Last Sunday Tom came up to me and gave me a note. It was from a woman who wanted to speak to me about the loss of her son. From the note I learned that he was only 33 years old and died from cancer. So I started over to the retreat house praying that I could be of some little use to her. For when it comes to the loss of a child, what really can be said?
I went to the dinning area and saw a woman sitting at one of the tables, I asked if her name was Ida (not her real name) and she said “yes, are you Mark” and I nodded my head. After that briefest of introductions I lead her to one of rooms that are used here to see people. She was small and slight, but gave off an impression of inner strength and determination, though the suffering that she was going through could also be seen and even felt. The faces of those who are going through loss have a certain dignity to them that helps in giving them the attention that they need and deserve. They can be avoided but never ignored.
So she talked about her son, who was also her friend. She talked about his deep religious nature and how that helped him to deal with his disease, which at times was very painful. All that can be done is to simply listen and perhaps say something once in awhile, but the pain that mother’s and father’s go through at the loss of child must be the very worst thing any loving parent can experience.
She told me that she believes “that she will never be happy again”, and can live with that. “For isn’t life about more than just being happy?” I did say a few things, one of them was that she is still living by faith and hope and because of that there is still joy, though not felt at this time. For she still wanted to live and was in fact doing that and that one day, impossible as it may sound, happiness will come again. Though the inner emptiness of her loss will probably be with her for the rest of her life, for we never really get over the loss of a loved one. The intensity changes, that is times gift, but it never goes away, perhaps another gift.
I told her about a brother I lost when he was only three days old way back in 1958 when I was nine years old. And even though I did not see him, or hold him, there are times when I feel the loss, which seems to get deeper as I age (which does in fact surprise me). So no, we carry our losses, and they get more numerous as we age, but that is the price for loving, and it is worth it. Love is what keeps our hearts alive and paradoxically, so does loss, if we do not become bitter, or close off our hearts, because of fear of even further losing of those we love. Love makes us vulnerable, which is also what keeps the heart and soul alive.
The path of parenthood is perhaps the most difficult of all and the fear of losing a child is in all likelihood one of its heaviest burdens. Both my mother and father talked to me about their fear of out living their remaining children. Neither of them talked about Michael to me (well mom did once, right after Michael died in 1958 when I was 9; something I will never forget), but I have no doubt that they carried that loss until the day they died. This fear was especially high with my mother and she talked to me about it on more than one occasion.
In the end as our visit was coming to an end, I asked her if I could write something about our visit with one another, also mentioning that I would not use her name. She said ok to that, but she said one thing. Tell people this: “Mother’s don’t cry, they wail”.
Their faces show their inner loss,
the presence of the beloved gone forever,
only cold inner darkness felt
where once a warm loving caring ruled.
Flesh of her flesh
is a beloved child;
time does not diminish that bond,
so death is also a ripping,
body and soul,
a sharing in the death;
a oneness torn asunder.
A father’s pain
is no less felt,
emotions felt extremely unruly,
leading to places perhaps unknown before
allowing the inner bleeding to be felt,
of the beloved once felt now absent.
Love and loss
seem to be twins,
for without a bonding
there is no asunder,