Disregard, Disassociation, Distance

More of my photos from Gruyères as a respite for your eyes

More of my photos from Gruyères as a respite for your eyes

This opening story, like the last one I posted, is dangerous but instructive and essential. It is also, I hope, beautiful. Not beautiful in the conventional sense, but beautiful in its discord-leading-to-resolution. Before sharing, I want to explain that I’ve already passed it under the eyes of those implicated, and in their humility and loving-kindness they’re willing to have it shared publicly even if it’s not too terribly flattering at first. They want it told.

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Two months into our new life in Munich, two months after burying our son in another country, and my parents have not contacted us yet.
No phone calls. No emails. And I’m growing despondent.
But do I call them?
No.
Why not?
Because I’m overwhelmed with sadness, for one thing. I’m saturated with our three children’s sadness, with my husband’s sadness, which sad saturation is compounded, of course, by the demands of an international move managed under extreme physical and psychological impairment, and in the vacuum of no familiar support community, a vacuum that’s gaining suction with every week that passes.
Why else am I not calling? As strange as it seems I am afraid.
I am afraid that family and friends are now done. They’ve moved on to brighter things, lighter things.
And then the trailing question to that thought strangles me: is that what they’re expecting me to do, too? Be done? Am I supposed to “get over it”? Get it behind me? Get to work? Get myself together, get a grip, get on with life, get a life?
I’ve never done this before, this incomprehensible and inescapable  pain, so I don’t know the rules. I do know, however, that I’m doing really well just getting up.
I’m afraid of other things, too. I’m afraid of what might happen as soon as I open my mouth, afraid of the inadequacies of language to transmit what I can barely understand myself, afraid of puncturing the thick and sacred walls I’ve built around this island of grief we’ve been shipwrecked on.
Furthermore, I’m afraid that my call will be misperceived as a prompt for pity.
But here’s the main thing: in spite of all of the above and far deeper than every other fear, I am afraid that if no one talks with me about my son he will begin to slip from my grasp. He will disappear into oblivion. I recoil at a quote I find from Russian author Alexander Pushkin, “Oblivion is the natural lot of anyone not present. It’s horrible, but true.”
So this, fear instructs me, is how I will lose my child a second time.
Confused, overwhelmed and afraid, I go even deeper inside. I climb down into a crater I’ve dug with my nails in the middle of my grief island. And I crouch there. I go very, very quiet. And a wee bit crazy. Bereaved parents – even those in the very best of circumstances – often feel crazy. Just ask them. I get a bitter little swig of the crazees.
I crouch. I wait. I watch. I wait. And wait.
I wait more.

