Photo: Ralf Hirsch
There was a day when the sun ceased to shine. You may have missed it; it didn’t make the headlines of any national paper. February 2, 1997, to most, was only Groundhog Day. For me, it was nothing as trite as whether the furry creature did or did not see his shadow. Forget the promise of spring, what did it matter now? My life as I dreamed it stopped when my four-year-old laid lifeless in my arms.
How I remember those early months after his death. I wanted to be like my Victorian ancestors and wear black, even a veil. Then my clothes could shout to my neighbors, those in the grocery store lines, and the many at church -- look at me, I am a parent doing the impossible: living without her child.
I remember those who helped us as we put one foot in front of the other on the rocky path. My husband, three children, and I couldn’t walk it alone. Friends, with embraces as strong and wide as eagle wings, circled us, cried with us. They brought meals, sent cards, provided listening ears, and took care of our young children.
Then there were those uncomfortable with our grief. During the first weeks they joined our tears, but as the months dragged on, their expressions and subtle hints were shouting, “Get back to normal. Look at the joyous side of life. Heal your broken heart!" For some reason, as you may know, people put a timeline on grief. I think the general consensus is that you’re only allowed two to three weeks of sorrow.
When you are new to grief, even simple tasks can be laborious. Your energy and patience levels are low. But hear a comment or two that is completely out of line for anyone to say, and suddenly, you are propelled by anger. How can I forget the older lady in our church that called me every day for two weeks? She’d start off by asking how I was doing. My guts felt like they were stripped out of my body and my heart, mangled. I’d say, "It’s hard."
One afternoon this woman told me with all the sincerity she could muster, "God needed another flower in his garden in heaven and took Daniel." I nearly dropped the phone. This was supposed to provide comfort? I eventually did hang up, but politely. My frustration flared. I got a lot of laundry done that afternoon -- throwing clothes into the washing machine, banging the lid shut, flinging socks and shirts into the dryer.
I am bolder now. When people tell me certain lines, aimed to help me and they don’t work, I let them know. My new mantra is, "Cry with me. Don’t pretend you understand why my child died. Don’t try to rationalize why my son was diagnosed with cancer at the age of three and died at four."
Those who have helped are the ones who continue to remember his birthday and think of how hard it is to live the holidays without him. I appreciate the friends who join me at the cemetery, named by my children “Daniel’s Place”, and lift a helium balloon into the sky with me. Watch it soar.
I believe my son is vibrant and alive in Heaven now. I hope the balloon reaches him. Don’t tell me it pops when it gets out of sight. Let me be like a child and not know the laws of the stratosphere. Let me wish he knows how much I love and miss him. Let me believe he is alive and touching the face of God.
The sun does shine again in my world. Although the hole in my mother’s heart is always present, I’m grateful for the times I can tell Daniel’s story. Remembering him, writing about him, even sharing his jokes with those I meet, brings healing.
I place flowers at his grave. But Daniel is not another flower.
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