Marc has a favorite saying: When the student is ready the teacher appears. Over the years I’ve discovered that his saying can be experienced in different ways. Only when we start asking the questions do we recognize the answers or we suddenly recognize an explanation/answer because we’ve now lived the experience. Sometimes it can mean that only when the questions start coming or we recognize that we’re asking questions do we seek out answers or recognize when answers present themselves.
This afternoon I was searching online for the Okanagan Compassionate Friends newsletter just to see if there was a meeting in Vernon next Thursday as it is the day before Canada Day. As I was searching, the thought hit me: those who attend Compassionate Friends meetings probably care about Canada Day as much as I do – which is zero – so chances are there will be a meeting. Sure enough next Thursday’s meeting was listed. I breathed a sigh of relief, though not sure why since we have no babysitter to be able to attend, but we’re working on it.
Anyway, as I was looking through the summer newsletter from last year (looking for direction to this year’s summer edition) I stumbled upon an article written by Clara Hinton called “Child Loss – Where Are My Friends?” Of all the articles in the newsletter it is the only one I stopped to read because I confess that I do struggle with that feeling of the loss of friends. Turns out I’m not alone, it seems to be a rather universal experience for most people who have lost a child. I’m not saying I’m struggling with anyone in particular and I’m not saying it’s not a perception problem on my part but the fact that it seems a universal experience is certainly helpful to know. Clara Hinton wrote, “I’m not saying that our friends don’t care. I’m just saying that life goes on for them. For the parents of child loss, time stands ever so still.” That answer I can relate to. I watch and suffer as Catherine struggles with her loneliness and her frustration/disappointment when all her friends are just too busy to play with her and I think: Life just seemed so good when Bernadette was with us and now it’s totally different, it’s quieter, it’s lonely – for all of us.
I don’t sit around every day feeling this terrible lonely ache, but I admit some days are worse than others. I think the reason that the article jumped out at me today was because of the wonderful weekend we just had.
We had our dear friends, Bob and Joan, visiting us over almost four days and there was a lot of laughter and meaningful conversations, but when they left that terrible ache returned with a vengeance. I confess that while they were here I found myself constantly reliving the past, that last summer they came when Bernadette was still alive and seemingly perfectly healthy and happy. We had so much fun that summer visit. Bernadette even called them her ‘other grandparents’ and asked for them many times after that. Over this past weekend we’d remember those fun days and as different things triggered memories, I constantly shared those memories of Bernadette, all the way up until the day she passed away. So when Bob and Joan left, in a sense it felt like losing Bernadette all over again because she came alive for me again over the weekend.
What our friends gave us is a rare gift. Not everyone is willing or able to do what they did – taking our grief in stride and just accepting that it is a part of who we are now. If they were uncomfortable with it they certainly didn’t show it! According to Clara Hinton, people find it very uncomfortable so friendships trickle away. “Grief seems to put a wedge between friends making it difficult to talk and enjoy each other’s presence any more.”
Clara’s explanation helps me understand more why we struggle with a loneliness that we can’t share. In any normal conversation, as generally happens when parents share with each other about their children, if Bernadette were alive we would be asked about her and we would easily talk about her. But now that she’s gone that opportunity is no longer there, no longer offered. And yet, what some don’t understand is that our need to talk about Bernadette is stronger than ever. Unfortunately the ache to share her and keep her alive in our memories and daily activities can be rather intense. For some, Bernadette’s absence is a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. For us it’s a case of ‘forever in the forefront of our minds, but unable to share.’
But for me, there is a deeper question that I haven’t found an answer to yet. We have a lot of experiences in life and some we enjoy sharing and some we have no problem keeping to ourselves, so what is it about the loss of a child and grief that is so intense that we long to share it even though we can’t? I have never felt this intense longing to share anything before! It’s almost like we need to share it so we know we’re not all alone. Why is that? Why is it that way, especially when we can never adequately share our grief anyways? It’s not like sharing it will make it go away! So why? I’m beginning to believe that there is only one place we can truly take this kind of intense pain and share it knowing full well we’re totally understood and loved – to God! Man there are days when I wish He was on email. deep sigh
That being said, is it any wonder that friendships change? Is it our friends’ fault? No. Is it our fault? No. Can it be different? I don’t know. Sure would make life a lot easier if it could.
After reading Clara’s article I went to her website and there discovered an answer to another struggle – why does the second year seem so much harder than the first?