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Last week of October and a gunmetal gray day presses down on the Isar river outside our apartment window. The leaf-shedding trees I’ve been watching daily, hourly, are emaciated, stripped down to bark nakedness. I am in my robe. It is midafternoon. The phone rings. It is my parents. The call goes something like this:
(They’re both addressing me on speakerphone. Their voices are slightly unnatural, and remind me of pastel taffy. Sugary softness wrapped in wax with tight twists at both ends.)
“Our whole California trip was just wonderful, Melissa. Very enjoyable and relaxing.”
Pause.
“. . .Um-huh.”
Pause.
“Yes. Mom and I thought the hotels were comfortable, and the weather, well, what did you think, Donna?”
“Very comfortable. Unseasonably warm. . .even balmy. . .”
Pause.
“. . .Um-huh.
Pause.
“And then there was the hotel swimming pool. Kidney shaped. Too cold, but deep aqua tiles. Pretty to look at.”
Pause.
“. . .Um-huh.”
And so forth.
When we hang up, I drop the phone on the bed. I’m immobile with exhaustion. I can’t lift my head. From one half-opened eye I see on the bedspread that I’ve left a dark blue tear-print as big as a tile-lined kidney-shaped swimming pool.
Alone in this small, dim bedroom I feel all my cells collapsing and my bones turning to syrup and my torso cramping and my neck muscles tensing. Then I hear an animal in me yowling very quietly through gritted teeth and a clenched jaw.
And I fall majorly apart.
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Who knows how long it lasts.
At some point I pull myself together, gather my wits, blow my nose, pray out loud, cry a few words to Parker, and call back my parents. That conversation goes something like this:
(My voice is also slightly unnatural, like I’m just coming out from under anesthesia.)
“Mom?”
“Oh, it’s you again, honey. Good, good! Did we forget something?”
“I. . .I need. . .” I have been lying on my side, but now I sit up to assume my erect, well-planted persona. This way I can breathe and project better. “I am going to say something now. . .”
“Melissa? Did we do something? You sound. . .Wha – did we say the wrong thing?… Sweetheart?”
(“David, come back. Hurry. She’s on the phone.”)
“Mom?. . .I need. . .what I want is. . .” I close my eyes. “Can we just talk. . .talk about. . . about what matters?
By now my dad, who’s turned off the speakerphone, has the receiver close to his lips. His voice vibrates in its lowest register. I know this voice: panic-control mode.
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“Melissa? Now tell us please, honey. What do you need to talk to us about?”
I try to speak, but it’s too physically demanding to push words ahead of the crying that is surging, it seems, upwards from the floor of my gut, so I make some incomprehensibly muffled sounds. My parents wait patiently on their end of the line as I begin filling up that kidney-shaped pool with the tears of a child.
Infantilized. I’m six years old again, needing my mommy and daddy, I think while I keep fighting for breath between gasps and whimpers, scrambling to find my mind, find myself. How can this be happening? I don’t know how to control any of this. This forty-something someone, the one who just a short season ago was resourceful and commanding enough to referee several major international moves, plucky and outspoken enough to lecture before hundreds, a turbo-chargedjoie de vivre Type A type. . .That someone is replaced by a mucus-drooling amoeba, a formless heap of swollen-eyed sweaty-stale bathrobeness that can’t form a single pronounceable shape in her rubber-slobbery mouth.
“Melissa?” My dad’s now whispering.
“Oh, Melissa, dear, what did Dad and I do? Was it the pool, honey? Oh, darling…” my mother’s voice is cracking. “That’s it, David. I knew it. Oh, I. . .Should we, should we not have said the word pool?. . .David, you see? I just knew we’d say something wrong–”
“No! NO, Mom.” I drill a fist into the mattress. “No! I. . .I just – I need to talk. . .But. . .I can not talk about just anything. I have to talk about Parker. About him. I need us to talk about Par—
The dam ruptures. The floodgates smash. Deluge. Tides of tears. From both sides of the Atlantic.
Remorse.
Apologies.
Love.
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Hurriedly, my parents explain that they’ve intentionally not called for so long to “give us room”. They didn’t want to “open any wounds”, they say. They didn’t want to “remind us of our loss.”
“The longer we didn’t take contact,” my mom’s voice is twisted with pain, “the more awkward we felt about calling.”
“You hadn’t been calling us”, my dad interjects softly, “so we reasoned that you must have been doing well. . . enough.”
Which they knew was probably unlikely, they say, but they had at least hoped. . .And in the worst case scenario if in fact we weren’t doing well we probably wanted to be left alone. “Were we wrong?” my dad asks.
“Besides all of that,” my mom cuts in, “we’ve been traveling, you know, and lecturing,” which I know was their way of finding a practical distraction from heavy things. My dad, during those days around the funeral, had been discreetly clenching his chest. I didn’t know how much of the weight of grief his aging heart could bear. He probably needed reprieve. “Death, like the sun,” wrote La Rochefoucauld, “are not to be looked at steadily.”
They explain to me how hard it was to decide to finally call, that before they dared pick up the phone, they’d agreed on a game plan. No mention of anything even remotely associated with Parker. And by all means keep the tone upbeat and frothy – light, feathery talk – to divert attention from, you guessed it, the mammoth Isle of Grief I was sitting on, the one as big as the whole Atlantic ocean between us. The one getting bigger by the moment.
I have no words. I wrap a moist, shredding tissue in and around my fingers, which are stone cold.
“Melissa, sweet daughter,” my mom’s voice is loosening as if massaged with oil. “We love you, honey, and we’re so sad about Parker we can hardly. . .” There is silence. I hear the unfamiliar sound of my mom trying to talk through tears.
“What your mother’s trying to say,” my dad adds, “is that we can hardly breathe.”
Now it is the far more unfamiliar sound of my dad struggling through tears.
“We are sorry, darling.” Mom has the voice of a young girl.
“And,” Dad clears his throat, “we’re deeply, deeply sad. Mournful. You know,” he speaks so softly that if I close my eyes, I could swear he and my mom are sitting on the edge my bed, “this is all so new to us. We don’t know how to do this well. But let’s change this, can we? Can we change this and stay in this horrible thing together? Please?”
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Every blessed day from that moment on and for months on end, at three a.m. Mountain Standard Time, my mom, unable to sleep for her own suffocating sorrow at losing her beloved oldest grandchild, called Munich.

**

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The newly bereaved are incapable of thinking of anything else but their loss and their past. Buttoning a collar, folding gym socks, stapling homework, putting a key in the ignition, sitting and staring and feeling their own heart beat–all of it is downright freighted, barnacled, throbbing with loss. If we as co-mourners think it is our job to fill our interactions with our grieving friends with empty chatter in order to not “remind” the bereaved of their loss, or if we feel things will be better if we never say a word, we are mistaken. If we think it’s better we all pretend nothing happened, and that we as friends are safer staying far away, we are also terribly mistaken.

Being thus mistaken, we might find ourselves returning to our broken friends much (too much) later saying the following. (I will protect the identity of the speakers, but want you to know that these are not fiction. They are quotes with good people’s faces behind them):

“I couldn’t speak to you. Your story kind of intimidated me.”
“I just didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. I am so sorry.”
“I was afraid I’d say something that would hurt you more.”
“I didn’t want to get you worked up about the past.”
“I figured you wanted space.”
“I’ve never known loss, so I don’t know how to do this.”
“I didn’t want to impose myself.”
“Your pain frightened me. You looked too sad to approach”
“I felt totally helpless. I kept trying to find something original to say. But I guess I never found that thing.”
“You were so sad for so long, and I was worried. I thought the gospel was supposed to fix these things.”
“We didn’t know how to help you find closure.”
“I’ve been an awful friend. Honestly, I’ve been so distracted with other things in my life.”
“We thought we’d wait a few weeks until you looked like you were over the worst part, until you were healed. Then it seems the weeks passed so quickly and, well. . .”
“I know it’s been a few months since I last checked in. Can you catch me up?”
“A parent’s worst nightmare. I hope you’ll forgive me, but I just didn’t dare get close to it, to you.”

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The newly bereaved can become despondent and/or angry and/or resentful if we as co-mourners choose to avoid them. If fear, discomfort , self-absorption or self-consciousness drive us to silence or to a literal detour away from them (and down another aisle in the grocery store, for instance), the bereaved will probably interpret this as a tacit disregard of their loss. We needn’t ambush them with attention or crush them with affection. But if we disassociate ourselves from them while we wait at a distance for them to “get over it” , we not only lose the great blessing – for them and for us – to help them in their greatest hour of need which will offer us a chance for great spiritual bonding with them and with heaven, but we risk disappearing from that relationship definitively. The process of mourning is by nature constant, constantly changing and communal; it is not something distanced friends can later “catch up” on.

