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Creating a New Map Into Unchartered Territory

From the moment we found out you were coming into our lives, we felt electric: a mix of excitement, adrenaline, and a dose of fear for good measure. We dutifully began plotting the course of our lives together – starting with milestones like kindergarten, puberty, graduation, career, wedding, grandchildren, etc. Then we began making our maps more detailed with our hopes and dreams for you. We prepared as well as we could for your arrival.

On the day we welcomed you into our lives, we held out our loving arms and said softly, “Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you.” We stared into the vast universe reflected deep within your eyes with awe and wonder. You were a part of us; an extension of our very being. As you stared back into our eyes, a feeling of intense love for you took hold in every cell of our body. This was true, unconditional love with no boundaries and no end.

Our lives were more meaningful with you in it. You gave us a greater sense of purpose and a profound sense of responsibility. Your life was ours to protect; ours to mold and guide. We needed to teach you all that we knew, and try to help you avoid the mistakes we made. We wanted to afford you every opportunity to make your unique mark on this world. We wanted to make sure your life would become better than our own. In return, all we asked from you was your continued unconditional love, because it felt wonderful. Better than anything else in this life of ours.

We did the best we could as parents. We weren’t perfect. We made plenty of mistakes intermixed with our successes. We got off-course of our map here and there and had to identify some new routes. But the destination was always the same: we would take care of you until one day you would take care of us. At that point, we would say goodbye and leave you to be on your own. By then you would have a family and be following your own map. We’d leave happy in the knowledge that we made the world a better place by bringing you into it.

But then the impossible happened: you died before we did.

On the day you died, our hearts shattered into a million pieces, as did the world around us. We were left in a dark, unfamiliar place where pain filled every cell of our body where love once lived. The air around us was now hard to breathe. Gravity was stronger than before, and the simple act of sitting or standing used up all of our strength and energy. Our map had disintegrated and we were hopelessly, utterly lost in the darkness of horror and misery.

Amid the darkness, familiar hands grabbed ours. Voices of family and friends guided us as we fumbled about in this strange new world, not knowing what to do. These family and friends all gathered around us to ceremoniously say goodbye to you. And yet we couldn’t. The words never made it to our mouths. We were sure this was all a mistake – a nightmare that we would wake up from and find you standing over us smiling and laughing. We cried out for you but got no answer in return.

As our family and friends left us to be on our own without you, the familiar world we once knew began to reappear around us. And yet it was very different than before. We could interact with it, but we couldn’t touch this world because we were trapped in a bubble of despair. And yet most people couldn’t see our bubble. To them, it looked as if we were the same person we were before you died – maybe sadder, but basically the same. They expected us to quickly go back to our old routines and be our “old selves.” But they couldn’t see our bubble, and that we had fundamentally changed.

Inside that bubble, everything felt overwhelming. Our reactions to common sights and sounds were different than before. Laughter and joy made us angry and sick to our stomach. We were filled with resentment that the world itself hadn’t ceased to exist when you died. Happiness was now out of reach, and we felt as though we’d never get it back. Some of us didn’t want it back if you weren’t there to share it with us. Even when we were surrounded by people outside our bubble, we felt hopelessly alone and misunderstood.

We became excellent actors worthy of an Oscar. We learned to pretend we were better and back to normal for the benefit of those around us. “Fine” is how we mostly answered the question of, “How are you?” We looked desperately around us for people who actually wanted to hear the truth. We were not fine. When you left us, you took a part of us, and the void it left still ached with a pain so unbearable, we couldn’t find adequate words to describe it.

A few people could see our bubbles; most of them lived in bubbles themselves. Unlike the majority of people in the world around us, these people had the ability to reach inside our bubble and embrace us with understanding. We didn’t have to pretend to be ok around them. We could break down and cry as loud and long as we needed to without worrying about making them uncomfortable. We found a sense of community that we had lost when you died. But none of this made the pain go away.

Over time, small cracks began to develop in our bubbles. These cracks let more light into our dim world. The air that came inside was easier to breathe. The gravity lightened a bit. It still hurt to be alive in a world without you, but we began to learn how to adjust to it so that it wasn’t as debilitating as before.

Many of us learned to pry open the cracks in our bubbles a bit more to let in even more light and air. This changed the chemistry of the atmosphere inside our bubble from that of despair to a mix of memories and longing for you. We learned how to feel happiness and joy once again, even though it never made the pain deep within us subside. We began to learn how to better function in the world around us while still in the confines of our bubbles.

Our bubbles never fully go away. They change over time and may shrink considerably, but the pain will never leave us. This is because the pain was created by – and coexists with – the love that invaded every cell of our body when we stared into your eyes that very first time. And sometimes, we can momentarily release the feeling of pain by focusing our attention on the love that lives with it. The secret is to focus on you and the love you gave us that still lives in our bodies. You remain with us and a part of us.

