July is Bereaved Parents Month, which, speaking from experience, is something those who have lost a child wish to ignore. Counterintuitive, I know.
The reality is that such campaigns tend to ignite physical and emotional reactions in bereaved parents that we would often prefer not to continue experiencing.
That said, it’s an opportunity to share the thoughts and emotions that we’ve kept buried, in hopes that: It will put loved ones at ease, because we’re doing “OK”; will support other bereaved parents, letting them know they’re not alone; educate the wider community so that we can all be more aware, empathetic, and possibly more protective of our kids.
In my case, we lost our son to suicide almost 4 years ago after a long and secret battle with depression. In past interviews and articles, I’ve shared the unique mix of horror, guilt, and pure sorrow that comes with the loss of a child to suicide.
It’s often said that a parent suffers more after the loss of a child than the pain experienced by the child which led to their suicide. I can’t say for sure; however, I can tell you the pain never leaves a parent.
It’s like a lifetime prison sentence, a punishment we must endure every day of our lives.
With each passing month, the depth of that pain numbs a little. The pain of losing a child to suicide is like the calloused palm of a carpenter; the skin grows a little thick, numbing the effects of the tool that created it but every time someone holds your hand, you remember it’s there and you pull away.
You relive all the scraping, hammering, and drilling that created it in the first place.
A friend shared this picture of a sculpture by Albert György called Melancholy recently and it truly resonated with me, more so than any other image, poem or art with respect to the life of a bereaved parent.
This sculpture and a related quote by John Maddox is a window into my life.
“We may look as if we carry on with our lives as before. We may even have times of joy and happiness. Everything may seem ‘normal’. But THIS, ‘Emptiness’ is how we all feel…all the time.”
I’m usually thankful that those who ask “how are you doing?” are doing so to be polite or out of habit, not really wanting to dig too deep for fear that they’ll not be able to handle the gush of heartbreaking emotions that will flow if they scratch too deep below the surface.
However, I often think of the answer to this question. If I were to be honest about how I’m really doing a few years after the loss of my son, what would I say? How DO I feel?
Frankly, there are no words for it.
Yes, the initial shock and pain have numbed a little. Yes, I do find fleeting moments of happiness with family and friends that are very important to me.
Yes, I get up every morning and go to work, greet my neighbours, go on vacation, watch my favourite sport teams, and even go out to a movie now and again.
All as if nothing has changed, like life is normal. But it’s not.
My life moves forward, it has no choice…although often I wish it didn’t.
Living in Black and White
If I had to try to put it into words, the best way to describe the existence of a bereaved parent – in my experience – is returning to living life in an old black and white television program.
You can still laugh with Opie and Andy Griffith or learn life lessons with June Cleaver, but after years enjoying the brilliance of HD colour, you’re thrown back in time to experiencing that same life in a dull grayscale.
Maybe Albert György’s sculpture expresses it perfectly, it’s empty. You’re alive but you’re empty. The joys you try to find along your journey does help fill that emptiness in your soul, but you’re never truly whole again.
And it’s on that note that I’d like to end.
During this month where were recognize bereaved parents, I’d like to say to other parents who may be just starting along this journey, life will move forward. It may be black and white but it does move forward.
You will experience joy with your other kids and you will find laughter again.
To others, if you want to know, despite those moments of joy and outbursts of laughter from time to time, our souls remain empty. It’s something we learn to live with and thank you for trying to make us whole again. We may not be able to express it, but we recognize you.
To my goofy, pain-in-the-ass, empathetic, and brilliant son, Lucas…rest in peace. My soul may be empty but my heart remains full of love for you.