The shadows beside me

 Boys at sunset, Naples '04

While we (bereaved parents) are readjusting to our perception of what grief is, and who we are as we grieve, and how our relationship with our deceased child will be, grief changes and evolves, subsides and resurfaces. 

Recently, at a baseball tournament in which my son was playing, a very nice dad (who doesn’t know me well) said hi, and asked how things were going. “Good,” I told him, “Ya know, busy…baseball—school—baseball…”

He smiled, nodded, and agreed, “Yeah, same here…school—baseball—and my daughter’s in soccer. So…always running from one place to another. And the two are always fighting. Constantly at each other. Good thing…only having one…you don’t have to deal with that.”

An innocent punch to my gut. Though it was a benign thing to say. It caught me off guard. Another grief stitch in my gut popped.

I hovered beside myself and watched as the normal, cheerful baseball-fan-mom-me stood there nodding, smiling even. “Right,” she said. But I saw her thoughts: “No, I don’t have to deal with that, but I wish I did.” Then, I saw her shadow image, the other me, the dead one holding her dead son’s hand, rubbing her stomach wound, waiting for her wind to return. And I saw him, touching her arm, “It’s okay, Mom.” And then her thoughts: “No…I have two. I also run from one place to another. I do have to deal with that.

“Well, have a good game,” he said, unaware of the shadows beside me.

“Thanks. You too,” the baseball-mom-me said, and went on her way, folding chair in one hand, cooler-tote in the other.

While the ghostly one, dead-mom-me, stood taller and hugged her shadowy son. The two of them, holding hands, walked beside me, over to a shady spot where we sat, half-hidden, and watched the ballgame together.

Right after our child’s death, we see only devastation. Grief is all consuming, and suspends us in time. There is no future. We become grief. As more time passes, and our grief is affected by the inward (example: solitary) and outward (example: social) steps we take, we begin to fantasize:

What if…he were here, alive, today…in high school now…driving… What would he look like? How tall would he be? Would he wear his hair short? Or long and shaggy? How funny he would be…if…and what would his laugh sound like now?

Over time, we see a “dual-image” of our child: a “real-image,” and a “shadow-image.” And both images coexist in the present. We relate to the concrete memory of our real-image child, and we relate to the abstract idea of our shadow-image child, the one that we what-if about into the future. “Perhaps this is the true meaning of continuing the bond with the deceased child,” said Dr. Shanun-Klein in Gili’s Book, A Journey into Bereavement for Parents and Counselors.

As we continue to realize: he would be graduating today, she will turn seventeen tomorrow…grief resurfaces. The pain may even become worse with time, and not better. And so it is that we begin to recognize the different shades of our grieving in this incomplete, impossible, and lifelong walk. And so it is…

Source: Gili’s Book, A Journey Into Bereavement for Parents and Counselors by Dr. Henya Shanun-Klein

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