I wanted to share this with all of you. As most of you know, it has been four years since Daniel's sudden and unexpected departure, the day after Thanksgiving, in 2008. Since they are now playing Christmas music and the temperature outside and the smells of the season are back, I have been having some recollections of the time just after Daniel's funeral.
Four years ago, in the week after the funeral, I was determined to give our children "a Christmas after all". Daniel had already bought presents for them, and I didn't want to skip Christmas, and so I was out in the village of our county seat shopping. It was part of my quest to keep running for as long as I could, almost as if hoping reality would not catch up with me. I was so brave in the very beginning ! Several women I vaguely knew who had read the paper gave me their condolences, and were very kind. A woman who was shopping in the store for her grandchildren came over to me, having overheard the other women, who had just left. She had tears and hugged me, and gave me advice about how to be strong. She told me that at this time of year, her first baby who was then six or seven months old, was found to need a shunt for a developing hydrocephalus. She and her husband were terrified, but this had to be done. Her baby boy died during the procedure of shunt insertion in the operating room. She didn't really know whether it has been related to anesthesia, but today, as a nurse I knew that this is a routine procedure and that a death during such is highly unusual. She told me that the thinking of her day was to sweep the house of any memories, and so her family came and took the crib, and they all gave away all of the tiny boy's things. By now, the woman was really sobbing as she related her story. As fresh as my loss was, my role became comforting this poor woman, whose loss at that moment was just as fresh as my own ! Perhaps she thought she had found someone who would understand a Christmas season loss of a beloved son.
I learned some things that day from her. In nursing, we are taught that for most, grief takes about a year before it is no longer as acute as it is at the outset. This woman was sobbing as if her heart was broken. Her loss of a child had occurred when I was still a child myself ! She had gone on to have other sons and a daughter and to have grandchildren. I realized then that I would not really ever be "recovering in a year" as taught. Her loss had changed her, and mine would also change me forever as well, as soon as I began to accept that this had indeed happened.
She told me that the thinking of her day was to get rid of everything that would generate memories, but that she now believed that was wrong. She told me to hold on to anything I wanted to, that belonged to Daniel. I have, not so much for Daniel, because he has truly outgrown all the items in his room in the most literal sense of the word, but for the woman who so desperately felt her loss and had regret which was still so bitterly and acutely felt from so long ago, and had been worsened by the loss of items which may have comforted her later.
That day I learned some truths. A mother will never forget the loss of a child. She will function, but periodically that sorrow will return, until we are all reunited once again. This is not a failure of grief to resolve, it's a stark cold reality of life. It's hard to survive the loss of a child, and we should be allowed to do whatever feels right for us. If that means holding onto the socks from his laundry bin, or holding on to his Pokemon cards, his computer, or his Marvel comics t-shirt, then so be it.
I often think of the woman in that consignment shop. Meeting her really did free me to practice my grief as was best for me, and then as a natural extension of that, allow others to do the same. I won't soon forget the endurance of her love for her young son, or the endurance of her grief revisited when the world, and the season again came to rest on the time of year in which he moved on to Heaven.
Joseph's Lullabye Performed by: by Mercy Me