Allison’s little girl on the left, my son in the center, Lori’s little girl on the right.

“Turning tears to hope”

Before I rediscovered music and joy, I was in “Zombieland” for many years. Zombieland represented my existence of “not feeling.” There was little heartache or tears, and certainly no joy. My energy was completely extended into coping with whatever situation I was facing, and was about survival.

I accepted that existence for a very, long time. There was a reason for that. Before Zombieland, it was much worse. Zombieland might have been a numbing existence, but before Zombieland it was agony!

I am going to share now about being in a place where no human would ever want to go. It simply might be too painful to hear this.

Using only words, I would describe it as blood pouring out of the heart and soul; splashing on the floor without any stopping. Eyes that are empty, hollow sockets, because they have become dark caverns with no tears left to cry. Words cannot adequately convey the pain of intense grief.

I remember the room where I would meet with a group of other bereaved humans who were all there to share their bleeding hearts and empty eyes. This would be the parents and loved ones attending a meeting of the Compassionate Friends; a wonderful organization for parents, siblings, or even friends of a deceased child.

What was it like to be a part of this group? I will tell you now.

My memory begins where I sat in my chair in the center of the room.

I was the leader, and I wasn’t really sure what to do.

The leader before me was a soft-spoken woman whose young son had lingered on life support for a long time before succumbing to what had resulted from an accidental drowning. Many years before that, she had a teenage daughter who had been brutally murdered.

This woman was my inspiration because she had found a way to continue living after losing two children. She asked me to take the reins even though I had been attending the meetings for only a short time. I decided that she deserved the chance to let go of being the leader since she had done it for a long time. If she thought I could do it; then I would.

After I became the leader, this former leader disappeared. There was no phone number or forwarding address. She completely detached from the responsibilities she had taken on for far too long. I wasn’t able to be a leader for very long. I had my hands full at home with my young daughter and the challenge of my autistic son, who had frightening rages.

Now my memories are taking me back to that room. The meeting would soon begin.

I waited for the right moment to start. The room was usually fairly quiet. Those bereaved parents who were farther along were conscious of how laughter might be perceived negatively by the newly bereaved.

The room was hushed as I spoke. I always gave a standard introduction. I still smiled because I could not banish warmth and friendliness; this was despite the fact that the eyes I connected with were hollow and anguished. Each and every person in the room was joined by the commonality; that we must discover how to endure something that didn’t seem survivable. We had seen our beloved child die, and we continued to watch that “opera” every moment of our day.

I remembered well how grateful I was when I found a place of understanding of my predicament. That would be the predicament of why I had to go on living with the pain I endured with the loss of my child.

Each person in the room told their story as we went around. It was supposed to be a “brief” introduction, but no one ever kept track. However, sometimes it became very late by the time the last person got to tell their story. It was difficult for me to assist in moving the sharing along to allow for fairness of everyone telling their story. That was because the inconsolable sobbing and screaming made it difficult to move on to the next person!

Some stories have stuck in my mind more than other stories. The differences between those memories are striking for me. One mother in her eighties mourning the loss her daughter told me she was truly ready to die now, because she felt there was no purpose for her to go on. I had no words for her, only a squeeze of the hand.

One father wailed so loudly that I can still hear his heartbreaking, gasping sobs; his two-year-old son had choked on a microwaveable pancake! One thing was for certain, I would never look at those pancakes the same way again after that.

Allison’s story was particularly gripping for me. Her six-month-old baby boy had an attack of the croup. She called the doctor, followed his instructions, and went into the steamy bathroom with him. I had done that so many times with my children!

The steam seemed to do the trick. Her baby relaxed and he stopped coughing. They went back to her bed. She cradled him in her arms and together they dozed off in exhaustion. However, when she woke up her beloved baby was not breathing. When she had thought he was sleeping, it was simply that his airway had closed up – he had no oxygen.

