Lessons Learned

As bereaved parents, we are all learning to bear the unbearable whether our child died recently or many years ago. Each morning when we wake up, we have a familiar queasy feeling. We’re reminded that she’s gone or I can’t walk him to the school bus stop today. Daily life is infused with reminders—photos of our beloved, departed child, the empty chair at the table, the unused down parka that we just can’t give away. Sometimes, it’s the unexpected that can be the harshest, like when you are in the grocery store and you walk past the Little Bite brownies that your daughter loved, and you burst into tears.

Bearing the Unbearable

We have a few choices. We can run away, hide, or despair, or we can painfully accept the journey we are on. In the first months and years after the death of my daughter Elizabeth from a rare childhood bone cancer, I withdrew emotionally except when I was forced to engage with colleagues at work. My concerned friends reached out to me, but I struggled to connect. I was tightly wrapped in a cloak of despair. I didn’t know how to unravel it.

In my solitude, I watched the changing seasons more closely. I heard the harsh December winds howling, watched the snow swirling, and observed the earth reawakening with the promise of spring. I planted a garden filled with delicate white roses and flowering pink azaleas. I walked for miles in shaded forests and swam in a crystal-clear lake. I listened to loons calling at night. And slowly, I changed as the seasons did. I began to accept that I was part of the rhythm of life, one that has no beginning and no ending. A rhythm that drew me in and compelled me to participate in life again.

One day, I pray that we will all find a way back into the rhythm of life again. I don’t underestimate how hard this will be or how many times we’ll stumble and fall. But if we can pick ourselves back up or grab the hand of a friend, we can steady ourselves once more. In time we can learn that we can hold sorrow and joy, grief and hope, a sense of loss and anticipation of connection.

Sometimes I capture these juxtaposing feelings in poetry. In closing, I’d like to share this poem with you.

I Can Hold My Suffering

I sit by the shoreline and watch the birds for a long time.

A strong breeze pushes in from a new direction.

The birds take one step, suddenly rise,

turn with their backs to the wind,

and lift up as the currents beckon them.

My thoughts flow back to an earlier time.

I was comforting my daughter by her bedside,

as I had done for nearly one year.

Then, one summer afternoon,

after she had held on for as long as she could,

she shifted,

turned from this world,

and lifted away in the wind.

I sat alone shaking for a long, long time.

The seasons changed and I robotically followed them.

I felt the sting of the sand on my skin;

I felt the harsh November winds;

I felt the snow curled under me.

And slowly I changed as the seasons did.

I learned to live through each time,

through each cool night, and the bitter cold,

and through the warm, gentle rains.

Each season has a different beauty

that does not escape me.

I appreciate the glorious moments,

and now, I can hold my suffering.

© Facing Into the Wind by Faith F. Wilcox

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