Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Gap by Michael Crenlinsten

The gap between those who have lost children and those who have not is profoundly difficult to bridge. No one, whose children are well and intact, can be expected to understand what parents who have lost children have absorbed, what they bear. 

Our child now comes to us through every blade of grass, every crack in the sidewalk, every bowl of breakfast cereal, every kid on a scooter. We seek contact with their atoms, their hairbrush, toothbrush, and clothing. We reach for what was integrally woven into the fabric of our lives, now torn and shredded. 

What we had wanted, when our child so suddenly took ill, was for them to be treated. We wanted them to be annoyed that their head had been shaved for surgery. We would have shaved ours and then watched them smile as we recovered together, whatever the nature of that recovery. “Recover” is no longer a part of our vocabulary. Now we simply walk through the noise and debris of our personal ground zero. A black hole has been blown through our souls and, indeed, it often does not allow the light to escape. It is a difficult place. For us to enter there, is to be cut deeply, and torn anew, each time we go there, by the jagged edges of our loss. Yet we return, again and again, for that is where our child now resides. This will be so for years to come and it will change us, profoundly. At some point in the distant future, the edges of that hole will have tempered and softened but the empty space will remain…a life sentence.

It is not unlike a dog who, suddenly hit by a car, survives. The impact is devastating and leaves the animal in shock, confusion, and despair. In the time the animal recovers adequately to spend the remainder if it’s life on three legs. It is not that he is unable, eventually, to function or even to laugh and play. The reality, however, is that on three legs from here on, every step he takes, every action, virtually every breath reminds him of what he has lost. We are that animal. 

Our community of friends will change through this. There is no avoiding it. We grieve for our child, in part, through talking about them and our feelings for having lost them. Some go there with us; others cannot and, through their denial add a further measure, however unwittingly, to an already heavy burden. 

This was not a sprained ankle or major surgery that we suffered. Assuming that we may be feeling “better” six months later is simply “to not get it.” The excruciating and isolating reality that bereaved parents feel is hermetically sealed from the nature of any other human experience. Thus it is a trap, those whose compassion and insight we most need are those for whom we abhor the experience that would allow them that sensitivity and capacity. And, yet, somehow, there are those, each in their own fashion, who have found a way to reach us and stay, to our immeasurable comfort. 

They have understood, again each in their own way, that our child remains our child through our memory. Their memory is sustained through speaking about them and our feelings about their death. Deny this and you deny their life. Deny their life and you have no place in ours. That’s the equation. How different people have responded to our loss, or not, transcends a range of attitudes and personal histories. It is teaching us much about human capacity and experience, albeit at a searing price. Parents’ memories of a lost child sustain that life. It should be the other way around. 

We recognize that we have removed to an emotional place where it is often very difficult to reach us. Our attempts to be normal are painful and the day to day carries a silent, screaming anguish that accompanies us, sometimes from moment to moment. Were we to give it its own voice, we fear we would become truly unreachable, and so we remain “strong” for a host of reasons, even as the strength saps our energy and drains our will. Were we to act out our true feelings we would be impossible to be with. We resent having to act normal, yet we dare not do otherwise. People who understand this dynamic are our gold standard. Working our way through this over the years will change us as does every experience…and extreme experience changes one extremely. We know we will have recovered when, as we have read, it is no longer so painful to be normal. We do not know who we will be at that point or who will still be with us.

There will come a time, quite some number of years down the road, when the balance between the desperate awareness of what we have lost when our child died will be somewhat balanced by the warm and joyful memories of what we had with them when they lived. I neither long for nor cringe from that time. It will simply come. We will recognize it, though now it is beyond us.

So, yes, our beloved child is gone…a light in our lives gone out leaving blackness for us, left behind, to stumble through. And, while we understand and deeply feel the meaning of our phrase “Now we are lit by our child only from within,” we hope, desperately, that they are where the light is. We are trying to understand what this means, as we seek our own way, for the remainder of our lives, to some kind of light. We love our child and are trying to breathe. 

We have read that the gap is so difficult that, often, bereaved parents must attempt to reach out to friends and relatives or risk losing them. This is our attempt. For those untarnished by such events, who wish to know in some way what they, thankfully, do not know, read this. It may provide a window that is helpful for both sides of the gap.