Please Don’t Be Impatient With My Sorrow
“Yes, it does really hurt as bad as they say.”
-Dennis Klass, from, “The Spiritual Lives of Bereaved Parents”
Before she died, I didn’t understand how big my grief would be, how big grief COULD be. I’m still amazed by the transformation in my life, by the unreality of not saying Ana’s name every single day, one dozen, one hundred, two hundred times. That I must accept this, that I must move forward, that I must somehow resolve my grief–it feels impossible.
Some days, I’m so filled with envy and remorse, I’m sure that’s all that’s left of me.
Yesterday I took Roo for a walk on the Rail Trail. I’d meant to go out for 30 minutes. It felt good when we got there as I settled into the walk, but then I saw two people walking towards me. It was a woman, extremely pregnant, pushing an empty stroller. Behind her, an older woman was carrying a toddler (he was delighted to see Roo). I smiled at them, but the entire time my mind was filled with envy, with longing.
“She’s just at the beginning,” I thought. “Is she walking to help induce labor? Will she remember this day, her son giggling behind her, her tired feet plodding along the path as she waits for the new baby to come?” In that moment, I wanted to be exactly where she was. Would that smiling boy have a little sister or brother? Was the nursery ready? Would they share a room? I cried when they were out of site, walking on the trail, trying to remember when I was enormously pregnant with Emily and Ana was just 2.
Before Ana died, I never thought I’d want to grab time and force it backwards. But now my daydreams are filled with the scenario of swimming upstream through time, to the days when the girls were little, a time when they were the center of my everything, a time before cancer came and smashed my family to pieces.
I walked for over 80 minutes, trying, I suppose, to walk away from the feelings of loss and loneliness. But I couldn’t, of course.
A friend of mine who lost her 18-year-old son to cancer, sent me book called, “The Spiritual Lives of Bereaved Parents” which I recently started reading. It dominated my thoughts as I navigated the muddy rail trail wearing the wrong shoes. I’m reading a lot now. Everything and anything. It’s better than binge watching 30 Rock again (okay, I’m doing that too…) The book was written as a way to capture the unique pain of bereaved parents for people who want to understand it better. But, from the start, I knew the author, Dennis Klass, was talking to me.
“The death of a child is awful and the processes in which parents resolve their grief are awesome. The realities in parental bereavement are the primal forces–fire, ice, and time–forming the human landscape: they are birth and death, love and destruction, bonding and losing, individual solitude and community membership, devastation in grief and triumph in remaking a life. Sometimes it still takes my breath away.”
The author didn’t lose a child, but he spent his life working with bereaved parents, trying to understand their grief. He wrote the book for people who haven’t lost children. I guess he wanted to communicate this worst case scenario in a way people could digest without it being too horrific, so that bereaved parents could get support and understanding. So that we could be seen and heard, allowed to include our dead children in our lives for as long as we need to (forever).
Maybe this was his own worst nightmare–losing a child. I know it was mine. I’ve been connecting with every part of his book. Klass often repeats the idea of “continuing bonds” — maintaining a connection with your child after she is gone or, as he puts it, “connection with transcendent reality” which is a fancy way of saying spiritual realty versus the here and now (e.g., heaven and the afterlife).
So yesterday, I kept walking, looking at the natural beauty around me, imagining Ana was walking with me, looking for frogs, pointing out butterflies.
As I thought of Ana, I tried to notice her presence without seeing things that weren’t there. The first time I did this, Roo stopped short and refused to move. Maybe he was just tired, but I picked him up and carried him for a while, until we came to this tiny bridge.
And on, beneath it, to try and get a glimpse of William’s Lake. This wasn’t easy – the lake is surrounded by woods and there are no trespassing signs everywhere. But I snuck down the path and found a spot where I could kind of see the water and took a photo.
My mission complete, I turned around and headed back to the (legal) path. Roo lead the way. He wasn’t tired at all. I noticed two cardinals – just a glimpse of bright red feathers crossing the path. One appeared when I was still crying after I’d seen the new mother. The other when I wondered aloud if Ana could see the trail, if she was with me. So maybe, just maybe, she heard me.
I stopped twice more on the way back to the car. Once to take this photo of an empty mine shaft because for some reason I find all these abandoned shafts absolutely fascinating. The cold air wafting out of them is always refreshing after a long walk. I know it’s because the shaft is so deep, but I always wonder if it has something to do with the spirits of long-dead miners. I can never seem to take a photo of this one without a slight haze marring the picture. I guess it’s the temperature difference. I don’t know.
And this shot, taken when my walk was nearly over. I liked how the clouds seemed to creep towards me above the trees. I always wonder what this place looked like when the cement factory was more than just a pile of rubble and that one remaining smokestack. I think Ana would’ve wondered about that too.
The moments when I feel (most) at peace are when I’m on these walks, when I’m connecting with Emily, and when I’m talking to other parents about how to navigate this painful path of grief.
“A good way to begin thinking about spiritual life, either our own or that of someone else, is to look at those moments when we feel most deeply connected to our world, when we feel least isolated inside our usual ego boundaries. We feel a part of something larger than ourselves, and the rest of the world makes sense.” — Dennis Klass