July 30th marked the ninth anniversary of my son David’s death. Since that day, I have been mourning his loss. I am not being morbid or hyperbolic; just descriptive, stating a fact. I suffer Perpetual Sorrow Syndrome, the unquenchable yearning for a lost loved one which has become a chronic condition hardwired into the mental infrastructure. Yet as time passes, our relationship—the bond between David and me— has changed. I have learned to practice managed mourning. I see my progress as the evolution of grieving.
In many ways, the loss of my child is more concrete today than it was earlier in the cycle of mourning where returning to some approximation of normalcy was overwhelming. For a long while, the finality of him being gone forever could not be comprehended. I imagined him entering into the house, saw him on the street, and heard his voice. These apprehensions seemed so tangible. Often, I had dreams in which I was able to intervene and reverse the outcome of his fate. Real life was the nightmare I woke up to. During this period, I was negotiating a foreign territory where the physical environment was recognizable, but not familiar. I felt constantly disoriented and frightened, a sense of dread looming everywhere. There was the avatar of myself going about the business of eating, sleeping, working, while an identical human representation followed behind; a lost soul, stranger to herself and her surroundings, clueless and confused about where she was and what she was doing.
I wasn’t psychotic, just in the acute phase of grieving. Simmering below the predictable sadness and loneliness was guilt, rage, self-pity, resentment, depression, and many other negative, self-defeating turns the human psyche takes after deep trauma and tragedy.
There are many factors including time, serious introspection, religious rituals, searching and discovering ways to honor the memory of the child, and reaching out to other bereaved parents to help a parent function after a child’s death. Many occasions remain painful and fraught with anxiety and melancholy—the empty chair at family celebrations, noting the milestones of your child’s contemporaries, responding to queries from new acquaintances about your children, growing old without the company and support of a son or daughter. Still, the months and then years move forward, and it sinks in that you are still in the land of the living (yes, it is possible!), but your beloved child, ever present in your consciousness, exists in some other sphere of being. Miraculously, it seems, but not until you are emotionally ready, comes acceptance. The next phase in the evolution of grieving has arrived.
As I approach completing a decade since that sweltering summer day (was I in hell?) when we buried my son, I want to explore the possibility of moving beyond acceptance to a higher spiritual goal: to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Just writing this fills me with astonishment since I still believe there can never be anything positive about the untimely passing of a young person. But I am willing to open my heart to truths I previously denigrated and dismissed as wishful and naive. I want to embrace the blessing of the time spent with my son rather than bemoan the curse of his death. I want to take comfort in the knowledge that each of us has a purpose on the earth, a mission to fulfill in the eternal unfolding of existence. The worth of life cannot be measured in the number of years an individual lives. Of course, we bereaved parents would have wished our children a long, happy, healthy stay on this planet, lasting much beyond our own departure. Of course, we will grieve for them until we too have shed our physical container, and are no longer matter but pure energy, ready to join our children as part of the creative force that fuels the eternal cosmos.
The years of David’s life were diminished, but not its worth. I want to be able to let go of the what ifs and if onlys that surround his death; to give up the fantasies of what he could have been, done, achieved had he been granted a normal lifespan. I want to focus on the special joy, insight, and pleasure he brought to those who knew and loved him. The thoughts of him and what he means to me have allowed me to manage my mourning and go on with my life. I have learned from his destiny, the immeasurable value of life that must be revered and respected unconditionally, and the indestructible power of love that transcends even death. It was his gift to me, which I accept with gratitude, even as I continue to mourn his loss. This, I believe, is the next stage in the evolution of grief.
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