A dear, close friend asked me the other day, “Where are you with your grief?” It is rare that anyone asks me so pointedly about my grief since our adopted son, Grant, died unexpectedly, since our daughter, Catherine, was born premature and did not survive, since our previous attempts at starting a family ended in miscarriages. It is rare that anyone will raise all that ugliness. Most are relieved to think that we’re getting on fine and that things are better now, maybe even back to before. The typical avoidance is symptomatic of their discomfort, not really in the interest of protecting our hearts. There is no shelter from the pain of losing a child.
I read recently on this site about “re-mapping” our lives, altering the journey so that somehow we can continue to move forward. We build a different life than we imagined and – at least – we haven’t wholly shriveled up and died.
Five months ago, my wife and I showed great resolve and courage and adopted another son. Bradley is happy, healthy, and has brought so much joy to our world.
My friend continued in his inquiry with, “how has the relationship with your son impacted your grief?” And I thought about that a lot. Has it healed me? (No.) Has it distracted me? (Yes.) Has it made me more guarded? (Perhaps.) Has it given me hope? (I think so.)
The truth is that our infant son requires constant care, love, and attention. That cannot be denied – denied to him or, perhaps more importantly, denied from us. To realize our dream of a family we had to face our greatest fears and commit to love. That’s not to say we’re not paralyzed with anxiety sometimes. How could we not be? But we have re-mapped and there is a path before us. And so, we’ll make our way in that direction – forever changed, but not hopelessly broken.
The other piece of that relationship is that sometimes there is terrific guilt. It’s easy to be critical of yourself that you could even possibly re-map a life with so much devastation in the past. You ask yourself, does living today in the present deny the significance of those precious lost lives?
To many it may look like we’re all better, that our grief is over. (If only!) I’m sure they’re relieved and happy for us. I appreciate the sentiment, even if it is misguided. We’re who we are as parents today because of Grant, Catherine, and our unborn children. Our love for Bradley encompasses the wholeness of our experience.
I’m so grateful to have an understanding friend who recognizes the complex layers of grief and life, of pain and love, of both honoring and taking steps forward – baby steps. I’m touched that he actually asked and more that he listened. I hope you have that kind of support in your life. What’s that question for you – one that’s been asked or one that hopefully will be – the one that gets to the heart of your journey?
By Thom Gonyeau