They say loss is part of life. They say into each life, a little rain must fall. Some lives will only drizzle and others may pour, but either way, we all go through the rain. They also say that dying is part of living and death is part of life. They say that all things, do, and must change. Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. There is no avoiding this. The only thing that cannot, will not, and does not change is fact.
Life will only be what it is, which is an ever-changing phenomenon that happens to everybody, unexpectedly or otherwise. It is written, they say, those who lie down and those who rise up. It is fact that in the morning we wake, in the daytime we live, at evening we prepare, and at twilight we sleep. This is life explained in the course of one day. However, to each their own, which means the span of one day is different to a child than it is to a parent.
Time is relative but furthermore; life is equally relative. So is emotion. So is our threshold of sadness. So is our choice to believe or not to believe in the afterlife. It is all relative, which means no one can or cannot decipher which is easier or harder. No one has the right to say who mourns more or who mourns less because heartache is heartache; anything else is only judgement of someone’s relation to life or death or the mourning of either.
I have learned one thing to be true, which is in the moment, there is no right thing to say. Words and sentiment are kind; however, there are no right words to mend the broken heart of a tragic loss.
There is supposed to be a natural order of things. Life is supposed to happen in a certain way. Unfortunately, life does not adhere to this idea. Unfortunately, the unnatural events of life happen without regard for our heart or our say so. There is nothing more unnatural than losing a child. There is equally nothing more unfair that a parent laying their child to rest. There is nothing worse than the emptiness in the room and the void space where someone used to sit.
I suppose the hardest thing to see is the remnants of someone, like a pair of shoes and the way they were left in place exactly where they were left. Or maybe it’s a shirt that hangs in a closet; maybe it’s the way a blanket was left on the bed, slightly unmade, or strewn in a certain way because it was last touched by a son or daughter.
There is an energy in the room. I have felt this energy. I felt this way when The Old Man passed in December of 1989. I was just a boy, only 17, and The Old Man was gone. He died before I really had the chance to repair our relationship. Mom used to set out one of The Old Man’s night shirts for him. She left the shirt on a chair in their bedroom. She hung it there for him the morning before The Old Man left to the hospital.
She never moved that shirt. It stayed exactly as it was, I suppose, this way the shirt was ready just in case The Old Man ever decided to come home.
I remember seeing a pair of The Old Man’s sneakers after he passed away. I remember how the untied shoelaces looked, untied, with one shoe laying flat and the other one next to it, on its side. I remember seeing this and feeling the energy in the room. I could feel it but I could not see it, which made the loss even more unfair because I could feel him but I couldn’t see him.
I loved my Father. I know I did. He knew this too; however, there was an unfair history between us. I was sick, on drugs, in trouble, and then mandated to be away. There were things left unsaid. There were explanations neither of us ever had the chance to share.
I lost more than just my youth. I lost my Father. I lost my chance to experience life with him. I was too far gone for too long to be reachable.
In any case, this was not supposed to happen.
I was finally out of trouble. I cleaned up my act. I was gaining weight. I was back in school. I was learning how to live, work, and behave. I had plans too. I was going to be the son I believed my Father always wanted. I’m sure The Old Man was happy to believe that at last, he and I could be a father and son again. Unfortunately, life did not adhere to this plan; in which case, I felt as if something was taken from me. I was robbed, I say.
Mom was a different situation. She lived on her own for a long time in Florida. Mom was doing well. She was lonely, but well until her back began to fail. Then her life went downhill. I was Mom’s healthcare proxy, which meant I had to deal with the doctors and the nurses and the hospitals and the assisted living homes. This meant I had to deal with phone call after phone call about Mom and the way she was behaving or inevitably, losing her mind to dementia.
Mom was on several different pain meds. This was hard for me to see because I know enough about opiates and pills. I knew enough to know that this was not going to work out well. I recognized the symptoms of her use. I saw the concerns of her paranoia with the idea of “everyone is trying to take something away.”