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So we have a challenging dynamic here. We grief-stricken have to ask ourselves: is this harmful conspiracy of silence partially our own fault? I have a hard time admitting it myself, but I’ve concluded that yes, it’s partially been my fault. This conspiracy of silence was partially my fault because, as is typical and understandable of those battling with the huge physiological and psychological demands of acute grief, I simply did not have it in me to coach others on how to reach me.

And, as the story of the phone call illustrates, the very idea of coaching others – even the most intimate and lifelong confidantes – on how to grieve with me was loaded with traps and cul de sacs and second-guesses and frustration.
I have reason to believe that in this respect, my story is not at all unique.
From all that I have gathered in five years of studying this, most bereaved generally don’t want to force on anyone a conversation about their deceased loved one although a continued conversation is exactly what they want and need.

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Why are we bereaved so tentative, then, about initiating such conversations? There are as many reasons as there are grievers. But here are just a few possibilities. What if people stare back dully (as some will), or look at their watches (as some will), or grow jittery and awkward, stuttering with no response except maybe, “So. . . is it therapeutic for you to talk about your [son, sister, wife, father] like this?” (as some will.)
What if they quickly change the subject?
As many (most) undoubtedly will.

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Challenging dynamics, indeed.
And of course they are challenging. They are challenging because there is little in life that is as intimate as the loss of it, little that is as delicate and multidimensional as the living’s personal response to it. And someone else’s loss puts my own mortality in boldface. And certain cultures are squeamish about touching on painful and unphotogenic issues. And, and, and. But all these And’s don’t absolve us from the charge to counter the old modes of response with something that is authentic and broken in ourselves. Because true religion (what happens between us human beings in extremis) is supposed to be challenging. How else are we to be brought to Christ but through challenging dynamics? Challenging relationships?

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**

What will happen to us when we find ourselves not in a supporting role in a drama of in extremis, but when we are the lead figure? When the tragic loss is our own, not our neighbor’s? And then our parents don’t call and we feel the first heart-hardenings of despondency. And then church members appear incapable of engaging in our life so colored with mourning, and we feel the slightest simmer of resentment. When a sibling here or a sister-friend there disappears, it seems, from off the face of the earth, and we smell a small saucepan of outrage boiling on our frontal lobe.

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When our heart begins feeling a bit dried out, then brittle, then crusty from anger, curling up around the edges under a low grade fuming, toasting under the grill of judgment, blistering beneath the scorch of our own expectations?

What then?

We might call to mind Job, who lost livelihood and life, family and friends, all his possible supporting actors: “He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintances are verily estranged from me./ My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me.” (Job 20:13,14)

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And in the final chapter of his book, this man who has literally nothing left to lose, offers up a precious intangible. He offers forgiveness.

Upon seeing God clearly for the first time, (“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye seeth thee”), Job feels compelled to repent “in dust and ashes.” When he does, God announces that Job will be acceptable when Job “prays for his friends.”

Job’s trial is not complete, his refinement not perfected until he forgives and prays for and on behalf of those who have added to his misery.

He has seen God. Now he is being asked to be as God. Stripped of all former glory, ground into the dust, mocked, misjudged, condemned, abandoned.

And still worthy to become the High Priest only on condition of mercy and forgiveness:

“And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends.”

What might that prayer have been, the one Job spoke on behalf of his friends? I suspect it would have prefigured another prayer uttered by the only true and great High Priest:

“Father, forgive us all for we know not what we do.”

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**

From Grief and Grace: Collected Voices on Loss and Living Onward

If you and I want to be free of the bitterness that estranges us from others and eats away at our own struggle to find joy again, we are going to have to forgive and pray for the friends who have let us down. They might not deserve it. In fact, they probably don’t. But then, we don’t forgive people because they deserve it; we forgive them because we’ve been forgiven so much by God and because we want to keep in close relationship with God.
–Nancy Guthrie, Holding on to Hope, 68

Some say nothing because they find the topic too painful for themselves. They fear they will break down. So they put on a brave face and lid their feelings—never reflecting, I suppose, that this adds new pain to the sorrow of their suffering friends. Your tears are salve on our wound, your silence is salt.
—N. Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, 35

There’s only one thing worse than speaking ill of the dead—and that is not speaking of the dead at all.
—Anonymus

It seems impossible to me to understand the cruelty of friends and family who desert parents at such a time. But in my research I found countless couples who had horror stories to relate, such as a brother, once close, who stopped calling his sister shortly after her child died, or friends who were never heard from again after the funeral.
–H. Schiff, The Bereaved Parent, 102

Good friends are like angels. Our friends brought us God’s presence and love. They did not solve our problems, as if grief were a problem to be solved. They did not dispense pious phrases. Our closest friends allowed us to be in as much pain as we were in and did not trivialize it by trying to move us beyond it. The angel in the garden did not say to Jesus, ”There, there.” In fact, we do not know what the angel said, or if the angel said anything at all. We are quite comfortable with not having anything to say.
–G. Floyd, My Grief Unveiled

Only the man who has had to face despair is really convinced that he needs mercy. Those who do not want mercy never seek it. It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency that has never felt the need of forgiveness. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.
–Thomas Merton

228 thoughts on “Disregard, Disassociation, Distance

  1. Thank you for posting. God will not only continue to carry you and your family through this time of grief, but use you and this blog to minister to others just like yourself. What a hard, and yet tender, read this was. Again, thank you for posting.

  2. I you don’t mind my stopping in to comment…I know this is very personal. It appears to me that you have described very well the crushing feeling of a parent grieving the loss of their child. I am so sorry for the loss of your son.

