Now there’s a hole in it, and it leaks terribly.  Happy times with my family fills it up.  But the happiness leaks out and I’m left staring at the hole again, wishing my bucket was still intact, complete and unbroken.

So how does this feel?  How does it feel to live with the tragic loss of a young adult son?    I’ve heard it said it is like an amputee learning to live without one of her limbs.  I understand that analogy, but that does not quite describe it for me, because the skin around where the limb was lost heals.

My first “real” job was in a nursing home as a nurse’s aid.  I hated it.  The head nurse who trained me was not a very nice person and thought shocking me would be the best training for me.  In my first week she took me into a room where an elderly woman afflicted with gangrene lay in her bed.  Without any warning – to me or the resident – she grabbed the thin sheet that covered the woman and in one quick jerk, threw it off her.  I wasn’t just shocked by the sight of the suffering woman, but I was humiliated for her.  It was probably the most indecent, undignified thing I’ve ever seen a person do to another human being.  The suffering woman was stark naked, skin and bones, and had sores the size of a dinner plate, boring bone-deep into her body, exposing skin, muscle and bone.  It was a horrifying experience, and broke my heart for the ailing woman.

This experience came to mind when I was trying to think how to describe the ongoing grieving of the loss of my son.  Unlike the poor woman in the nursing home, this wound does seem to be healing around the edges a bit, but not so fast that I expect it to be fully healed before I die.  The most striking similarity, besides the open wound, is the naked vulnerable feeling it gives me sometimes.  It isn’t near as bad as it was that first year and a half, but it still lingers – the feeling that I am utterly exposed, naked and vulnerable to the world – the feeling that if I don’t cover and protect myself, anyone who happens by can unknowingly uncover what I so carefully and diligently work at keeping safe – this awful brokenness – this feeling that I am no longer complete here on the earth, that a part of me died and is buried a few miles from my house.

“There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”        Washington Irving

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