Yesterday I dropped Margaret off to board a bus for a Middle School church retreat. She was anxious about being so far from home and so was I, but after some deep breathing she bravely climbed on the bus with her friends. I hope it will be an exciting, meaningful weekend for her.
As the parents prayed in the parking lot for safe travels and for God to bless the retreat, tears streamed down my face. I tried to hide them behind my sunglasses so Margaret would be neither freaked out nor embarrassed as she looked out the bus window. Of course she saw me. My friend Jenn gave me a hug and said, “She’s going to be fine.” I buried my head in her shoulder and choked out, “I’m not crying about Margaret.” She answered, “I know.”
So many moments that should be easy and joyful are so damn hard. Yesterday was just one small example, of the little battles and struggles that weave their way through every single day of loss. It’s as if our brains are operating on two tracks, and integration of these tracks could take a lifetime. One track is the here and now of living and loving and school and work, but there is always the parallel track of loss and what could have been yet will not be. Jack should have been on the bus with Margaret. The moms standing next to me talking about 8th grade boys and how they always want to wear shorts in the winter should have been hearing me tell my own stories about Jack heading out to school or the retreat foolishly underdressed. I want my own 8th grade boy stories about how fast they grow and how much they eat, but I don’t. Won’t.
Grievers function within society, and most days it appears pretty seamless. We volunteer at school. We shop. We stand around in prayer circles. People need to feel okay being open and natural around us, so as not to drive us even further apart from the world. We are not aliens, even though it feels that way. But there is a constant undercurrent of loss, a schism in our brains, which we gradually learn to adapt to. Most days we are able to operate on the level of the here and now, but sometimes the other part leaks out in church parking lots, and that’s okay too.
There must be safe places to be able to bring the loss to the forefront, to open the pressure valve of pain a little bit, without worrying about seeming completely hopeless or obsessive. I remember when Tim and I walked into our first (and last for now) meeting for bereaved parents just a few weeks after the accident. We came out so depressed and depleted. You see, we were still in a state of shock about Jack’s death, but also a state of being tenderly held up by the spirit of God. We sought hope and meaning in Jack’s death, and were so earnest in our desire to “be okay!” for Jack’s sake and ours. To see these parents who were still suffering greatly many years after their children died, gave us a window into despair we didn’t want to see. Surely we would feel better than they did at 5 years out!
I didn’t realize then that the meeting was their safe place, as this blog is mine. Their pain and desire to tell their stories didn’t mean they weren’t functioning in society, holding jobs and taking care of their families. It just meant that in the day in and day out of living with and adapting to the two track existence of life and loss, those meetings were one place to openly talk about the one track that is less visible, but very present.
I wonder if my dear friends on this blog worry that I’m obsessed with Jack and our loss. It would be natural to think that, and I too have wondered that about others who have loved and lost. It’s a natural concern. We want our friends to get better. We want them to thrive. We wonder if it’s healthy to talk so much about the one who is gone.
When I write about grief, you don’t see much about the soccer carpool and Girl Scout cookies and math homework (gah!) and shoe shopping and school projects, and cooking (double gah!) but they are here. I promise.
It’s okay to worry. This is a worrisome situation.
But in days filled with soccer carpools and Girl Scout cookies and the like, this is a space I have like no other, a place to do the hard work of grieving that might so easily be swallowed up by those other things, and my TV watching schedule. Here, I can turn over ideas in my head, hold them up to the light, and examine them. I can cry out in the missing, the longing for the boy who should be with me in body, not just in spirit. And you show up to lift me, again and again, and to root for us.
In the examining and crying out, I’m hoping that someone else can be helped, either in her grief, or in supporting someone who is grieving. I don’t know how that works, through words on a screen, but I’m just trusting God on this one.