By Carolyn Kirsch
When my 37-year-old son died, my nephew found himself attempting to explain death to his 4-year-old son. Daniel said, “I wish nobody had to die.” My nephew replied, “Then there would never be any new people. New people like 4-year-old Daniel.” That’s OK, I thought to myself. It’s one of those outlandish thoughts that sometimes come to my mind now.
I guess it is in the category of bargaining, one of the stages of grief. What would I not give up to have my son back in this world? So far I’ve not thought of anything. My life or that of anyone I know. How can I think that? Even though it is a fleeting, sorrowful, guilty thought, I could not, before Jonathan’s death, conceive of having such thoughts in my head.
It is a very bad way to feel, a measure of the depth and the unreality of the state in which I find myself. It is frightening because it is so unnerving, that feeling of desperation – that everything and everyone would be given up if only he could come back.
But there is no bargaining, no desperate measures that will bring him back. I often say to myself: I want you back! I want to go back. Back to any time in our 37 years and two months together. I don’t care what time. I will take the painful times, the hurtful times, the very sad times; I don’t care, as long as they are the times when you were here and not gone.
But it is only in our dreams, our fantasies, our memories in which we can go back. I can replay like a movie in my head the morning we drove to the hospital to take our 4-day-old infant home. I can see the nurse and the woman walking toward us, carrying him. I can see myself receiving the baby into my arms. I can hear the woman say tearfully, “just love him.” That was the day we adopted Jonathan and became a family of three.
In my memory, I can go back to the Sunday morning when he was just starting to talk. The three of us were in our bed together when he said “socks!” with such gusto and delight that it became one of our go-to expressions for laughter and fun. I can go back to the times when he was a toddler. When I put him in the car seat to go somewhere, he asked, “What’s me doing?” When we passed a gravel pit and he saw the heavy equipment vehicles, he asked, “What are those men doing in the sandbox?”
Sometimes those memories seem more real, more right, than today’s reality, which does not seem real – that he is gone. I have known people who cannot accept the reality that is their life, so they escape into a reality that is only in their minds. I can see why that happens. It is easier to bear. I suppose it is a coping mechanism when the mind and the heart cannot bear it in any other way.
As the psychologists tell us, you must face your fears and live through the hurt if you are to get by it. How does it all fit together, though? Does it ever? I see the puzzle pieces in a jumbled heap.
I will never forget him; perhaps the tears, whether held back or flowing, will always be present when I speak of him or remember him. I will always be grateful for the 37 years and two months I had with him; I will always be angry and sad at the circumstances surrounding his death. I will always mourn; I will always live experiencing the joy of life that is available if I open myself to it. I will go forward, as I know he would admonish me to do. I know no one who experienced the joy of life as he did; I know he experienced the very dark side of life also.
The best scenario I can imagine for him now is one in which he experiences only joy – all of the things that brought him smiles and laughter. The best scenario I can imagine for myself is that I continue to hold his memory so close to my heart and to be open to the joy that is still part of my world.