15 December 2011

The death of a reader's son

There will be some readers who'll prefer not to read today's post. You can see by the title what it's about. But I am writing for a reader who needs our help at this time. The fact that it's Christmas and everyone is full of joy is irrelevant. We are real people living real lives and when a world collapses, it is healthy to reach out and connect. If you only want to read about simplifying, please stop reading now and come back tomorrow.

This is part of an email I received a few days ago from "Amy", a regular reader:

" ... We have only 5 weeks ago lost our amazing, precious and most darling 26 year old son...Rhonda if I told you he was an angel who walked this earth I would not be exaggerating one bit. If at some time could you please just mention your thoughts on children who leave before their parents...I know it's not in line with your blog....but I would dearly love to hear just a few words from you....as you ALWAYS make sense, your life is about compassion and I just know that everything you say is true. With Christmas upon us it is probably not the time anyway to be anything but full of joy. I have been going to grief counselling only so that I can show my girls who are 15 and 16 and another who is 27 and married with a darling little 2 year old how to grieve in a healthy way. Through my torment and agony I have to show the girls that we will get through this. But, oh Rhonda, the pain... "

I have no idea what this would feel like. Can you help someone if you don't understand the depth of their pain? I know I would cope with almost everything that might happen to me but the one thing that would wipe me out would be if anything happened to my children, or my grandchildren. I would not get over that. The first thing I did when I read this email was to read it to Hanno and to ask his advice. I don't tell you everything about us, but Hanno said it's okay to share his story if it's going to help someone. Two children from Hanno's first marriage died. A son at age two and a daughter at age six, both died from unusual and unrelated diseases. Hanno said you never get over it, you just learn to live with it. "Sometimes, when you've been making progress, a memory or a smell will take you back, you remember and you're back to zero again. That never stops."

I have a big problems with that word "closure". It seems to me that all of a sudden people started saying it in relation to death and grief. I thought it was a made up "Oprah" word but I just looked up my Webster's American Dictionary and it's in there. I'm sure their meaning is closure as in a door or window but it's there none the less. I don't think there is closure and it's absurd to think there would be. How can you close off that part of your life when it is the one thing you think of every day, the one thing you want to remember every second of, even though it causes you more pain than any thing you could imagine. Why would you want closure? It beats me. 

I think that counselling is good; talking to friends is good but often friends are trepidacious and don't want to bring up the subject thinking it might make things worse. I think when that happens, when the talking stops, when the person who died is not mentioned for fear of upsetting someone, those who are grieving the most feel their loved one is being forgotten. Talking makes a difference. Even this post will play a small part. It's recognising that a wonderful son, a young man who died young, is not here now and his life's promise was played out far too soon. His family and particularly his mother and father are devastated but all of us lose when this happens. We need good people.

There is another woman here who has gone through this pain herself with her daughter about the same age as this young man and I wonder if she would email me so I can connect her to Amy. There is some good in sharing grief but the sharing is best done with someone who has experienced it. Raw pain needs to meet raw pain - there is no half way mark with this kind of grief.

Hanno is right, I am sure of that. You never get over the death of a child. Parents aren't supposed to outlive their children and when it happens, you have to question if anything can be right again. My mum died 18 years ago but it seems like it was yesterday. I miss her so much and if someone were to offer me a million dollars or five minutes with my mother, I'd take that five minutes in an instant. I will never get over her death but I now know how to live with it. I do it by honouring the person she was, and wanted me to be, I do it by emulating her example. She was a very generous and open hearted women. I try to follow in her footsteps. Sometimes I step in them, sometimes I fail but the doing of this has helped me live without her.

I started writing this post yesterday afternoon and sent Amy an email asking if it was okay to share her story in the post. At this point in my post I received this reply from her: "Today has been the same, I need to really pull something out of my being to keep on, to make the bed, to wash the floors, to do a little cooking, but I say often to myself that I have to stay the person that my son knew and loved, I can't let that person slip away...in his honour." Amy, that is exactly what you need to do. Keep doing the practical things that gave structure to your days in the past. If there are days when you can't manage it, that's fine; rest on those days, or go out somewhere with the family, or alone. That is how I am dealing with my mother's death. It is the only way that makes sense to me.

If anyone tells you you need closure, don't listen to them. This is your son! You have to feel the pain. there is no closure. There is only you honouring the memory of him, being the mother he knew and staying true to that. There will be days when that will be easier than others. We live in a society that fears death and many people don't like talking about it. But it's the one true thing we all share. Don't let anyone sanitise your son's death, feel the pain, remember him, honour him by living well and true. One day there will come a time when the pain isn't as sharp. One day there will be the beginnings of acceptance. One day you'll be surprised by peace. I doubt there will ever be a time when you remember him without sadness and yearning but there is life to be lived. You have to do that for your daughters, and for him. He would want it. You need it.

Hanno and I send our sincere condolences to you and your family. I have no doubt there will be many readers who will do the same. There may be some who will share how they have coped with the death of a son or daughter. I hope this has given you some sort of comfort. I will be thinking of you in the days ahead and will stay in touch.

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