Yesterday’s horrific story of violence and murder shook all of us throughout the country. We cried, we hugged our loved ones and we felt compassion for this town, this school and most of all these parents. For some of us, the compassion was a bit more, it was empathy as we remembered our own grief and felt again the pain of the loss of a child.
No two stories of loss are ever the same just as no two children are the same. Those of us who have mourned the loss of a child feel a bit more acutely the pain that those parents are feeling. My infant son Matthew was born with congenital heart disease and died on the operating table trying to fix him four days later. He was not murdered, he did not suffer fear before his death and it was no one’s fault. None the less, I was bereft after he died. My brain was so filled with pain that I could handle few other thoughts. My arms ached, my gut ached and I thought I would never recover.
My lowest moment was laying in the bathtub, howling like a wounded primal animal, screaming to my Mother, who had died a year before, to take care of my son. Once I decided to get out of that tub my grief work and progress was so slow that I think it could be measured only at a molecular level. I was lucky, I had a surviving cherished 3 year old daughter, Emily, who gave me the motivation to get out of that tub and that dark dark place in my life.
I had fabulous friends some of whom gave me bits of themselves and helped me get through each day and thrive. I had other friends who just didn’t get it, one who whined that she wanted the old Kathy back. What I tried to communicate to her was that when you have a child who lives, it changes your life forever. It’s the exact same thing with a child who dies, it changes you and your life forever. I needed my friends and their molecules. Three of us started a chapter of Compassionate Friends in our area and I was active in that group for five years. Running those meetings and doing the newsletter literally saved my life. Helping others was what helped me.
I also turned to the Arts. I sought out authors, poets, sculptures, painters and musicians who had expressed the same grief in song, stories, books and other non verbal ways of communication. I turned to my quilts. I made a quilt for Matthew, I called it Sailing Away. As I stitched each sailboat, I tried to quilt in some sadness that would sail away from me. Both of my girls adore this quilt and it has been wrapped around them for comfort throughout the years.
I was also lucky enough to be able to parent an additional child. I could not conceive again for various medical reasons but five years later, my beloved Shelby came to me from Korea. This is when I felt I became whole again, that my arms no longer ached, I felt healed. And since then, my life has continued to improve and I have flourished. In my heart, Matthew will always live and he made me a better person who so wishes to reach out to the parents who wail with sorrow today.
I have known other bereaved parents who were not as lucky as I was. Grief is an infinite void within you and some parents I have known have sought a finite source to fill that emptiness. No amount of shopping, eating, drinking, drugs or bitterness will do it. You have to slog through that horrible pain and feel it and seek your own way through it. My ex-husband was not one of those who did. Marriage is another victim when a child dies, 70% fail afterwards and up to 90% if the death is accidental. My ex sought his refuge in a bottle and years after our divorce, finally drank himself to death.
I wish I could make a quilt big enough to wrap up every hurting parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt and uncle. I wish I could provide them with even one molecule of healing, share with them one tiny atom of hope and love.
My love and compassion to go out to them and all bereaved parents.
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