You never get used to standing over your child’s grave. Not when it’s open, waiting on the coffin to be lowered. Not when the first shovel full of dirt hits the top of the vault. Not when the last shovel full of dirt gets patted into place and the flowers get draped over the mound.
Not even when, eight years later, you stand there to just remember that she existed.
This week, twenty families will learn those horrible truths; they will say goodbye to children who were supposed to outlive them. Parents will stand, weeping, over their children’s bodies, suffering with the knowledge that incomplete lives are among the most tragic of all human wounds. People will do their best to make sense of the world in order to bring these families hope, but nothing that they say will make a difference.
Words don’t do justice to the enormity of the pain. And words can never hope to heal.
Healing comes only through time, an excruciating march through seconds and minutes and hours that eventually gives way to days and weeks and months. Part of the anguish comes from not being able to think of anything else at first–you are consumed with thoughts about what you could have done differently, the sudden realization that the world is cruel and unjust, the pain of missing someone who should be snuggled up in your arms, safe. These thoughts fill your head non-stop until sleep comes to you as a blessed relief (when you’re finally able to sleep; most of the time, you can’t).
Then, you develop a new kind of anguish: starting to forget. It’s not intentional. It’s not done meanly. But one day, you catch yourself thinking about that load of laundry you need to do, or the errand you need to run, and you feel shame and guilt and searing pain at the fact that you were not thinking about your child, your loss, your pain. And the spiral begins, and you stay there until the next time you catch yourself thinking about something else.
Maybe you find yourself thinking about heaven and hell, God, life, death, all of the things that we pay lip service to but often only think about very slightly. Suddenly, the idea of a God that would send someone to hell for not choosing Jesus becomes very important to you. Maybe you spend time reading and re-reading anything you can get your hands on. Maybe you spend time in prayer, screaming obscenities at a God whose existence you now question. Maybe this helps you feel better. Maybe it brings you peace.
Maybe you find yourself not thinking of anything at all. Maybe your life becomes a blur of daily monotony that has no discernible edges to it, and so you feel as if you just float from bedtime to bedtime without ever really caring to see anything in detail.
Maybe you bury yourself in as many conquerable tasks as you possibly can, hoping to fill the emptiness with the sweet release of control and accomplishment.
Maybe you drink yourself into a stupor, hoping to kill off the brain cells that cause you to be aware of the hell in which you now live.
Maybe you do all of it.
Regardless, the first few months are an emotional solitary confinement, even when you have others with which to commiserate. You can share in the tragedy of loss, but grief–what we feel in our hearts–is ours to bear, alone, until the time is right. After those first few months, you discover that you can let others in. Some take longer than others, but eventually all mourners find that peace is easier achieved through opening your heart to another. This is the road to healing.
It is the road back to loving.
Twenty families in Connecticut will begin grieving in earnest this week. My thoughts and prayers–and my understanding–goes out to each.