In fairness, I can say that I have seen terrible things. I have seen violence. I have seen outrage and bloodshed. I have seen curbside justice and death up close. I have seen bullets pass through flesh; however, I never saw anything as painful, as terrible, or as sad as my own Mother withdrawing from opiates.
I watched Mom wither to nothing. I saw her through surgery after surgery. I answered phone call after phone call, which always began with the same official introduction. This usually came from a nurse or a doctor or an administrator or anyone for that matter, calling to inform me about Mom.
After a while, the phone calls because a part of my life. I began to take them for granted until one day, a call came that was very different. The nurse explained that time was running short. Mom was on her way. I had to get on a plane from New York, down to Florida and settle my Mother’s affairs.
Worst of all, I had to sign the paper to have Mom taken off of life support.
A few months before, I had to close up Mom’s little cottage and gather her things. She lived in a small peaceful cottage on a quite piece of land in southern Florida. The cottage was part of an assisted living community. She still had her freedom but there was extra care for Mom to help her along.
Mom began falling a lot. This created the attention of Florida’s elder care laws. This caused the state to intervene and removed Mom from the cottage. Mom loved that little place. She loved the little pond that was nearby with a huge weeping willow not too far away. She used to dream of places like this. I know this because Mom told me so.
We found a better placement for Mom a few hours away. It was nice but not as nice as her cottage. She missed her little dog. She missed her chair. She missed her privacy and she missed her freedom.
I remember the day I had to go in and pack Mom’s things. I saw where she left everything. I saw the way she left her little notes for herself. I could feel her spirit in the room, but deep down, I knew that my Mom was already gone.
There is something so surreal about the way people leave their personal items in the room. And you go and you stand there in a room they used to live in. I saw the way she left her magazines. I saw what she used to occupy her time. This was so strange, even something as simple as a pen or a notepad. I saw the way she left her little coupons in a box and where Mom kept her slippers. I knew this was preparation for the end; however, when the end came, I was still very much unprepared. I remember the day and the hour. I remember the unnecessary unfairness of the entire day. More than anything, I remember the energy in her room back at the assisted living home, in which, again, I had to pack up all of Mom’s things for the last time.
I have shared this story in bereavement groups. I shared this because of the remnants of energy.
I have had mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers come up to me and tell me that although my loss was still a loss; their loss was different.
I say all losses are different. I say that to each their own. Same as my right to grieve belongs to me, yours is yours, mine is mine, and someone else’s is someone else’s.
It would be inaccurate for me or for anyone to judge, dictate or determine, the severity or the level of human loss.
None of this is fair.
I have been part of different initiatives throughout my life. I worked hard to help children with pediatric cancer. But yet, the worst of all cases was the loss of a young boy named Jake. He died at the age of two.
I listened to a woman detail the loss of her young teenage boy’s life. She told me about how much she missed him. She talked about the tragic loss. Then she told about the things she missed most. And she said, “unless you lost a child, then you just can’t know what this feels like,” which I listened to and accepted without debate. However, it was interesting to hear from a mother that lost her newborn when she replied, “at least you had those years and those memories. My child died before I had the chance to do anything.”
It is wrong for me or you or anyone for that matter to say which loss is more tragic or painful. In the end, loss is loss. Life is life. Above all things, life is energy.
Einstein once said, “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms.” I say life is energy. I say that life can never be destroyed. It only changes forms. I suppose the hardest part is learning how to deal with this switch of energy. The hardest part is feeling the energy and yet, feeling the absence of presence, which used to be so youthful and strong. Even harder is when you find something like a remnant of that life, like maybe a little note or hear the voice of your loved on a recording in a video.
I struggle sometimes, not to determine the difference between my loss and yours. I struggle because above anything, I miss my parents.
Like many, I have a few things that were left unresolved. I have a few questions that I need answered. I have a few things I still need to say.
Either way, loss is loss. Rather than determine the difference between mine or yours or anyone else’s in-between, I had to learn to heal and find a better way to interact with the energy of life. This is the quality of my love that still remains because if it is up to me, you and I will never die.
We will just change forms. And I will be with you for always…