    My friend lost a child. I suppose it would have been easier to protect my own heart and distance myself from her pain, but my Lord, I could never have done that to her. And it IS hard to know the right thing to say, only because there is no right thing to say, and a whole lot of wrong things to say. I’ve learned that the best way is to be as present as they will allow, tell them how sorry you are. And cook. I did a lot of cooking for her that summer.

    • joyce: Mind you stopping by? Glad Your instinct is beautiful, I think. Being present. Giving food. So simple, so saving. I recall the handful of almonds, maybe seven of them, my girlfriend gave me as we all walked out of the ICU when we had turned off our son’s life support and it was all over. I can’t think of another time when food felt so otherworldly, awkward but full of love in my parched mouth.

      Thnx for being there for your friend and nourishing her with your quiet and your cooking!—M.

    • Sanath–Hello! What a kind thing to say. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m off to spend some stolen hours crafting something that will continue the wonder. As one of my readers, you deserve good material and nourishment when you stop by. I’ll do my floundering, honest best for you, Sanath.

  3. Thank you…though I have not walked in your shoes, I have walked in my own following a similar path…ironic that when we feel most disconnected that we find so many other weary travelers connected by the shared experience of detachment.

  4. Thank you for beautifully sharing your story. Watching someone bear a burden you can’t assist with is a burden in itself. Too easy to stumble and misstep, fumbling the who thing in an attempt to be helpful. And parents never stop being mothers even when their children are grown, just the terrain changes.

    • And I thank you, rkb685, for contributing to the discussion here. I’ve just read a nice passage that applies well to this whole topic:

      I have found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets who have dared express the unique in themselves.
      ––Carl Rogers

      Good to have you stop by here!—M.

  5. It’s our instinct not to think we can feel another’s pain, not to ‘intrude’, not to get in the way of their journey. And yet, in our own sorrows we need to feel others walking with us. You’ve described so beautifully and so tenderly the frozen heart of grief. I can’t imagine your pain at the loss of your son. But I have to thank you so much for sharing the story so that we might know that walking alongside, for as long as it takes, is the best way – the only way – to ease the burden.

  6. Stumbled across this by “accident” today and I want to thank you for sharing all of this. It’s so much to process, but I love that you are doing it. I think you are utterly right about the way through this terrible place. God bless you and your family.

  7. Melissa, thank you so much for posting. I stumbled across your story and was interested as a new Mom who has moved internationally a few times…and I am so thankful that I read to the end of the post…to the Gospel part–the forgiveness part. The part that helps someone like me know a little better how to respond to a dear Sister in Christ or a friend in need. Thank you for your honest, eloquent sharing of your story. May God continue to give you wisdom and bless your efforts!

    • Emily–No better way to start my day than reading words like this. (Well, okay, reading scripture came first, but you came second…:-) The “forgiveness” part, is the Gospel part, the Gospel in its totality, as you’ve implied, and I’d be a cold clot of hopelessness without lots of forgiveness received and given. I’m warmed straight through by your soft message of love; energy for continued efforts. It’s all God.—M

  8. Reblogged this on Don MacIver; A Poet's View and commented:
    For anyone who has suffered the lost of a loved one whether a child, a parent, a sibling, a relative or other loved one, and indeed for anyone whose loved on, relative or friend has suffered such a loss, then this is a MUST read. Melissa Dalton-Bradford paints an incredibly painful picture with her words here…really quite remarkable. I will remember this always.

    • Don. . . .Whewooaahh. What can I say in response to your words? You’ve given me courage to keep speaking and to continue to share as much as I can with others about what major loss can mean in one’s life. I don’t say it all, and I don’t say it perfectly, but I add something, I hope, to the conversation. Not a one of us will escape this world without losing something(s) of exquisite value. And not a one will leave here without having known someone up close who has lost those exquisite things tragically. Can’t we learn from each other how to face this, enter it, engage in it, and thereby lighten and enlighten it? For myself, I want to be part of that conversation, want to be part of the ongoing dialogue of death and life. I appreciate your kind words, Don. I’ll be by your blog soon to comment there. . .M.

      • Melissa – I want to respond to something in nearly every line of your writing; yet could not tear myself from the screen. If I can make just one comment (other than to thank you for your courage in sharing your deepest vulnerabilities) it would be in no way do you suffer “inadequacies of language to transmit what I can barely understand myself.” On the contrary – as a mother who lost a son overnight and has been writing about it for the past ten-plus years – I am beyond grateful for the immediacy and rawness of your offering. As Rogers said, the most personal details are the most universal: my story and yours are different in their particulars, but the underlying themes – the grief, pain, need for support and healing – gather us all in. These are universal human experiences. You have touched put it all out in front of us. A challenging call which you have answered with grace, dignity and authenticity. I hold you and your family in my heart. Thank you.

      • sarah: This is wise commentary, and I so appreciate it. I must say that my earliest writings – even those a year or two from impact – were so raw they soaked the page. Only with distance have I been able to organize language in a way that is digestible and somewhat comprehensible for others, especially those who are uninitiated to major loss. You might understand, as a bereaved mother whose loss was also instantaneous, what I am driving at. What sorrow in this world! And what light and possibility. We need each other to make this journey meaningful in the most noble, generative way possible.
        With love and sorrow for the pain you bear—M.

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  10. This is gut wrenchingly beautiful. I am feeling so honored to have read this in a time where I have known and lost several in the last few months – whose parents, and partners and friends agony I can only imagine. My heart goes out to you and to your family- write – keep writing…. keep healing. XO

    • monica—“Several in the last few months.” ? Can you breathe? I can only shudder. Please care for yourself. And while doing that, I hope great loves cares for you, too. Thank you for the time you took to stop by—M.

