Every single time someone in my circle passes away in what one would define as "before their time," I am struck by how little I have learned in terms of dealing with death. However, I have found one small tool that gives me peace and quiets my mind.
News of a parent's passing directly sends me to their children. And this week, the news that my community lost a loved one, a woman who was only 53 years old, creates a spiral of emotion in me that rests heavily with thoughts of the children. Children need to see their parents, to hug and be hugged by them, and it seems unfathomable and unfair that this will no longer be possible. It also seems impossible that they will never again have a two-way conversation. And this thinking causes me great pain because I have been through this loss and am frustrated that I cannot make their journey any easier.
So, how do we help the children? How can we console, comfort and show them it will get better? Isn't it our job, those of us who have gotten to this mid-life place of 50 and beyond, to help them, to bring the wisdom of our years and learnings to them? And yet, what is so trying is, we cannot in fact FIX this loss for them and we may not even be able to ease their journey. In fact, what I have learned is no matter what we say, they will find their own way, it is their loss and their process and we must let go and allow them the space to feel the profound depths of this loss and to create their own path to bringing this part of "their story" into their lives. We must be patient. And frankly, for a woman with "maternal instincts" this is hard to do.
Wakes, funerals and shivas are traditions for family to receive friends so they can say goodbye. They provide a structure and activity for keeping busy when there is too much pain to bear. The truth is they are just one small piece of creating order in a world of chaos that comes with the loss of an immediate family member. And when they are over, what remains is a profoundly quiet, difficult road with no road map.
Like a spark that needs just a hint of oxygen to become a full-on fire, death ignites a sick, burning feeling in my gut with news of a friend's passing. The vivid memory of my own children's lost faces, broken hearts and endless tears when their dad died reverberates with another family's loss and I cannot disassociate my children from their children. So their loss becomes my loss once again.
I know I am not alone in processing the finality of loss. I know religion provides great solace for many but not for me.
I have however discovered a tool to deal with my loss which works to bring those who will never again be physically present back into my life and it is more powerful for me than looking at a photograph. I have learned to close my eyes and to whisper (sometimes out loud and most times in the inner workings of my brain), I whisper to my loved one. I share my thoughts and this sharing lightens my load.
I remember someone saying to my boys, who were beyond bereft -- "What would you like to tell your Dad?" And although the act of doing that seemed hollow and silly, eventually they tried -- and so did I. And over time, the sound of my own empty voice was absorbed and no longer echoed emptily back at me. Over time, I began to smile as I shared our children's ups and downs -- I learned to create a dialogue that felt alive, not dead and empty.
And so from the hollow, heartbreaking silence of absence, I began to bring him back into our lives and so he remains. So, when I see him in my children's faces, their mannerisms, their laughs, even in the way they chew their food and wear their jeans, I am not saddened and empty to be invoking his memory -- I am complete. My heart does not feel broken but full as I share my observations of their dad IN them - and when they hear me say this - they too smile and we nod in acknowledgement of this truth.