“Now I am living again.”

Yesterday, I received an email from a friend in my support group. I meet once a month with a group of mothers that have children with special needs. I’m the organizer.

My friend had lost her sister about ten years ago. She had been murdered. We often talked about grief together. My friend felt surprised to learn that her sister’s day of death was on the same day as Jason’s. She had only realized that from reading my recent story entitled “May I cry?”

My friend wondered why I had not shared before that we had a mutual “Anniversary of the Heart.” She was concerned that perhaps she had been unreceptive to my grief.

I wrote to her and was honest. I told her that we never realized this coincidence simply because I did not share my date with her. I kept all of my sadness to myself.

I shared with her that after my bereavement, I was overwhelmed with my children’s advocacy; I began another grieving process.

I did not have “productive grief” for a very long time. That just meant I felt sad and lived a zombie-like existence. It must have taken my mother’s illness for me to realize this. Something happened to me. I decided to open up. I am much more in touch with my pain and have found a way to express it through writing.

I never realized how much energy was required to hold everything in. I feel very unburdened and light. I am happy again. Although I still have stress and sadness in my life, now I have joy and passion that I’ve missed so much.

It is May, and with the anticipation of Jason’s birthday – many memories return. I have not gone to the cemetery to see his grave in many years. Just with that statement, there is a lot to write about.

This Compassionate Friends organization was very helpful for me during my period of intense grief. This organization supports parents that have lost children, as well as grandparents, friends, and siblings. I was a leader for a short time, and I answered the phones, as well.

The only people I was able to be with for a very long time were fellow “grievers.” I was always searching for someone who had similarities to my situation. I felt the only understanding I could achieve was through someone who had similar circumstances. After all that searching, my realization was that I never found someone who had lost Jason. I was alone.

While attending Compassionate Friends, I met a bereaved mom named Lori.

Lori and I and a few other bereaved mothers would often have breakfast together. Lori was a single mother. Her son died from a congenital heart defect, and was close to Jason’s age. One day, Lori joked that she had been asked out on a date, but she wasn’t very good company. When her date commented on her tan, she told him, “I have a great tan from spending so much time at the cemetery!”

I remembered that joke, because I was thinking about cemeteries recently.

I used to feel I “scheduled my son’s death.”

I used to wonder whether I could have prevented his death if I had used a different surgeon.

But then I remembered Lori’s story . . .

There was an important lesson that I learned from Lori. Her son needed heart surgery, and her surgeon was the famous one that I had seen for a second opinion regarding Jason’s operation.

Lori’s story was that she had also checked her son into the hospital the night before he was scheduled to have surgery.

However, he died the night before he ever had his surgery.

Sometimes, there is no way to make sense of suffering and death. Going backwards was never helpful for me. So I moved forward, even if there were times that I was crawling.

Just surviving was something I was proud of.

Recently, I’ve decided that surviving isn’t enough for me anymore. Now I am living again. To anyone suffering with grief, there is hope. I never believed I’d feel better; it just took a long time.

Last night, I went to see Sonia. Her husband died on Sunday.

I had only just called her on Friday night. She was exhausted and had many, sleepless nights caring for her husband. She told me she had cooked batches of chicken soup, and pureed it into a wonderful mixture for him. It would last about two weeks at least, but after that I could make some soup for her.

Sadly, she must empty her freezer now. I remember how awful it felt to see something that would never be used.

My visit last night was very poignant.

I wasn’t confident about whether to allow my youngest son to attend his first funeral. My mother always believed in shielding me from death and sadness. She often remarked that the first funeral she ever attended was when she was in her forties.

There was a preschool teacher there last night that knew my son well. Without hesitation, she encouraged me to allow him to go to the funeral. The fact that he wanted to go was indication enough.

Sonia’s eyes were now beyond tired. The last few times I had seen her, she had dark circles and her eyes were pools of despair. This time, her eyes were sunken and filled with defeat. It was hard to look into her eyes.

She said she was alone with her husband when he died. She shared how traumatic it was, and I won’t go into detail.

There were many kind people who surrounded Sonia last night. Since I’ve been very open lately, I talked about my writing with people I didn’t know. Perhaps that might have been inappropriate. It was certainly quite different from the way I used to be.

One woman said to me, “I lost a seven-year-old son a long time ago. He had cerebral palsy and a heart defect. I also have two children with disabilities.”

She added, “I have gained so much insight from my son’s death!”

The coincidences startled me! I told her my experiences were similar. Then, I asked her what her deceased son’s name was. She told me his name was Jeffrey. For some reason, I had to ask something else. I asked her what her son’s middle name was.

She said, “Mark.”

Jason and my youngest son, also have the middle name, “Mark.”

It was getting late, and my son had school tomorrow. He was sitting next to Sonia and holding her hand. I told Sonia that he was going to come to the funeral; I had hoped it would be okay with her.

She nodded that it was fine. Then her eyes became very serious. She wanted to tell my son something very important.

Her voice became sharp as she said, “It is important that parents never promise their children that everything will be okay!”

She continued by saying, “My parents used to tell me this. Even when they were dead, I could still hear them telling me this. It is a lie – it is impossible to tell children nothing bad will ever happen to them.”

I decided to say something. I said to Sonia, “Your parents told you things would be okay – and look how you survived the Holocaust. Doesn’t that mean that it turned out okay?”

Her response was this. “Surviving was not okay! There were many times I would have rather been dead!”

Then I asked her if she still believed in god. She told me she did.

Jason’s birthday is always on Memorial Day weekend, which is fitting. Although it is still painful for me, the pain is not sharp anymore.

I have a memory from many years ago about Jason’s birthday. I went into his favorite place to buy a cake for him. That place was Chuck E. Cheese.

I took my two, young children to the cemetery with me. We sat in the sunshine on the grassy hill. I marveled at the nearby trees and how they had outlived my son. We blew out candles and sang a happy birthday song to Jason. My children loved the cake.

For many, many years after that, my children begged me to do this again. I never did.

Sonia’s husband will be buried at the same cemetery as Jason.

When I go to the funeral in two days, I will spend a little time visiting Jason’s grave with my younger son.

It has been a very long time.

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© Judy Unger and 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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2 Responses to THE MARK OF INSIGHT

  1. Terry says:

    thank you judy for being a good writer with the gift of insight. it is apparent that your words are flowing into your blog from a loving and caring heart that you speak from. i feel somewhat of a comfort at this moment from learning that you were there last night with my aunt sonia to comfort her and met other members of my family at a time when people need to be surrounded with caring and loving fellowship. i could not be there and your words helped
    me fill that void i was feeling since i could not. thank you for being a close
    and good friend to my aunt sonia at a time she needed a friend. i will look
    to meet you soon.


    • Judy says:

      Sonia has given so much to all of my children, and to many people throughout her life. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be there for her. I have felt worried about revealing such a heartfelt story to the world. However, your comment warms my heart! When my mother was in ICU, the Shabbat candles gave her so much comfort. I’m not religious, but I wanted to give Sonia, Sam, and her children a special Shabbat during a difficult time. I wanted them to have that beautiful memory, as I did with my mom. Through my pain, I learned what was important. I am forever blessed knowing I was able to give something back.


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