  11. I recently started blogging. It has been a slow process to learn and I have no idea how to get an audience but that was ok. I figured that while I was figuring out that part, I would read other peoples blogs and try to get creative ideas on format and different things. That is what brought me to your blog. I wish I had the words to express…

    One of the things that led me to want to blog was the death of my mother in 2006 and my father in 2010. At the time I was going through that I felt like I had been left an orphan. I knew that was rediculous-I was in my 40s. Your blog touched that. Reading how you needed your parents… I had to get up and leave my computer I was crying so hard. But your blog helped me to understand and process those feelings.

    Since going thru that I have felt like I have become stronger through that and that I could withstand almost anything. Except what you went through. That is my greatest fear. Thank you for opening your life and feelings to us. I am so sorry for your loss and so thankful for your willingness to share.
    Sabra

    • Sabra–Both parents gone within four years? Very, very heavy indeed. Whatever age it is a serial blow and your body has to absorb it. I hope friends and family have been there and that reading my words in the blog has not been the kind of pain that makes you cave in and fold into origami. For too long, at least 🙂 I honor your fight to become stronger from what you’ve known, and am sure that strength will be used for others who will follow you with their own hearts in pieces. It is a strange way to a great gift, but loss and make you resilient, receptive and alert to the big, real world of others’ pain. And I think you’d agree (I know you’d agree) that that’s all good.—M.

      • Thank you for your response and you are right about being more in tune with peoples loss and grief. I always was before but was scared of it. That is the part that changed for me. I no longer fear other peoples emotions when they are going through those things.

      • sabrazay- Exactly. It’s fear of the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable that keeps us tight and stoney. You sound like you’d be a comforting place to lean on if in pain. Thank you for your time here.—M.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story with such power and grace. Reading your words has helped encourage me to reach out to a family member who lost a dear four-year-old nephew a week ago today. Sincere thanks.

    • K–Oh, yes, do that. Run and reach out. There is no perfect way to mend the gouge (a sweet little four-year-old boy gone? Just impossible!), but you can listen for inner promptings that might well help you ease a great, searing burden. You very presence and authentic shock are words enough. So very glad you are there for your family—-M.

  13. I consider myself lucky because I was able to coach my friends through how to help me with my grief after my father died. But I also can understand how many people don’t know what to do/say – we are taught manners for all sorts of situations but never what to do when someone dies. This is something I learnt in a bereavement group and it helped me a lot. The only people who really know what to do are those who have also experienced loss.

    One of my best friends did the best thing the day my dad died. She asked to come over to my house. She sat next to me on my couch and held my hand while I cried. She said nothing at all. She did exactly what I needed.

    I am sorry for your loss. It never goes away, but the hole you fall into becomes less deep over time.

    • Kelly:
      This is a strong image: “She sat next to me on my couch and held my hand while I cried. She said nothing at all. She did exactly what I needed.”

      I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you for your words of support. —M.

  14. Brutally truthful and courageously written. I will remember this post always. When faced with a tragedy several years ago, I found myself at a loss for words to comfort a friend. Still, i am unable to get over the guilt I feel for not being able to help more. Instead I told myself that serving as a distraction was my way of taking the pain away. I was lucky enough that this one did not slip away, but will never take that for granted again! I hope that addressing the issues in the incredibly difficult mourning process has lifted some weight off, and relieved some of the pain. Your words are being heard, and I thank you very much for writing and reminding us all of our responsibilities as friends.

    • Lani–I’ll cut and paste your comment and stick it on my desk to refer to when I want to fold, when I am unsure about this difficult enterprise of being so transparent with the world. I am glad your friendship has survived. You are fortunate.—M.

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  16. I cried, and then I cried again, first by your words and then by your grief…then for my own.
    I’ve heard it said that we don’t know how to talk about death in our culture; whereas that may be true, it seems we understand even less as to how to talk about grief, except in cold, clinical, detached ways.
    Thank you for sharing this in a public forum – most of us need to read it…and then read it again…to be reminded, or learn for the first time, that opening our hearts fully is the first step in forgiveness and healing.
    I am, so very sorry for your loss.

    • Maya–I know, I know.I grow nervous myself as I gain a vocabulary for this loss, since it threatens to make the singularity generic, the texture chalky, the scope one-dimensional. It is risky to enter into language, since language can make things common. So we keep trying, all in an effort to enlarge our hearts.

      —M.

  17. Dear Melissa,

    My nose burned with the familiar threat of tears about to burst forth as I saw you sitting there calling your parents back. I felt the crushing waves of pent up emotion that strangled your words. The way you have related your story is so very powerful and eloquent. We cannot spare anyone the pain of loss, and to lose a child is incomprehensible to me. Yet you have lived this experience so fully, with a depth and reflection that can only bring a sense of solace to others. I am honored to have had the opportunity to listen and lift you up, even if only virtually.

    • Angel-Honored by your visit here to our discussion. To los a child was incomprehensible to me, too. And still is. And many other losses besides death are incomprehensible to me. What gives me hope, is that whatever loss I have felt might bring me one step nearer to engaging in another’s loss. If I don’t become more compassionate and aware from what I have grieved for, then there is a second death, namely my won emotional and spiritual death. Do I really want that? Does that do any good in the world? So thank you for also “living this experience so fully” with me.—M.

  18. Is it possible to walk in another’s shoes, to trace the elemental depths they have discovered unbidden? It takes mastery of letters, or paint, music or movement to make it so. And even though you possess this skill in spades, and I may have wept with your words, it seems a pale shadow to offer up as an acknowledgement for what you presented. Thank you would be selfish, but I want you know I shall carry your words and a piece of your pain with me always. I hope it may soften an edge. Here’s to remembering Parker.

