Friends in Grief
The other day, I saw an acquaintance in a local hamburger joint. She had recently lost her young daughter to the horrible disease of cancer. I waited until each of us had finished eating before I approached her. From my own experience, I know that talking about such things can make a gigantic lump form in your throat making it impossible to swallow, let alone eat. If she is able to enjoy a burger with friends, I do not want to be the one to interrupt her pleasant meal.
Probably the real reason I waited to speak with her is because I think that even the remembrance of the tragedy of having to bury your own child is sincere. I wanted to acknowledge her as a mother, and I wanted to express my deepest sympathy to her for having to continue after the devastation of her loss. I seldom run into people who mention my youngest daughter Annie, who died too young. I would like to know that I am not the only one who misses her and thinks of her: Not because I want either of us to grieve, but because she deserves commemoration. I wonder every day what she would be doing if she was still alive. I don’t cry every day anymore, but I still cry many times per week. I marvel when I make it through the day without shedding tears over a life gone too soon; my daughter was only nineteen years old. I really have no words of comfort for friends who have lost their children, but I do share that I no longer cry daily. I want to convey my heartfelt sympathy to them, and I tell them that unusual fact. That statement sounds strange to me when I say it aloud: “I don’t cry every day now”—but I believe it may be a comforting testimonial to a parent who has lost their beloved child.
Additionally, I share that I have a make-shift shrine that I steal glances at frequently throughout the day. Nobody else even pays attention to it, but I always add to it on the anniversary of my baby girl’s death. I sometimes find little things I know Annie would have loved, and I add them to my shrine. She was collecting bears when she died, so bears are a significant sign for me now. I purchase cute figurines that will fit on my shrine. I must remain particular with my bear purchases, though. Otherwise, I might go too far overboard. Suitably, I also have angels, birthstones, photos, and other knick-knacks on my memorial shrine. I haven’t really disclosed the essence of the little shrine to loved ones, but for some reason it gives me comfort.
I don’t have specific times that I just stop to think about Annie, except on that dreaded death anniversary. I tell the grieving parent that the death anniversary of their child will probably be hard for years. My daughter has been gone since March 2003, and the whole month of March is still a hurdle to get through. I can’t offer a valid explanation as to why, but it remains the saddest month for me. As a result of this profound sadness, I have set up a ritual on the date of her death: I reminisce privately for at least twenty minutes. I like to be alone for at least that long and just let myself reflect. I feel that I must continue as if nothing has happened most of the time, so I demand that I be allowed to contemplate without interruption for a while on her death anniversary. Sadly, I’m still selfish with my secret practice; after all there are a lot of tears shed during my annual devotional. I cry for all that I miss about Annie. I cry for all the memories we will never be able to make. I cry because she never experienced the joy of motherhood. I cry because I’m so very sad. I cry for people who never got to meet her. I cry for my grandchildren who never knew their Aunt Annie. There are so many reasons that I cry; I cry because I have a broken heart; I cry because I can; I cry because the annual date of her death is so very depressing.
Ultimately, I feel too many parents have buried their children. I feel kinship with parents who have had to get through the nightmare of continuing life without their children. Nobody would voluntarily become a member of an association if the price was to lose their child, but sadly there are many parents who have been thrown into the group of surviving parents. One day at a time seems like forever in the beginning, but one day at a time we manage to continue with a void that is indescribable. I only hope that knowing they are not alone in their pain is helpful when I approach my friends in grief.