I simply do not know how to describe, even to my best friend or my mother, what it feels like to be suddenly yanked from the only world you can ever remember knowing and held in suspension – in another realm entirely – drowning in a mixture of confusion, agony and despair. I don’t know how to make people see why I can’t just open the door to this crystal globe prison, take a gasp of air and rejoin the world that I am doomed to still reside in, but never really feel a part of again. I will never be the same. It doesn’t go away. Cliche’ advice is more painful than helpful. When in doubt, say nothing. Many of you do. Many of you try. As odd as it sounds, the best way you can help me or my boys is by continuing to love and honor my daughter – whatever dimension she may be in. Angels need love too.
A friend sent this poem to me. The author has done a beautifully, painfully, poignantly horrific job of describing the massive earthquake of losing a child and what it feels like to be left standing on the opposite side of a giant chasm from nearly everyone and everything else – including who you yourself were before this unprecedented disaster. Perhaps it might offer a bit of understanding for those of you who seek it.
I looked up the original poem, and I am re-typing it and re-posting it myself. I haven’t been able to find too much information, other than to give the author credit – Michael Crelinsten of Victoria, B.C. – a bereaved father of a gone-too-soon daughter. He describes life after the loss of a child in a way that I have not yet been able to. His situation is, of course, different from mine. His daughter was younger, left in a different way and he has a loving spouse beside him – another parent, who also loved and grieves for this child. I don’t know which is worse – going through it alone, or going through it with someone equally broken by it. I do have my boys, Kimmy’s fiancé, good friends, and extended family who love her. But it isn’t the same. Either way, Mr. Crelinsten and I have much more in common than I’m certain either of us would like to. I can only say, Amen, my broken-hearted brother. May God bless you and yours.
His Preview: Our daughter, Alexis, died six months ago, at the age of nine. A rare medical anomaly, in a heart-rending wrench of our innermost spirit, stole her from us in barely more than a moment. Recently, I was at the beach near our home with what remains of my soul – my son, Ethan. Our new puppy romped with us. Beautiful weather, fresh salt air, gentle clear water and sea lions barking in the distance. Perfect. Walking back, I saw a sharp, rusted metal rod and thought to get it out of the way. As I tossed it aside, it caught my thumb and cut me. Perfect. Every moment of peace we have, cuts. Everything that is, hones what is not.
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 daughter 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 her atoms – her hairbrush, her toothbrush, her clothing.
We reach for what was integrally woven into the fabric of our lives, now torn and shredded.
What we had wanted, when she so suddenly took ill, was for her to be treated.
We wanted her to be annoyed that her head had been shaved for surgery.
We would have shaved ours and then watched her 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 she 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 time the animal recovers adequately to spend the remainder of its 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 daughter, in part, through talking about her and our feelings for having lost her.
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 Alexis remains our daughter through our memory of her.
Her memory is sustained through speaking about her and our feelings about her death.
Deny her 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 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 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 daughter died will be somewhat balanced by the warm and joyful memories of what we had with her when she 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 daughter 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 her only from within,” we hope, desperately, that she is wherever 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 son 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.