  19. This is a most extraordinary piece. I wanted to click the “like” button, but that seemed inappropiate.

    We walk our dog somedays on a small green space where there is young tree growing. At it’s foot sits a plaque in rememberance of a 20 year old son, now gone. That boy is remembered by strangers as well as loved ones.

    Good luck in your difficult journey.

    • Bill-What a resonant image. We have a bench in a public park in Munich which,too, has a commemoration plaque on it. (The post on that one is In Amber; you can search it, if you want to). But that is not my point. My point is that you are able to “remember” someone you have never “membered.” What a large thought. We can all learn from that, and i’m glad you brought it here. Warmth and hope—M.

  20. Thank you for sharing your most personal and painful words with me. It will serve as a guide to help my friends and family through the inevitable grief, and to be there for them. It’s easier to at first separate yourself from the grieving, but much harder to live with the knowledge that you were absent, as time marches on.

  21. This is the first time I have come across your blog, thanks to Freshly Pressed. I don’t know what to say about your writing, other than to tell you I cried when I read this post. Your writing has such beauty and poetry and such a quality of honesty about it that I felt like I had found your diary and have been immersed in your deepest thoughts. I look forward to getting to know you, Parker and the rest of your family through your wonderful blog. Take care, James

  22. Melissa, thank you for opening your heart in such a personal sharing. I doubt you will ever know just how many people you have helped by speaking out about your pain, your confusion, your parent’s heartbreak in not being able to reach out in the way you needed, because their hearts were breaking also. We all travel different pathways through life, though they may be side by side, with but an angel’s breath between, they are not the same. We are often hesitant to reach out, as if we may lose our own way… our own direction through life. Yet, by doing so, our lives become stronger.
    If there is anything to be learnt by going through this terrible time, it is that grief doesn’t end. The pain changes, it rises and falls, it wails and it whispers, but it becomes that invisible cloak which surrounds us, seen by few others, lest it drifts away, but always, it returns. When you need it, pull it close, to comfort and support, when you are warm enough, let it float beside you, around you, reminding you that it belongs to you, to wear or not as you will. May Parker be at peace, always nestling in the bed of love within your heart. God Bless.

    • Criss–“Wails and whispers” is a fine way to put it. Grief over death is as permanent as the life lost, naturally, although it evolves, flattens out, retreats a bit so you can live fully (although amputated), and then, from nowhere it can rip one under without much warning. And then it flattens out, retreats. . .I understand what you’re saying. Thank you for leaving such thoughtful words—M.

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  24. I am so sorry, and it will no doubt help people to read words which must have been difficult for you to write. You wrote it beautifully. And I am sorry you have had your grief compounded by people who don’t know what to say–and, perhaps worse, who say the unwittingly heartless (and completely clueless) things they’ve said to you–things that only could be said by a person who has not yet experienced the depths of grief for someone loved so very much. I am a bit shocked my the people our family knows well–including a former sister-in-law, who was married to my brother at the time–who have never said a word to me or my children about my husband’s sudden terminal diagnosis and death. But I am also overwhelmed by the people who have reached out to us and given us such compassion and known we need to talk about him and keep him with us that way. Even the people who say insensitive things to you, if their hearts are in the right place, won’t forget your child, I promise. We have a niece who died just before birth and we all still remember her. We have friends who lost an infant child more than twenty years ago and will always remember her, as we will the classmate of one of my young daughters who killed himself, and a son’s high school classmate who died of cancer. Their faces, their beings, and the futures they didn’t have a chance to have, are carried forever by their families and anyone who loves their families.

    • Stephanie, Echo voice insert here: “I am a bit shocked by [the occasional conspicuous disregard]. . ..But I am also overwhlemed by. . .such compassion.” Yes and yes. No question I was a miserable co-mourner and missed the point entirely before I knew this kind of loss myself. I’m ashamed of that limitation and want so much to change it. And that is why I’m that much more touched and stunned by those who are, by nature or my discipline, so compassionate and gifted in doing this hard thing. I have so many examples (as I hope you do , too) of those who have stepped in and been literal angels in human form. Astounding human beings. I hope that for you there continues to be a loving circle and a growing sense of purpose. Oh, to lose your spouse. . .The thought alone makes me brace myself.—M

  25. Thanks for this. True, to give support to others equally grieved (or even more) while is also grieving too. I will never forget a sister (who died by suicide, 2 yrs. ago) but unfortunately her son thinks she’s being forgotten because we probably don’t talk enough about her??? Sigh. I think we nurse our own griefs individually.

    She raised her 2 adult children well. They each “defended” their mother in their individual euologies at the service and explained how they saw/remembered their mother.

    Grieving is a long process for each person. For sudden, unpredicted deaths somtimes, it takes even longer.

    • Jean, you are spot on. All my private research shows that sudden, “out-of-the-natural-order” deaths impact the survivors quite differently from the anticipated or “Within-the-natural-order” deaths. There are scores of statistics that speak to those differences. Certain categories of deaths are ranked (how appalling,”ranking”, but it’s done) as more “difficult” or “complicated” than others.

      To help understand, suicide, particularly the suicide of a parent or a child, is among the bereavement experiences most rife with problems/ complications. That said, all losses are, as I like to say, as individual as one’s DNA. There are so many factors contributing to this, it’s truly impossible to “compare” losses.

      thank you for commenting here—-and I am so sorry that your sister was so desperate that she ended her own life. Two years is no time at all…M.

