September summer has always been a time of nostalgia for me. The days are noticeably shorter with daytime temperatures beginning to cool down and the slightest chilliness of beautiful star-filled evenings requiring a sweatshirt or sweater. Early morning streets are filled with children going back to school. Most everyone is finally back to work, relaxed and sharing the adventures and experiences of summer vacations. And then one day, there is a wind from the west. And just by its feel you know these are the last days of summer and that fall will soon gently ease itself into our Rocky Mountains. Before we know it, the canyons are blazing with the fire of fall color working its way down into our valley.
It is a beautiful season and perhaps my favorite time of the year. We can sit for hours in Sugar House Park, watching the birds gather and head south for the winter and enjoy the trees now fully aflame with oranges, browns and reds so beautiful it can make our hearts sing with joy. And yet, with all the beauty that surrounds us, we, as bereaved parents, sometimes struggle to let it all in. For as summer wanes, and fall begins, our thoughts naturally turn to grammar school homework, high school parties and dances, college football games, shopping for new clothes, and the specter of holidays ahead without those of our children who have too soon been taken from us.
It is difficult to write about this just today. I just went to a wedding of my closest friends’ son, where Jacob’s cousins, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters and past friends all came together for three days of reunion and celebrations filled with stories of the past. On Sunday, over 30 people were at my place sharing enchiladas and childhood memories of those years we were all together. And of course, the occasional, “I wish Jake were here to see this.” For me, not an hour went by that I did not think of him or see his face in his young nephew who bears his name. And yet … and yet the season, the color, the beautiful days and evenings, the weddings, the parties and football games, and the eminent holidays now fill me with thanksgiving that Jake was part of my life for 16 years. No small thing that. I consider myself lucky for that much time, for I know so many friends who had much less time with their beloved children. So, this year, I choose to find the good and the beautiful of the season, and let the holidays come. For, it is in remembering his face and the goodness of his life and the beauty of the season, I find sweet healing for my grieving soul.
Very soon now, autumn and the harvest season will be upon us, and the bounty of summer’s growth will begin to fill our barns and sheds. And this will be an opportunity for us, even though we grieve, to discover the rich harvest of memories with those of our lost children. In their season, they provided us with a bounty of their own. If we can accept it, this can be a fall season where we reflect on their abundance of smiles, laughter, humor, growth, learning, and sharing of love. How we loved them, and how they loved us. Even through all the difficulties, the energetic exchanges of opinions and ideas, the heartaches, the tears, anxiety and disappointments, we cannot avoid the fact that we loved them with a measure beyond our comprehension. And in spite of the difficult times, their sweet and sometimes very short lives provided us with an abundant harvest of experiences that are able, if we let them, to bless us with healing memories to last for as long as we live.
So as we say goodbye to summer, as best we can, let us welcome the fall season and the coming holidays and all the beauty these seasons can and will bring to us. I fully realize that for those of us most recently bereaved, this will be difficult, and in our sorrow and grief, seem perhaps almost impossible. Please let me reach out my hand and my heart to you in the quiet of your reading this right now.
If you can, imagine I am looking right into your eyes with all the compassion I can muster. And in that moment, I will share your tears, your agony of loss, and your grief, for I am truly one of you. I am after all and have been a Compassionate Friend for over 11 years now. And as we share this moment, please hear the warmest feelings of my heart as I say to you this wretched agony of grief, this painful time of suffering, and this nightmare and horror you now feel will pass. At some point I promise you will begin to experience the light at the end of this painful tunnel of grief. I promise you will have summers and falls and holidays to come filled with healing memories of your children. I promise as Halloween comes, and you are finally able to turn your porch light on to welcome trick-or-treaters, you will see your own children in the bright and joyful faces at your front door, and smile and be glad they once blessed your life. I also promise the time will come when you will move past Halloween and look forward to Thanksgiving and the December holidays.
As I wrote earlier, I realize this may be too soon for some of you. All I ask is that you be willing to let these most difficult times pass — as I have promised they will and allow your hearts to soften and show you their rich places where you still love your children. For it is in those painful, tender places you will begin to find the abundance of love given to you by your children which will bring healing. And when that happens, you will look forward to Thanksgiving day with its abundantly filled table, and realize an equally abundant harvest of the heart.
Whenever we are able to accept it and embrace it, the grace of healing will come to all of us. Of course, our lives will never be the same. We will always have the sadness of their absence in our lives and experience those frequent bittersweet times when we simply miss them. But the dark pain and suffering of their passing will itself pass – this I can promise you. For in these past 11 years I have looked into every dark and secret corner of grief, and have spent with you, all those endless weeks and months of intense pain and tears.
I have shared those endless days of self recrimination and regret and anger. And in all this I have finally found the autumn of my healing and have feasted in the abundant harvest of love. Yes indeed, I promise you the light of joyful memory at the end of this dark tunnel.
So may you look forward to the fall and all its beauty and grace, and anticipate the holidays’ peace and joy with a sure knowledge that this present darkness will pass, and that your life will once again be able to embrace the abundance of harvest enjoyed by the rest of your family and friends. And along with Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, be able to say as he did of his own son’s life and death, “… I think of Aaron and all that his life taught me, and I realize how much I have lost and how much I have gained. Yesterday seems less painful, and I am not afraid of tomorrow.”
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