Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Silent Sisterhood

Before Leif died, I knew families grieved over dead children. I sympathized and thought how awful it would be to lose a son or daughter. I cried when they showed the "Honor Roll" of military men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

People die; we hear so much in the news, an accident, a fire, a shooting, a drowning, and then the news moves on. The stories only tell the facts, or part of them, only show a moment of grief, and then it's on to another story. We don't absorb either the real loss and sorrow or the length of it, or how many families grieve every day. Each person is someone's son or daughter, and perhaps someone's sister, brother, wife, husband . . . .

Once past the initial frantic days, the scramble to organize a funeral or memorial service, to notify people, to take care of the things left behind by the deceased, people retreat behind a mask of silence, a pretense of normalcy, pretending to be okay even when they are not.

But when they meet, those women who have lost a child, there is a kind recognition, a kind of sisterhood of loss and grief. They are legion, and they are everywhere among you. You just don't know it until you are one of them. I meet them in so many places now, finding many women who understand but don't talk about it until they meet another of that sisterhood.

After years, many no longer weep, at least not often or openly. They tell me it takes two or three years to get to that point. They can talk about their child and what happened, the hurt and sadness still there, but they learn to live with it, to persevere, and not think about it all the time.

Some of them talk to their dead children, no matter how many years have passed; I think most of them do. One mother who suffered the loss of two children told me that she has decided her children are angels and she prays to them, asks them to watch over her. Another visits her child's grave on her birthday and talks to her. Another visits the site where her son's ashes were scattered. Many believe their children can hear them and they take comfort from this.

I talk to Leif. Like a friend who said that with her dying breath she will be asking, "Why?" I, too, ask him why. I tell him I'm sorry that life turned out so sad for him. I tell him I miss him, and much more. But I have no idea whether he's there, whether anything survives death, and even if it does, whether there's anything that passes between those worlds. It doesn't matter. I will talk to him anyway, because I need to.

Some days I think I'm getting over the worst of the grief. I have hours when I'm absorbed in some project and don't think of him for awhile. But there is always getting up in the morning, each morning, and realizing anew that he is gone from my life forever.

Sometimes, I think my sharp sense of sorrow has been lessened, and then I find that what's really happened is that I'm falling into a funk of mild depression, which deadens feeling and paralyzes action. I find myself procrastinating and letting things go. I have to force myself to get on with life and the things on my list of chores.

In those days, I have the smallest inkling of what depression must have been like for Leif, why he put things off and let things go, but my experience is a mere shadow of his.

In that state, I have the feeling that something is building up like a river behind a dam that's going to fail, and I'll have a flood of tears when it does. It's necessary, apparently, but it doesn't resolve anything in the end. It's just a temporary release.

The oddest things will make me think of him and the tears will slide down, just a few silent ones. Tonight we went to a play about Merrick, the broadway producer of many hits. The show was written by a man who lives not far from us. One of the songs from "Oliver" was sung by a handsome blond boy, and it wasn't intended to be about a man looking for love, rather about a boy looking for someone to love him like a mother, but the words could just as well have been written for a lonely man seeking love. "Where is love?" expressed Leif's longing and made me very sad.

I don't know about men and whether they share anything about their feelings at the loss of a son or daughter with each other, but now I do know about this silent sisterhood, those mothers like me who have lost someone inexpressibly precious, someone to whom they gave life and in which they invested love and hope.

We are all around you, and I hope you never join us in this silent sisterhood.

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