We had fun traveling together
(Written in 2008)
Six months ago, I lost my only child to a fatal car accident. She would have turned 19 last September, and I would be planning her visit home from college this Christmas, if that one moment in time had not occurred.
Christmastime! Normally, Abigail and I would be chatting on the phone or over the computer lines about Christmas-present secrets, surprises, what goodies to bake, what decorations to buy… plans, plans, plans. We were close, she and I.
How does one keep breathing, continue waking up every day when someone so dear is gone? I marvel each morning that I am still here, still opening my eyes to the beauty of the sunrise, to the wonder of the day. It always seems somehow simultaneously miraculous and wrong that I should still be on this earth and my daughter is not.
What maps are there for grief? What guideposts? Counseling – for me – was decidedly disappointing. Books are plentiful and occasionally helpful. Support, love, listening ears and solid hugs from friends and loved ones are priceless and welcome. But nothing changes what is. Nothing brings back the missing person.
The pain of all that is gone doesn’t stop.
Grief is a self-involving emotion. It pulls us down into the darkness of our own hearts and tends to exclude others. It is an injury to the soul that is generally not visible on the surface. We who grieve are the walking wounded, but our wounds are deep inside where the world cannot see.
Our culture dismisses grief. We get three days off from work for “bereavement,” as a general rule, and then we are supposed to be “over it,” and back to normal. Fortunately, my place of employment is filled with understanding friends who continue to support my challenges, but most people are not so lucky. The truth is, those who grieve do not get “over it” quickly. Depending on the loss a person suffers, it can be years – perhaps a lifetime – before the grief fades. What happens more surely is the pain “softens” a bit, but the soul’s wound may never fully heal.
Doctors, counselors and well-meaning acquaintances immediately suggested I take pills – anti-depressants – to help with the pain.
“I’m not depressed,” I explained, “I am grieving.”
But in today’s culture, there is no room for grief. We are told to take a pill and feel better. Drugs are intended to treat sickness – like clinical depression perhaps. Grief is not a sickness. Grief is a legitimate emotion that, if bottled up or drugged down, will find its way out eventually. And although I want very much to “feel better,” I need to feel this grief. I don’t want to be numbed and anesthetized. I need to miss my child, my funny girl, my best friend.
But it does hurt – all the time.
My mind fights reality. I want so badly to go back to that brief moment one sunny May morning and make something different happen, change some tiny detail that would alter the tragic outcome. But that is not possible.
We cannot change what happens to us. Life presents challenges, obstacles, tragedies over which we have no control. Feeling a loss of control can lead to a sense of powerlessness and bitterness, and true depression can take over where grief leaves off, if we let it. That’s where we do have control.
We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. We have control over our actions, our goals, our words and deeds. In a nutshell, we can control who we become, and thereby control ho
w (and if) we begin to heal our grief wounds.
Coming through grief is like struggling through an uncharted landscape. It is difficult and mostly unpleasant, with hills and valleys. As time passes, the hills are a bit higher, the valleys a bit less low. I focus on what I can control and try to become a better person. My daughter wants me to be happy – she said so often. And so I strive to be.