[Geek Pride welcomes guest blogger Kathleen Willis Morton, author of The Blue Poppy and The Mustard Seed: A Story of Loss and Hope]
It's been 13 years since Liam died. And, although I have purposeful work — my other kids, Oliver and Alice; and a full life in many ways — there is still a sadness that is present and lurking, and, I expect, might never lay at rest completely.
On birthdays and anniversaries, the feeling gains on me, weeks before I'm cognizant of the date, like an adolescent child acting out for attention, bringing me to tears I can't find a reason for until I realize what day is coming.
And then I have to feel again — that while in some ways he's still very near, in some sense my body still remembers the end as if no days have passed since I held my first son, living mostly in my arms, while he died over seven long weeks in the NICU and then at home on hospice care.
On these occasions, I lose him again, and all the days in between that never were, as well as the grown man he will never be.
When your child dies there is another presence that is born. Really only because it was too big for me to get distance from, get past, or deny, I have chosen to make a space for the presence of missing that Liam occupies in my life. It is an unparalleled loss, as well as an unabated sensing of him, which endures.
When people say in light conversation, "Writing your book must have been very healing?" I cringe inside, before I say quietly, "No. Not really," because I hate to disappoint them. I know from experience it's hard to look into the eyes of another person and hear about profound loss and suffering, and harder still to realize that the smiling person in front of you is also an unhealed soul. It's a discrepancy that is hard to reckon. Perhaps, unexpectedly and unsettlingly, familiar? Hard to know what to do or say next at times.
Writing my book wasn't healing, but it was meaningful, and that's what I was writing for — meaning. We are a culture preoccupied with healing, with moving away from pain, with putting things in the past and saying "ah yes,well, but that's over now," with forgetting, with making better. My son's death will never go away, will never have not happened. If I ignore that he died I will also have to give up, in a sense, the memories and joy that he lived. I can't talk about him living without talking about him dying. And I want to talk about how wonderful he was just like I talk about all my kids.
The death of a child relegates a powerful parental instinct to a taboo. My son was born, and he lived, and I'm wholly different, like any other parent, than I was before his father and I brought him into the world. And, because he left it too. I can't forget that. I want to make things better, I am overwhelmed with all the good there is, but I want more to make the whole entire living of this life meaningful.
The only way I know how to be whole is to remain — in some sense, and on some days — unhealed, and to feel in some way still opened by his loss and to the vesper of faith the visitant of sorrow whispers, which is this: It's okay to be broken and wounded in some ways. And, to say so. It's how we are human. It's what we are born for, after all, to be fully present to the gifts of this human existence. All of them.
Sorrow is a way-making gift if we let it lead us somewhere beyond suffering.
Ultimately, I'm not there yet. Relatively, I have my days. More specifically, I think, it's okay to stay where we are most vulnerable as long as our understanding of the past wound moves forward so we don't dwell in loss even though sorrow dwells, and springs up, in us, and to accept we are unhealed in some sense, and still, somehow, whole.
Kathleen Willis Morton is the author of The Blue Poppy and The Mustard Seed: A Story of Loss and Hope published by Wisdom Publications. She is also a Buddhist Chaplain in training in the Boston area hospitals and a writing instructor at Grub Street. More info at kathleen-willis.com