In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “First Light.”
About a year ago I was forced to join a club that I really hadn’t ever given any consideration. We meet on the first Thursday of every month and every person who has joined, either before or after me hasn’t wanted to be there either. The faces are a mixture of smiles, some hiding the discomfort they feel about how we are going to spend the next few hours. There are others that you can see the pain from the moment they remove their coats. But I promise that they will most likely be there next month.
Our clubhouse is a church basement. Lots of parking for those who need to come, plenty of seats which at times are completely filled. Books laid out for people to borrow, pictures of children, the ever popular buffet of sugar and dairy. Coffee flowing, and ironically a youth group meeting above us. Those sounds we all shook our heads about before, a welcome sign that life goes on. For some, like myself, a necessary sound.
See these collected faces, parents all, are trying to come to terms with the loss of their children. For some it has been years of learning how to cope with holidays, birthdays with one less person at the table, graduations where every person they grew up is walking across the stage. Others, like myself, are very new to the process. Maybe they needed time to come out and be social, to feel like someone might be able to relate. In my case it was that the loss hit me so quickly and I needed to be around people who were going to tell me how to deal with the change in my life.
There are a set of lyrics that describe plenty of people –
“Don’t you know, I’ve got to paint me on
When I smile, I’ve got to paint it on
When I say Hi, I’ve got to paint it on
When I cry, I’ve got to paint it all, my tears.”
It’s about the masks we all use to cover how we feel. Those nights, while driving from my house, I heart is racing. There is panic, anxiety, pain, and relief. Those first three are ones everyone expects, but that last one is hard to describe. I can sit in a room and talk about my daughter. I could talk to them until my voice gives out, my stomach tied in knots, and they will listen to every last word because at some point they were exactly where I am right now.
Our paths are very different when we walk out the door. Some go home to other children, spouses who may not be able to express themselves in the same manner, and some go home to quiet. There is a collection of every possible demographic, enough that some person who would be studying us would realize that there is only one common denominator – we lost children. Through every effort made to prevent it, fate landed on our doorsteps.
For some it was that late night knock on the door telling them that their child had passed due to some traffic accident. How they fought so hard to keep breathing, kept trying to fight for every breath until they took their last. That maybe they weren’t alone in that moment. There are the few who get the opportunity to make it to the hospital and hold their child’s hand one time before having to make some final medical decision. Learning to live with the idea that they did the best they could, learning to put down the doubts about what might have happened if some different choice earlier might have spared them.
Others have the long task of watching their child slowly slip away while they sit in the corner fearfully watching their child’s chest rise and fall. Praying that this isn’t their moment, but also knowing that time is not on their side. That same common thread with someone down the hallway, crying as they are lead away from the room for the last time. A series of blurs and words that don’t make sense when they are being uttered, and most likely won’t make much sense later when the shock has worn off.
I fall into this subcategory of these two intertwined groups of parents. My daughter never was able to take her first breath. She died at the moment of her birth, possibly before, I’m not really sure. Never had the opportunity to hold her, I missed out on hearing that cry as she broke into our world. The voice on the phone telling me that the life I had spent months preparing for had been extinguished. I was sitting in the parking lot of the doctor’s office and didn’t know what to do. Panic took over, I called my parents and told them I needed them to come get me. It was time to go to the hospital but for a very different reason then they expected.
The next couple of days are the same blur, curled up in bed trying to make sense of everything. More silence followed, questions that couldn’t be answered for various reasons. What did I miss? Did we do something wrong? Who might be responsible for not telling us something that could have changed the outcome? I’m all for the stages of grief, but the one that took hold was anger. And it took a good grip.
Anger is a blanket, I was able to wrap myself to keep me warm. It was something that allowed me to not feel the pain. I wasn’t angry at the world, my anger was directed at specific people. There was nothing that was going to change that. The cost was something I wouldn’t learn until later. The price my friends paid, my family paid, and eventually myself, those ripples are still being felt. Some things will never be the same, other things are stronger, but several of the things I valued I should have remembered during the angry phase. In time, that’s the phrase I live by now, hopefully in time…
And that is where I find myself at this point in time. Hoping that I may find the answers to the simple questions anymore. Why are we here? Where did we come from? Where do we go when we die? The one universal truth I have learned in meeting this new group of friends is that we no longer fear death. No one is playing with powders or deciding that a game of Human Frogger on the highway is the way to spend the afternoon, but the idea that we will get to spend that notion of eternity with our children is appealing.
How does that spirit carry on? History teaches that lessons were passed down as parables until Guttenberg established a method to get words on paper for the greater masses, a wider audience. We spend a few minutes saying our children’s names. And they are honest up front at these meetings about how hard that is. Rarely do you say it out loud anymore. There’s no yelling at them to make their beds, clean up after themselves or even just tell them how proud you are of them. Sitting in a room, saying something that for some hasn’t been spoken since the last meeting, its gut wrenching. The picture of who they were frozen in time, the thought of what they could have been too painful to contemplate.
As I enter into the second year of this new club, I know I’ll continue going. As the years progress it will fall on my generation to take the torch that others help to establish. Try to honor all that they have accomplished, not only for themselves, but for me and my daughter. It the legacy we knowingly build in the memory of our children. A lasting place for others to join, to share, to cry, to scream, but most importantly to know that they belong.