It was always clear cut. A straight shot to where she was going with only slight bends in the road. Be kind to others and cultivate a few deep friendships. Be a good wife so she could look back fondly at the road she had traveled, pat herself on her back and relax with her husband in the last years of her life—in that far away future that always held the promise of less stress and more comfort. And, because she knew how important it was to leave a wonderful legacy behind, and because she loved her kids so very much, she invested all of herself in her children. Her identity was connected to theirs. She was Ben’s mom, she was Nick’s mom and she was Gina’s mom. She lived her life for them because she simply loved being Their Mom!
She had grown up in a large family of eight kids in a small village of about 300. The simple life was hers. She was a small town girl who wanted that simple life for her own children. She lived by the philosophy of “Be good and life will be good to you.” And then he died, her 27-year old son Ben. And at this very moment she is acutely aware that the last time she touched her son and the last time she actually kissed his cheek, his skin born of her skin, was two years ago yesterday, the day of his funeral. Now, the reality is ever present that the straight shot to where she was going is gone. And, as she begins the third year of her life without her son, her child whom she loved more than she loved herself, she wonders, where is the simple girl now?
She opens her eyes every morning in the house that she has lived in for more than three decades. It’s her home and has been the home of her children since each of them was born, no matter where they lived as adults. Their home is filled with countless sentimental items, so many that some may wonder why she keeps them all. But those “things” portray the history of her life and the people in it and are tributes to her love for her children. Sadly, though, she’s now become familiar with the raw emotions that are often elicited by those objects. The familiar can now cause searing pain or create such a deep longing for what once was. A quick glance into a drawer holding a forgotten picture of Ben, smiling up at her, now holds the power to cut her as deeply as if she had taken a knife to her own skin. She may live among the familiar, but now the familiar is often feared.
Gone is the simple girl. She is gone. In her place stands a refugee, displaced from her “taken for granted” world and abruptly purged to a place of existence where no parent should ever be sent. Left standing alone with limited understanding from others, she is frequently handed platitudes, “You’re strong….You seem to be doing so good now….Be strong for your two other children…You will survive this.” And the small town girl listens as she is forced to exist in a converse and always complex world in a city of grief so massive that it drains her will every day. Why was this simple girl sent to wander the maze of a mammoth city, a city with streets as twisted and as gnarled as her emotions that now control her manic mind? The simple girl now thinks too deeply. She continues to grieve deeply with her every breath. How could she have been sent to this God forsaken place?
She is often reflective, totally oblivious to the bustle of life around her. She never planned for this place to be her home, but pretending to be elsewhere is not an option. She knows she cannot escape so she is resigned to enduring life in this barren concrete city whilst understanding that nothing in life is ever concrete. Sometimes she wanders listlessly through the streets of the city of grief, frightened by the concrete monsters that loom overhead. More forbidding obstacles she has never seen. Insurmountable, she tells herself. Will she ever find her way out of this cold concrete canyon? Will she ever return to even a semblance of her once simple life, where a thought was just a fleeting thought and not one with the power to become her master and control her emotions for days on end? Will there ever come a time when she can have a happy thought and not have it immediately followed with a sad thought like, look at what Ben lost when he left this world?
She walks in the valley of the concrete monsters that tower above her, all of them casting shadows on her, behind her, alongside her, no matter which direction she turns. Please just let me see the light, she begs, as she seeks a glimpse of the light beyond the formidable monsters. Let me see some light. And then the demons pounce on her, coming out of nowhere, with no warning, and attacking as she crosses the intersections of one street and one dark alley after the other as she tries to find her way out of the maze. They are vicious and unrelenting, those demons. Leave me alone, she screams, as she hurries past another dark alley that harbors the demons spewing out glimpses of her happy past.
She continues her trek down one side street after the other, dizzied from being turned this way and that in this gruesome maze of grief that has no end. She searches for what is no more. It is lost. She is lost. She struggles to gain a sense of direction. Which side street leads back toward the simple life she used to live? Somewhere in this maze, in this hopeless, hapless mess of side streets, she hopes to find peace. And she hopes beyond hope, if she ever does break free from the bottom of the canyon of concrete monsters that constantly shadow her with grief, that there will remain at least a tiny fragment of the person she used to be…..way back when.
As darkness descends upon another day, she longs for the innocent star-filled nights of long ago when she could see the stars and she believed, as she was told, that if you were good, life would be good to you. Her mind and her body have grown weary from waking to this maze every day, tired of walking the side streets in this barren concrete city of grief from dawn until the early hours of the next day. Day after day she continues to search for her way out, for her way back home.
But for now she is lost in the side streets of life.
I pray you can find your way out of the side streets for a little while. Little by little the daylight becomes a beacon away from the dark that seems to follow us in this grief.
I watched a movie tonight…Mothers Day…it was “Rabbit Hole,” about a family dealing with the loss of a child. If you ever watch it, take note of what the grandmother says to her daughter. She, too, had lost a son like her daughter. Her explanation about grief was exceptional. “It’s like a brick you carry around in your pocket. Some days you take it out to look at it.” (paraphrased) It was about how over time grief changes. That it becomes bearable but never goes away fully. Some days we choose grief…some days it chooses us. Some days we are stuck on the side streets….some days we are on the brightly lit expressway. I am sharing a special hug with you that I felt all day long from Brandon. I know your son was hugging you, too. God bless.
Beautifully written Susan. The third person was a good touch. It helped see you through different eyes. Tomorrow our family gets together for the 7th anniversary of Aaron’s death.
I know you usually don’t appreciate comments about what you should feel. Someone once told me many years ago during an unrelated difficult time in my life. “David prayed, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…., when your going through the valley just keep walking don’t stop.”
I pray peace comes soon.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Sammy. I hope you and your family have a nice get-together for Aaron’s anniversary. We’ve only had two of those days, the second one being just last week. What I find (in my limited experience) is that days such as these bring us (my husband, me and our other two kids) closer together. There is actually a palpable sense of tenderness in the air as we gather to remember Ben. A loss such as this has definitely brought out the kinder, gentler family ties. And I don’t mind (at all) comments from people who have walked in the same shoes as I do. I actually try to gather up every little snippet or word of advice from those who have “been there.” Your words actually encouraged me. “Just keep walking don’t stop” is a good philosophy to have. I often practice that….until I get stuck!!
We are in this together. Thanks for your comments. Off to our get together now. Have a PEACEful weekend Susan
Susan, I understand. Your posts always speak directly to my broken heart and reflect so much of my own shattered life.
Thanks, Dee. I appreciate your reading and commenting. I’m going to miss your posts. I always look for them in my inbox. Authenticity is rare….that’s why I can relate to your posts.