Something really, really tragic happened last week in Sweetie's family.
Something really, really sad happened last night in mine.
There is no way to put both losses on a par with each other. They happened in different ways to different people. Still I think they'd both read off the scale of anyone's tragedometer.
It's not the first time, and even though I pray it is the last it probably won't be, that Sweetie and I find ourselves as parents wanting to make everything "all better" for the children we love so dearly. We want to say the right words and kiss away the pain away. Knowing that there is nothing that can be done, no words that can be said and no kiss mighty enough to mend broken hearts doesn't make the wanting any less. While it may be true that time heals all wounds, the saying is about as trite as words can be. Personally, I think anyone who hears those words in a time of loss has the right to say the "F" word and more to whoever says them.
Time does seem to diminish pain. If you break your leg after 6 weeks or so you will probably be good as new. However, if your heart has a big old spike run through it, time seems to slow down to a snail's pace and mending begins to feel like walking through quicksand. Every step may be taking you to the other side of the quagmire, but each is almost too heavy to bear. What do you say to the person who is justifiably thinking more about the stone weight than the passage of time?
I think when children are born parents naturally become undefeatable. Mothers and fathers the world over do everything in their power, and then some, to meet their infants' every need. Undaunted, they go without food or sleep, change biohazardous waste products, and stick something ... anything ... suckable in tiny mouths. Pacing the floor they gently rock or prodigiously pat the little one until it feels comforted. As the child matures some, parents can add hugs, kiss booboos, and chase away nighttime monsters. Health practitioners might totally disagree with me, but I believe that there are few childhood maladies that cannot be cured with a DQ cone dipped in chocolate.
It gets a little trickier when the child in question becomes half child and half adult. Parents have to maneuver a slippery slope of saying/doing too much or too little. Mostly the up and down challenges of everyday life - striking out on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, failing the driving exam, receiving a dear " ____ "(you fill in the blank) letters, and unfinished college papers - can be made better somehow with good listening skills on the parent's part and a nap on the child's part (or maybe that should be the other way around).
But when your child is an adult, lives his or her own life, makes his or her own decisions and manages quite well without parental influence, well, it is very hard to feel like a parent with super-hero powers. There's not much a parent can do when their adult child is nursing a broken heart except to provide a safe place for the child in question to vent his or her pain, frustration, fears, anger, sadness. Doing this and NOT envisioning the child that you once held on your lap, is difficult but not impossible. It just feels impossible. And it feels so ineffective.
We've all had pain in our lives. The people to whom this post refers have known more than their fair share. I consider myself a woman of faith, but I'm not above railing at heaven and screaming why? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do some people get lucky while others step in poopoo? Sadly there's no answer to the question.
At times like these I fall back on some of the books I've read about loss and grieving. Rabbi David Wolpe wrote a whole book that attempts to find answers to life's hardest question.
"Loss," says Wolpe, "is formless and grief must be shaping.
Loss, a deep loss, is chaotic, cavernous;
it resounds in the hollows of the soul.
It rages, and nothing can tame it.
Ritual seeks to give us order and structure.
Understanding what we have lost,
we can find a place for the memory inside us."
Indeed, the universal truth, that a person in pain cannot see or hear at the time, and a parent need not waste his/her breath sharing, is that the experience, no matter how awful it is, will at some point in the future make you stronger. This was brought home to me today by that wise but not-so-famous philosopher, Keywest Johnny. "Remember," he said, "she grows stronger with every blow!"
It's true. There is definite strength of character in these "kids." I have seen them rally time after time. I know they will do so again.
I also know that as long my name is "Mom" and Sweetie answers to "Dad" we're going to keep trying to find the right words to say to make their lives all better. While we're at it I think I'll keep a tub of Bluebell all natural vanilla ice cream in the freezer just in case of emergencies.
Making Loss Matter, Creating Meaning in Difficult Times, Rabbi David Wolpe, Riverhead Books, New York, pg. 117