Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Life, Loss, Grief, Hope

Six months ago, we nearly lost our son at age 19.

The specifics matter far less than the word 'nearly.' He is still here, still working hard to rebuild his life. He's back at college, his 'little' brother one year away from starting school as well.

I have been a parent for 20 years and I don't think it gets any easier.


You don't get through this life without loss. There are dangers and difficulties lurking in the dark; they have always been there even as we close our eyes and plug our ears. La, la, la, I can't hear you. I think that's in part, why the people around us are so uncomfortable in the face of grief. They want to know if you're 'over it' yet.

I don't think they're being deliberately insensitive or cruel. I think it's a variant of magical thinking: if I don't talk about it, it won't touch me.

Life doesn't work that way.

I have a friend who is struggling in the aftermath of her mother's recent death. Her siblings are doing everything they can to push away their uncomfortable feelings, rushing through the emptying and sale of their mother's home so it will be 'over.'  My friend feels like she's drowning and her own family keeps snatching away the lifeline.


My mother spent her whole life being afraid of losing what she had. When she died, she had a closet full of clothes she never wore, but the true tragedy was her fear of living. She always expected her good fortune to be snatched away at any minute and given all the losses she experienced early in her life, I do understand that impulse.

But here's the thing: holding back from life doesn't prevent loss. It only prevents joy.


The night after our fire in 2010, we were having dinner at our neighbor's house, wearing clothes we had purchased from Target that afternoon, looking over the scorched brick and boarded up windows of the abandoned, hulk that had been our home, and making pathetic jokes.

That day, and in the days and weeks that followed, laughter was a tiny light in the darkness.


When I was growing up, we weren't allowed in the formal living room. The furthest I could enter was to get to the piano to practice. There were never any footprints in the carpet or any dimples in the fabric of the sofa. I swore I would live in all the rooms of my house. I wouldn't save clothes for special occasions; rather I would make special occasions to wear them.


Don't Postpone Joy

I used to have a button that said that. It was the motto of a long defunct toy shop in NYC called The Last Wound Up.

Don't Postpone Joy

It won't make the pain disappear, but it helps. Oh, how it helps.

I wish I could go back in time and convince my mother of this.


An acquaintance just lost her baby to a stillbirth. This is what I wrote her:

I have never experienced the loss your are now grieving, but I know this: grief and loss take their own time. There is no perfect guide or timetable for it.

It sounds like you are already doing this, but be gentle with yourself. There may come a time when someone may wonder why you're 'not over it already' and that can be incredibly hurtful and difficult. My experience is that grief is hard for the people around us to handle and those kind of seemingly thoughtless remarks are from their fear and discomfort.

I don't think you 'get over' loss. It's more that our losses get woven in to the fabric of our lives, along with joy. It is the dark colors that make the bright all that more luminous.

May you continue to get the support you need as you and your family travel this journey.

The gift of time and laughter are some of the most precious. My older son is driving home from college to watch game one of the World Series with us tonight. This is my joy: all of us together, sharing something we love, lounging with our feet on the furniture, getting crumbs on the floor, and trying to get each other to crack up over really bad puns.

Don't Postpone Joy.

Don't. Postpone. Joy.