The sadness of Allison and her husband was palpable, and stood out especially for me. That was because both of them were stunning in their appearance. Her handsome husband was a producer for a hit television show. Life ahead of them could have been a fairytale if this had not happened. What now?

After every meeting, I would hug and comfort anyone willing to allow for that. Comfort was actually unattainable, and everyone in the room knew that. I often wondered how I could possibly absorb any more pain than my own. I did not know the answer but I felt I belonged where I was.

I hugged Allison after that meeting. I introduced her to another woman there, Lori. Lori had only recently started coming to the meetings. Lori was related to a cousin of mine. I also clearly remember the phone call from my cousin asking for my help. I went to visit Lori after that request; she didn’t live far from me at all.

Only a few days earlier, Lori’s three-year-old son had fallen to the floor dead in her living room while chasing his older brother. I quickly drove over to her home.

Lori was sitting on a couch surrounded by loving, family members. My arrival was very important for all of them. Friends and family are at a loss as to how to help someone grieving. Lori’s family hoped that perhaps I could make a difference.

Lori looked up at me with her hollow eyes. Here I was, two years into my bereavement and I had to answer her question. It was a question asked of me countless times.

Her quivering voice asked me, “Will I ever feel any better?”

I’m not sure if I shared the entire truth with her. The truth was that it gets a lot worse before it gets better. I figured that rather than tell her that, I would just hang around and listen. Listening is the best thing anyone can do for a friend in grief.

We had things in common. Lori’s son had a heart defect, and she had a surviving son – I had those same things. Our surviving sons were about the same age. They hung out together and the knowledge that both of them could share their grief over losing their brother was comforting for me.

We decided to meet with Allison since she was newly bereaved and Lori also realized how she could help someone else that was in the wrenching “shock” phase of bereavement. The three of us hung out.

At the time, my daughter was three-years-old. She was a subsequent child, and was about the same age as Lori’s son who had died. Lori wondered how it was possible for me to have another child so quickly after losing Jason.

I don’t even remember if there were words for a lot of this. Sometimes, all we did was “just be.” When there was so much pain inside, life became about plodding on. Lori could see that I was somehow surviving, so my example meant that there wasn’t much to wonder about.

Allison and Lori decided to try and conceive another child as soon as possible.

I was very moved by the idea that I was an example for them about reaffirming life and love. For me, having a subsequent child is an example of intense love. The wellspring that it springs from is truly miraculous. I believe it is about turning tears to hope.

Lori called me and asked me to come over while she took her pregnancy test. She was indeed pregnant again. Now her eyes were shining, and far less hollow.

I went home and decided it was time for me to dip into the wellspring of love again. Within another month, I became pregnant with my fourth child.

I was fortunate not to have morning sickness that was severe; Lori was not. She was debilitated. I often helped out and picked up her surviving son from school. He would play at my house with my two children.

Allison became pregnant around the same time also. She went on to have a daughter. For a few years, all three of us would get together with our babies. More about this is at Post #2 RECONNECTING & REMEMBERING.

Eventually we stopped staying in touch; it just happened. I know that I was not that open with them about my travails. It started with my oldest son’s autism diagnosis. After that, my youngest son’s challenges really made it difficult for me to socialize with anyone.

Therefore, I entered Zombieland gratefully, for a good reason. There was far less pain in Zombieland.

Today, I am having lunch with Lori and Allison. I have not seen them in twelve years. I’m eager to hear where they are in their lives.

And I can share with them that my life is joyful beyond anything I ever thought was possible for me.

Now I can answer the question of whether anyone might ever feel better after loss. I can only answer for myself. The answer for me was, “yes.”

It certainly did take a long time, though.

My daughter on the left is a “subsequent” child. She was conceived less than a month after my son, Jason, died.

Allison has two daughters now. My youngest son is in front. This is our last picture together from 10 years ago.

This is a letter i wrote during one of the meetings of the Compassionate Friends.

© 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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