The fact is we would have died for you. We would have gladly given up our own lives in a heartbeat if it meant you could have continued living. But no one has ever learned how to go back in time to make that sacrifice. So we are left to live and breathe in a world without you. We have to create a new map that takes us into uncharted territory. We do this in your honor. We do this in honor of our family and friends that remain by our side.

We will continue down this new path until we take our own last breaths. And when we leave this world and head into the unknown, we hope to see you there with open, loving arms and hear you say softly, “Welcome. I’ve been waiting for you.”

In memory of Margareta Sol Kubitz and all of our children who left us before we were ready. Originally published on www.aliveinmemory.org.

 

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Comments (15)

  • Incredible that you spoke everything I have felt, since my daughter died of cancer 8 years ago. I would have cheerfully died for her, so she could live. So many were surprised I didn’t just grieve for a bit, then get back to ‘normal’. I’m still not back to normal and never will be. My daughter was half of my soul. Thank you for putting into words what I and I’m sure most all of us feel. Without Compassionate Friends, I’d still be an incredible mess. Thank you! ❤️

  • I am so glad that you had the strength and spirit to share with not just us mothers, fathers, grandparents who’ve lost the most dearest to our hearts but to others who don’t see our bubbles. I lost my daughter September of 2015, and everything just stopped! People would say “ I can’t imagine what your going through!” For me, I couldn’t say exactly what I was going through, cause I felt that No One should know or feel the dark, emptiness and PAIN that came in me. You said EVERYTHING that I wish I could’ve said, even to my wife. I TRULY want to say Thank You, from the deepest of my broken heart, from every drop of tears that fall, THANK YOU!

  • This captures all that I have felt since we lost our son in 1997. I feel like I am living behind a facade of my real feelings. I am not as good at writing so I thank you for putting it to words. Christopher passed at 17. His 2 brothers have kept me going but even they would like me to “be happier”. My little granddaughter does give me new life and hope!

  • Finally I read in writing now I feel. We lost our son I have been living just what you wrote. I just talked to my husband about how I have been living in a bubble and all of sudden I looked around and wonder were has the time has gone. Our hearts still hurt but we know we will see him again. Thank you for wonderful words only the people that gone through this understands . God bless you .

  • This is a beautiful article..Omg it’s realizing you make a difference in this crazy world. Some of us won’t give up on you.. I would never hurt you. I will love you to death us do part . My husband has sarcoma cancer and I feel like I am losing everyday with him. He’s losing hope, when I realize I married him for life and I will never give up on you… EVER,. You are my everything

  • That totally sums it up after losing a child. I lost my 25 year old Shane 7 years ago feb 21 . Living with the loss of a child is a new way of living this was so well written. Thank you

  • This is beautiful and so true. The loss of my son is heart wrenching and awful to live with; I just miss him! The song title “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” has new meaning to me from this loss. We must work at getting the suicide rates down and to help those who are in such dire need. I am desperately learning to be a more understanding and knowledgeable human to try to help those who so deserve it. Seek help if you need it and don’t stop seeking the right help if the first one isn’t right. Keep trying and never give up hope that you will find someone like me who cares and will never stop trying to help you find the right care and answers.

  • This is so true!!! We lost a son almost 12 years ago and a daughter a little over a year ago. Thank God for the compassion of family and friends!!! Its something you never forget and I still feel like I’m in a bubble sometimes. Thank you for sharing !

  • This April will be 4 years that I lost my son Lee and I think of him every day. If not for Compassionate Friends and support from friends and family ,I would not have made it. Life can change so quickly, so enjoy happy moments when you can !

  • This is so true .I have been living in that bubble since losing my son Richard to cancer in December 2017 it’s a bubble of complete and utter shock. I now know the meaning of a broken heart .my world is full of darkness .

  • We lost our daughter Cleo on 20 February 2017. She was 29 .. A car accident on her way to work .. Our worlds shattered and nothing feels right .. It’s all totally wrong and still a reality our minds cant comprehend .. There is a mostly
    unspoken expextancy that the old adage applies ” Time is a healer” but how can it and why should it .. The enormity of this is forever … Our love, longing and missing grow as each minute relentlessly takes us further away from the last moment we saw her and held her … Life without Cleo …

  • Those are my feelings that I haven’t been able to really describe put into words. My son was murdered on February 22, 2018. Two months and 3 days after his 17th birthday. We live in a small town of 6K or so and you would never think something like this would happen. Our community was rocked by his death. Our family is still figuring out our “new normal “ and still trying to live each day with our hearts in pieces. Our Faith has kept us going and we turn to our Lord for comfort. We have been surrounded and supported by our church family and our friends. Thank you for the wonderfully written article!

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