  26. Sending healing light and love your way… I wish people who become silent over others loss would read this. The silence adds to the pain…
    Blessings,
    Eliz

  27. Thank you so much for your soulful heartening way of expressing what so many feel and cannot express. I have a similar story, however mine was due to a suicide in my name after a breakup. I was not only left alone because of fear, but also because I was blamed by so many of his friends and family. I was labled with the scarlet letter of suicide. I blamed myself as well and I did not feel I had the right to grieve. It has taken me many years and the love and advice of a best friend who coincidentally had the same experience 10 years before me. God puts people in our lives for a reason, and her compassion and strength saved me from believing the many people who were cruel and just plain misunderstood suicide. It has been 14 years next month and it still has left me with the crippling effects of depression. Even with all of the blame and guilt associated with grieving after suicide committed “in your honor” I must say that your pain is one that I cannot even imagine. I am so glad that you had the strength to open the dialogue needed to give your parents the path of honestly addressing and grieving openly and fully with you. Your story has touched my soul and I am sending you love and prayers. I will follow your journey with you and thank you again for helping me by sharing.

    • Janine–This is a cruel and complicated set of circumstances. I hardly dare comment on it. But I do hope for you, too, that you find that right person here and there that helps you and loves you. And as you come here more often, you’ll find stories of wonderful, inspired people who have been extraordinary examples of the best in humanity. Two of them are my parents. :-)—M

  28. I’m not even sure how i got here but I soaked up your words like a sun dried sponge, thank you for the courage to share your story.

    I, too, have a story to tell and although I have put pen to paper many times (fingers to keyboard) I could not hold onto the conviction that my story was worth telling or that others might really want to hear it but tonite that has all changed.

    I will not attempt to lay my story over top of yours here, that is not my intention, suffice it to say that what began for me 10 years ago come March is a story worth telling if only to finally allow myself to swim away from my own island of grief.

    Your writing has renewed my will and while I am so sorry for your loss I am equally thankful for your courage.

    Dan

    • Dan, Write it. Write it while it is still fresh and bleeding. It might be that in the act of writing you’ll gain a sharper and yet more contextualized sense of what you’ve experienced, and a greater understanding for what to best do as you move onward in life. Honor your own experience by spreading it out in words and looking at it without blinking. Thank you for coming here. Hope to see you many times.—M.

  29. When I read this I picture a room at night and laying on a bed someone clutching the covers and wishing for days gone by. Then I think of a lady friend of mine who lost her father some years ago, yet still gets teary-eyed when remembering the life that was. I understand the fear of losing again what you lost through not keeping the memory alive.

    You’ll be okay. Someone that can express their sorrow in the way you have with this post has a lot of inner strength.

    Good luck.

    • J-Thank you. And I think I can say, yes, I am doing well. Our whole family is. Today I can sing again, laugh, crack people up, host a party, play with my children, love with both lungs, speak of my gorgeous son without liquefying on the spot. . .So what’s happened? One certainty is that it’s been far more than the mere passage of time; it’s been the loving support and added understanding of things that have given light and comfort over the passage of time. That I can write and speak freely about this today should be, I hope, help to others. thanks for coming here—M.

  30. I totally agree that grief is not something that can solved, nor can it be tidied away or swept under the carpet. Words do little but maybe the love, encouragement and empathy behind them means something, friendship and relationships are what we need in such a difficult time. I feel for you and your family at such a sad time, what an upheaval, many hugs and thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • Id–We’ve adjusted well, thanks for your sweet concern. Over these five years we’ve been loved wisely and have learned much, foremost among lessons being how to straddle absence and presence. I only hope now that I can be available for others who are hurting. When you’re not nailed to some cross, I once read, then you can be at the foot of someone else’s. I’m glad you’ve come by here. Love your comments—M.

    • Wow! You wrote what I think but just cannot put so eloquently into words. Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to any one person or family. My son committed suicide 17 months ago. The wounds are not healed, but why does society feel like there should be a time frame put on grieving parents. Those wounds never heal…. they just scab over briefly and then usually the scab will be ripped off without warning and the cycle begins again. Hugs to you and your family, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I always say that parents who have lost a child belong to a special club – and we do not want anyone else to be a member; however those of us that are part of it typically find solace in one another.

      • Cindy-Awful beyond language. Suicide is a brutal word, and when it is one’s child. . .a whole world removed from other losses, from everything I have read and observed. I ache for you. Ache for your whole family. Ache for the son who was in such pain that this was his decision. A warm a soft moan for you here. . .M.

    • rt-I don’t consider myself as brave as I do very fortunate and well-tutored. I’ve learned a lot. And today, 5 1/2 years from impact, our whole family is living with energy, laughter, and hope. It’s been a road, I’ll tell you, but our oldest son has been with us. Maybe that, as much as anything, has brought us here strong and intact. Thank you for coming by to comment.–M.

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  32. This was painstakingly beautiful. It is hard to deal with when people are so focused on the “I”, as in themselves, in situations of death when in reality they should be focusing on the person in need.
    Thank you for sharing this.

    • Koa-And thank you for leaving a thoughtful comment. We’re all novices at grief at some point or another, ignorantly unhelpful but not always because of selfishness, just out of fear and discomfort. It’s scary to enter into another’s agony. But when one does, good things can happen.–M.

  33. When you lose someone you are at loss of words. But Melissa you’ve put your grief and sadness on this post and shared it with the world at large which I hope is a healing process. We all share your grief and look forward to come out of it.

