It was mid-April, and the weather had begun to change. The intoxicating aroma of spring enveloped me. The gentle warmth invoked the feeling that summer was just around the corner. With seasonal change, my heart began to ache. It was a very slow and almost imperceptible process.
The change of seasons from summer to autumn always brought me sadness, due to Jason’s death in October. However, today I realized that even the impending springtime was another season of sadness for me.
I had hoped it would wait. It wasn’t Jason’s birthday until the end of May. The pain surrounding his “Anniversary of the Heart” was beginning far too soon! My definition of an “Anniversary of the Heart” is that it represents any date that holds sadness for the bereaved. Typically, it is anniversaries of death and birthdays.
With the seasonal change, I was feeling the “pain of anticipation.”
There was no containment of my feelings related my Anniversary of the Heart. As I share what this means for me, it could apply to anyone suffering with his or her grief. It might have been my child for me, but this actually to anyone who is grieving the loss of someone they loved.
Not only was my “Anniversary of the Heart” a sad day, there was a build-up to it that lasted for a period of sometimes even a month! Often, on the actual day there was some relief from the pain that began weeks earlier. Once the actual day passed, the aura of sadness gradually began to fade.
For me, there was always an extremely, exquisite pain on the day of my child’s birthday.
It represented the pain of what he might have been!
My son, Jason, who died in 1992 when he was five, will never age or grow up. Every year on his birthday in May, I used to wonder what he might have been like had he lived. Six months ago, I visited his grave with my youngest son when I attended a funeral at the same cemetery. Before that, I hadn’t gone for at least ten years.
I have accepted my son’s death now after almost two decades. Lest anyone tell me that I need to get on with my life, I have. I am joyful and no longer grieving my son intensely.
However, I am not the same person I was before his death. I was so innocent and unscathed by life. I used to view this as another loss.
Only recently, I see it as something I have gained. The insights that I have shared are significant for me.
The first few years of my bereavement were filled with pain from about any memory possible. It was one great blur of sadness and agony.
With time, my healing was due to “detachment,” and finally acceptance. I used to have tremendous longing and pain when I tried to imagine my child “growing up” on his birthdays. The slow process of acceptance began when that stopped for me.
The pain was not excruciating any longer, although it could be remembered for its intensity. I could describe it quite vividly. It was a black hole that swallowed up every speck of color in the world.
I don’t feel that kind of pain anymore – even on “Anniversaries of the Heart.”
However, this experience was mine, not anyone else’s. Grief is a very personal journey. It wasn’t until I had more detachment, that I could analyze my pain more accurately. After so many years, it has become more bittersweet. I feel tremendous appreciation for what I have, and the depth of my love for my living children fuels my life.
I used to live with the fear of facing future loss, but recently I decided to let go of that. There is no purpose to grieve for what might happen!
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.
Yesterday, I was at the same cemetery for a “gravestone unveiling” ceremony. The sunshine bathed me. It was unseasonably warm, and I felt peaceful. The melody to my recent song was “looping” in head and in my heart.
I was glad to be supportive of my friend, Sonia, who was grieving her beloved husband. When she mentioned I could attend the ceremony, her words touched me. She said, “If you are there, I will feel uplifted. I always feel so happy when I’m in your presence.”
I noticed that while I was standing during the ceremony, I felt light-headed. My bandaged, burned arm was bothering me, but I tried to ignore it. I found a place to sit down.
When everyone was leaving, I slowly walked to my car. It was very hot inside, and I could feel sweat trickling down my neck. Jason’s grave was on the other side of the cemetery, at the bottom of a hill. I parked and positioned my iPod so I could listen to my music as I got out.
My newest song was playing. It soothed me as I navigated a fairly, steep hill wearing sandals. I was careful not to step on the gravestones. I decided to change the song playing on my iPod to “Beside Me Always.” My life has felt like a musical, and it was a very fitting song at that moment.
Jason was buried in an area surrounded by the graves of young children. I always looked at those other gravestones with sadness. I didn’t need to know the stories, as I easily conjured up the anguish I knew resulted from the death of every, young child.
I continued trudging past many rows of gravestones; I realized none of them were for children. Then I noticed the fallen tree. I walked around it. I began to feel the heat, but a breeze helped to cool me. It was interesting, because at that moment my voice was singing the lyric line, “You’ll surround me in the breeze that’s blowing.”
It was getting difficult for me to continue walking on the hillside. The combination of my wounded arm and the heat was affecting me. I didn’t want to give up, but I felt I had no choice. I looked again at the fallen tree. It occurred to me that Jason’s grave was under it and that was why I could not find it.
I tried very hard to allow my emotions to flow freely. Once upon a time, I cried enough tears to fill an ocean. My “well of tears” had dried up. I knew I had fewer tears because I could not remember much about my dead child anymore. After all, it had been over eighteen years since he died.
I accepted the loss of those memories, because detachment was part of the grief process for me. “Time heals” was simply about the loss of memories and resulting anesthesia for the gut-wrenching pain.
There was irony. A tree had died – a capricious circumstance, just as death sometimes is. His grave was as inaccessible as the memories of him were at that moment.
I remembered how often I had looked at that tree while visiting Jason’s grave. In its shade I looked into the sky pondering an explanation. My son was cheated out of a full life, and most plants and trees outlived him.
As I walked closer to where I was parked, I felt faint. I stopped and sat down on the grass. The breeze enveloped me and I closed my eyes.
And then I found a memory . . .
It was a sensation, actually. I remembered how Jason’s tiny body would comfortably lay against my chest. His tousled, light brown hair would tickle my cheek and his soft head would rest upon my shoulder.
As the memory came to me, I felt grief rip and tear through my heart. I gasped as it quickly rushed out of me and into the breeze. As the grief exited, calmness flowed through me. For that moment, he was “beside me” once again. I did not need to see his grave to know where he was.
A single tear trickled down my cheek.
I left the cemetery. There were no more tears.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2011. 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.
I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child. I snuggle into our three as often as I can, and breathe in the odour of them to fix that particular moment into my memory. It’s all I can do, really – those moments are so fleeting.
What a beautiful sweet child. Jason reminds me of an angel. Yes, grief is a personal journey. However, from beginning to end, this post hits the mark for me! “Anniversaries of the Heart” are heart-wrenching, and I am glad I am not alone and have others to help me carry the “griefcase.” PS: I also love your mom’s thank you letter. Obviously, talent runs in the family! Thanks for sharing your heart, Judy!
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Thank you, Stacey. That’s a great statement, “griefcase.” It is definitely a burden that we can carry wherever we go. I wrote a song named “angel in the sky,” so you are right on target there. Thank you again so much and hang in there.
It was really something to document this story about the fallen tree, Stacey. And we were brought together because a fellow blogger thought your tree story reminder was similar to my story. We have some very similar – and sadly, “heart breaking” connections. But I am glad we’ve connected!