Friday, November 21, 2008

Weeping world

I have had a heavy heart since hearing about the tragic drowning accident of a father and his two young sons. Every now and then it enters my mind in a flash and thoughts turn to his fiancee, their mother. What a tremendous burden she has been delivered. It reminds me of a passage in my book, where I try to capture in words (so many, many futile words really) how I felt when newly bereaved. Laid so open and bare. As if I was the world's own beating heart and every tiny whisper of wind seared me like a hot barb. I wonder if it is the same for other mothers and fathers who have lost children? I don't know. What I do know is, it was this that spearheaded my decision (nay, my realisation of my need) to expand on my newly open heart. I didn't want it to close again to the world's hurt. But I knew I had to go down the path of harnessing my hurt. Using it.

It is this ongoing quest that compels me to continue my learning at Peace Space, more than anything.

That passage in the book reads:

I knew perfectly well that ours was by far not the “most horrid” or saddest or tragic or desperately awful story in the world. At times, I actually felt closer and more connected and more bled dry in my sadness and compassion for people in such situations because of the place I now found myself. I spent my days with thoughts turning to how it must be for parents to have no answers as to why they lost their baby – “I am so grateful,” I would say to myself, “that we have some answers, at least.”
I often thought about parents of older children, of adult children as well, who pass away ahead of their parents. Children who are lost in tragic circumstances, or after years of operations and illness, their parents standing by helplessly. In my newly grief-laden thought processes, I considered those situations no more or less sad and deeply painful to our own. But, again, the attitudes of the wider community about even this became clear to me the day I visited an elderly relative for some tips on, of all things, knitting.
I had found it extremely difficult to suddenly stop my handiwork – making cot sheets and pram blankets and little outfits – and I had found the knitting pattern of an adorable soft white sweater and bonnet in the weeks after Ellanor’s death so beautiful that I ached to make it for her. So I began to make it for Cathie’s baby girl instead. Knowing nothing much about knitting, I sought out someone who was a dab hand at it.
While I was at Joan’s place one morning, receiving her useful advice on the knitting of this garment, she took it upon herself to offer me what I can only presume was designed as comforting, authoritative words from the wiser, older, “know better” generation, on the matter of death and personal tragedy.
“You know, at least she wasn’t older,” she started. I froze. Oh God, what was coming next? I braced as I waited for her clarifying opinion.
“It would have been worse to lose her if she was older,” Joan continued.
“How? Why would you say that would be any worse?” I asked, not even attempting to mask my shock and hurt. “I can’t believe you just said that, Joan!”
“Well, imagine if you’d had her for years. It would have been worse if she’d died when she was, say, fourteen or something. You’d have so much more to clear up.”
It was a ghastly thing to hear. Not least of all because of the fact that, yes, while Ella had been alive I had already begun to project what it might be like as she reached early childhood, adolescence, adulthood; would she make it to each of those milestones? Would she survive every heart operation we had been informed she would have to have? Our lives had been turned upside down before Ellanor had drawn her final breath and part of the reason for that was because of wondering just how far she would make it in her life. To hear somebody cluelessly saying we were lucky she had died early was beyond my comprehension.
No matter how she justified it, I couldn’t accept this opinion as being founded in any sort of experiential expertise. I knew what Joan was trying to get at: that the older a person was, the more loose ends there were to tie up. Bedrooms of memories to sort, clean and pack away. Schools, government departments and other agencies to inform. Bank accounts to close, if the person had them. Messy stuff. Stuff that’s necessary and so difficult to pull together and concentrate on when in a time of deep, dark grief.
But there it was. The wedge that drove between me and this person whose company I had previously enjoyed for years now. I never interacted with her again after that day. I felt as if Joan was comparing the death of Ellanor to that of the family pet, describing the birth and upbringing of a child as “having” them. Just like one would talk about the family Labrador they’d “had for twelve years before we lost her last October.” It just seemed so cold and even though I knew it could not possibly have meant to be received this way, the generational differences I observed that day just cemented for me the difficulty in conveying just how hard it was to describe the depths of despair about losing a life that was made up of half of your genes. How on Earth could I hope to describe the depth and pain of my loss without constant fear of hearing people’s take on it or way of making okay and bearable what had happened? I understood their need to do this, but where was the acceptance and understanding of my need to air it? It was my grief to own, for heaven’s sake! I couldn’t make sense of this apparent societal rush to smooth over what I had to say and confront. I was not asking for anyone to fix or help me, however I was desperate to be heard properly. And that’s all.
If it was deemed acceptable and tolerable for someone to say something like what Joan had, then surely I had equal rights (if not more), as the person experiencing the raw emotions, to react in any way I saw fit and not be judged for it. I would come to learn this was far from the case. Apparently, we had to not only listen to our loved ones as they justified and excused, on behalf of the culprit, the things that were said but we also had to find some sort of super-human inner strength to not lash out or speak out and say it was unacceptable to us. It was completely bogus, as a concept, and it happened time and time again.

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