  34. I’m so sad for your loss. To lose a child must be the worst kind of pain imaginable. Though for different reasons, I’ve also had people be afraid to acknowledge the obvious pain in my life. I’ve learned when people have unresolved pain of their own, they are unable to reach out to others who are hurting. You are fortunate to have parents willing to learn to grieve with you. Many blessings to you all…

    • Denise – I’m fortunate, you are so right. Many have been incredibly kind and sensitive to my family, showing the best of what humans are capable of in the face of someone else’s sorrow. It’s been and continues to be humbling to be loved so wisely. Best to you, Denise—M.

  35. Melissa- thank you for posting…having watched my parents bury their 19 year old son when I was 17, I understand the grief you are feeling and will never completely put to rest. It continues to be difficult to share many, many years later and it helps to see why I felt so abandoned by friends and family who simply couldn’t understand or relate to the loss and grief of that time, I always felt like the friends in my age group couldn’t understand because of their young age, but now I see why no one older reached out either, it never becomes easier. Again, thank you and God bless and guide you.

    • Lyn-It’s remarkable how the grief remains with one in some form or another, isn’t it? As in your family: Some siblings can talk; others not at all. Some parents can talk; others clamp shut. Some bereaved have a robust circle of wise friends; others bury their loved one and their grief in a hard, barren place that few if any acknowledge. Amazingly, I’ve arrived, like many do, at a place I never thought possible on the outset: I feel humor and laughter and hope in abundance and. . . also carry my heavy stone of sorrow right along with it. The sorrow is compartmentalized now, whereas in the beginning it was in and on and through everything. Omnipresent and omnivorous, capable of devouring too much that is a gift. I sorrow with you, even if we’re strangers. I sorrow with your family over the mortal loss of this son and brother. God bless you, Lyn.–M.

  36. I came across your blog and had to read it. My niece lost a child a few years ago and even though she is on the other side of the country I grieved with her and the family. I can’t even imagine the struggles and despair one goes through in the loss of their child. My thoughts and prayers are with your family.

    • ruminations–That is wonderful and large-souled that you grieved with your niece. I say large-souled because I’l guess the impulse to be with someone in pain is a loving thing, but it also enlarges your soul. Thank you for being here and commenting!–M.

  37. “When our heart begins feeling a bit dried out, then brittle, then crusty from anger, curling up around the edges under a low grade fuming, toasting under the grill of judgment, blistering beneath the scorch of our own expectations?”

    I cried when I read this.
    God bless and take care.

  38. Yoh. i wasn’t expecting to happen upon a post like this when i turned on my computer today. thanks for writing this post of recovery and Grace. There’s something indescribable about sharing in someone else’s story with them- even as strangers. again; Thank You.

    • An Yoh back, 1heart. So glad to have you drop by, and it makes me humbled and happy to think that a stranger might be gifted by something I write. The story keeps pulling us along, and I just keep teling it. Warmth and thanks–M.

  39. Melissa- Thank you for sharing your journey, pain, insights and son with us. I am a grief counselor and would like to share this entry with my mourning community. What you so beautiful poured out in this entry is often discussed in our programs. I feel your honest reflection here could help others trying to navigate life after loss as well. Would this be OK with you? With peace…

    • Lizabeth- Please, please feel free to share anything I write that you feel adds value to your discussions with your associates and friends who are in need. I wish I could be there to hear the full conversation and all fo them, which I’d wager are sometimes like upending the universe. It’s such an implosion and just about everything seems to get radically rearranged. My whole blog is not exclusively about loss and grief, but at present this is where I’m focusing. And I have quite a lot to share. As one very bright and very loving bereaved father once wrote to me in an unforgettable email, “What can one say but too much?”

      I’m hopeful that your feedback will help guide what you think needs to be addressed. All my warmth and reaching out to your mourning community. Love—Melissa

      • Melissa- Thank you for providing personal permission. I know your words will provide profound comfort and even inspiration. Thank you for having the courage to use your voice and scream/sing your experience from the blogging “mountain tops”. We need more voices out there talking about grief and life after loss. Thank you!

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    • Hey, Red– I was struck by your “ramblings”, which are not incoherent or useless or. . .anything you wrote with sweet self-effacement. Your ideas are worth a long, warm talk…So hard in these cramped little screens, you know? Here’s just one thought, a simple one, but it’s the bedrock of my experience and belief: the dead are never “gone.” They are, as many people believe, not gone but invisible and quite forcefully present. Not talking ouija board, tarot card, jiggle-the-lamp-shade “present”. I am talking very much alive and engaged in our lives, wishing to guide and support and even tutor us each toward happiness. The drama (and grief and pathos and steel-teethed-trowel to the deepest tissues of the torso) is part of readjusting our relationship with the “dead” from being “present” in the conventional sense to something different, something much more subtle but just as real, something that requires us to live in a way so we can feel and recognize their ongoingness in our lives. It’s not smoke and mirrors, nor is it just “remembering” and memorializing. It is continuing the bond, which was never broken even when you had to turn off the ventilator.

      And that realization in our lives can be the great gift (or grace) of loss: Living in a new, much more mindful way. The dead do more than euphemistically “live on in our hearts”. They live on. At least that has been my repeated and verifiable experience. I’ll post on that in upcoming posts. Sensitive. I’ll have to be a careful writer/thinker…

      Now. . .I can’t wait to get your response 🙂 I’m glad you thought to ramble in here during ICT. We’re all fortunate. Really like the layout of your blog, btw. –melissa

  41. Death is personal. My grief experience was completely the opposite and equally as real. You can check out my recent post on it.
    Thank you for sharing this.

    • Survival–I read your post and got it. Thank you for this. No question death personal, just as its paired component, life. And still. . .in spite of all the notable differences, there seem to be as many overlapping edges, however frayed. I appreciate that you’ve added a needed contrasting voice to this conversation. Do come back again—melissa

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