A Reason To Get Up In The Morning:
I’ve watched the news these past few days – it’s distressing, to say the least. But the “big” things – gun control, mental illness, security, the future of humanity – these may be important, but they’re not what’s on my mind. I’ve been thinking with heavy sadness and bewilderment about the one thing that terrifies me more than any other: how does a parent who has lost a child get out of bed the next morning? How does she (or he) go on with life as though it had any meaning or value?
The thought of losing my children paralyzes me with fear. I don’t want even to contemplate how I would go about “getting past it”, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to. I feel as though the only thing that would convince me to stay on this planet without one of my little guys (I say “little” – the oldest is 22) would be the need to stay here for the other little guy.
In my life, I’ve gone through the normal stuff – the adolescent self-loathing that rubs off on everything, giving teenagers the deep-seated belief that not only should they hate themselves, but everyone else must hate them too. I’ve struggled with mistakes and faults that have made me wonder if I’m worth the paper I’m printed on (so to speak). And I’ve gone through the obligatory growing-up phases of knowing, on the one hand, that my parents were completely ridiculous and possibly deranged (like all of your parents too, I’m sure), and on the other hand, that my parents must hate me, completely and utterly. Why else would they always be telling me what to do? – telling me the difference between right and wrong, making me come in at a certain time and eat my vegetables. Obviously they despised me, especially when I was such a freakish adolescent worm.
Of course, after adolescence I figured out the truth – that I didn’t need to hate myself, and that my parents weren’t mentally deficient individuals who had it out for me. But it wasn’t just the new perspective of mostly-adulthood that showed me my value to my parents – it was having a child of my own.
You might be thinking, “Well, of course! Having a child of your own gave you a view of things from your own parents’ side, and now you understand.” That is certainly true enough. But in fact it was the horrifying thought of somehow losing my child that made me see something in my parents I had never really thought about before.
My parents lost a child – a little boy whose brain did not form properly. His name is Robert Michael, and he would be two years younger than me. My mom does not mind talking about Robert Michael (whose name is always both words), but I have never spoken to my dad about him, or really asked what effect it had on my parents’ relationship. They both went on with their lives, having more children and grandchildren, and it was a long time before I realized: maybe I was the reason they got up the next morning.
I was already there, needing them. I was already there for them to love and to care about. They had to get up and tend to me. They had to feed me and clothe me and hold me. So they did.
When you realize that maybe you’re the reason someone else was able to get past such a horrible tragedy, you can’t think so badly of yourself anymore. You can’t think that you have no value, or that you don’t deserve love. Was that my only purpose on this planet? – to be that for them? I don’t know; maybe it was, and the rest of my time here is just icing on life’s cake.
I don’t ever want to face what my parents faced; I don’t want to be that brave. But realizing that I was a part of such a difficult healing process – that I made something that bad seem even a little bit better – makes it a little easier to tell my inner critic exactly where to go. It doesn’t help me feel better about the tragedies in the world, but it helps me feel that maybe I can be a part of repairing them. It certainly has made me feel differently about my relationship with my parents, and it’s shown me something about them that is ordinarily hidden from sight.
I still don’t know how to process the loss of a child. But if I have anything that can help ease the suffering – whoever you are – just take it. Take it all.