There is a very flimsy curtain that hangs on the line between darkness and light, sadness and joy, devastation and elation. It flaps, ever teasing, in the breeze of our awareness – sending chills through our bones and flooding our senses with fear whenever we become cognizant of the gentle wind moving that gauzy fabric behind us. When it happens - unless we are clinically depressed - I believe we inch a little closer to the light for comfort. We count our blessings, cook our favorite meals, hug our friends, and throw little parties – even if only in our minds. We do our best to forget there is that other place…
This week, I have been sitting on the dark side of the curtain. The deep, dark side – far from the moving air and the eye-squinting glare of happiness. A dear, dear friend lost a child. In a terrible accident. Just four miles from the driveway that would have taken him to the warm embrace of home and parents and an ever-present hum of safety. This was a child who pushed the limits, ran with life’s bulls, challenged his parent’s authority…but he always came home to that place that held him, protected him, and nurtured him.
I want to be profound and encouraging with my heart-broken soul mate of a friend, but about all I can say is, “Shit.” Because, damnit, this is not supposed to happen. Children are not supposed to die before their parents. It is unnatural, and arguably the cruelest tragedy that exists on the long list of Horrible Things We Hope Never Happen. The job of sitting and watching hours of agonizing grief as it bobs along on waves of other people’s kindnesses, laugh-inducing memories, and an entire community’s aching is exhausting. Especially from my personal zone of utter helplessness.
Who really needs to hear “Shit!” all the livelong day?
Remarkably, this is not my first rodeo of helplessness. I now have four – four – close friends who have buried their children. You could imagine I might grow confident in stepping from stone to stone in the early hours of navigating such grief. But I haven’t. The memory of my friends’ voices on the phone – the shock and resolution in their pronouncements – shake me to the core of anything remotely affiliated with strength: Wade is dead. Bobby died this morning. Margaret is gone. Tom was killed. These are words mothers should never have to say. And I suppose the truth is, I just can’t shake my anger over the fact that they do have to say them. That they did.
Still I must report the most amazing discovery from the Deep Six of Darkness this week…
My friend continues to stand up. Just like the ones who have already been here and done it. She walks. She talks. She wails and weeps. She laughs and hugs. She and her husband and daughter stay surprisingly present in their days as each one painfully unfolds with whatever sadness or joy a given minute brings. It is the very embodiment of Grace, and it is a privilege to sit with them as they embrace something more than a mono-syllabic, gut-twisted response to the dark side. Seeing is believing. It is happening before my very eyes. They are moving in tiny, unsteady ways toward the side of brightness and hope and life. I have no easy way to explain how or why that happens. In spite of the terror that surely clings to them as they feel the wall along the hallway of darkness – my friends are moving toward the light.
Clearly I am not given to religious hyperbole or church-speak at times like these (shit?!). That kind of language rings hollow with me and seems to trivialize everything I hold Holy and Sacred. Still, I cannot shake a treasured line from my friend Anita – my wisest mentor and guide – long gone from this planet. She often stopped to ponder the unknowable with this brilliant insight:
“The name of that is God.”
Seriously...what else could it be?
So...to my struggling friends, who keep showing me how to lean into the Big Mystery when life blows us to the dark side…today I say, "Shit. You are strong. So strong."
And thank you.
Tom's mother, Kathy
Bobby's mother, Terri
Margaret's mother, Carol
Wade's mother, Darlene