“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” (Aeschylus)
I sat in the car on a long trip, asking questions and listening. Hard questions. Painful questions. The friend I was traveling with had lost her teen son to suicide only 14 months earlier. The sacred beauty that poured out was mesmerizing and heart-changing.
Most of my life, I avoided all things about death. One of my close friends in high school lost her battle to depression and died by suicide when we were in our 20s. After that excruciating pain, I vowed to avoid all suffering, especially death. It worked for many years. I was not confronted with the horror until last summer. And as you read in my first grief post, it came on full-force. So much loss. To so many. People I loved. People I could not avoid.
I decided to go deeper. Lean in. Experience pain. Go to the hard places with those I cared for. Seek to understand and learn and change and grow and plunge into the depths of all that it means to be human (including profound loss).
During our car ride, I asked this friend to share her thoughts in written form. I wanted to pour over, pray over, learn from and understand this shadowy part of life. Two days later, I received a Facebook message from her, sharing her current grief and continued suffering, trying to make sense of what had happened to her.
I encourage you not to click away and avoid, but listen with your heart and share her sorrow with your soul. Come into the shadows, where hardship is, but where beauty lies, where suffering is, but the sacred is revealed. I warn you. Grief is beautiful and terrible and wonderful and necessary all at the same time. Here is some of her heart.
Nothing about my life is the same since my son died. Nothing. Yes, he is gone, but it is much more than that. My friend asked me one day if I felt “railroaded.” Yes, that’s it. Railroaded.
Before my son’s death, I had two kids who attended school and played sports. I hopped from here to there providing taxi service as well as being a spectator of those sports. I spent my weekends on a soccer field or at a cheer competition or sang at church. A free weekend was rare. I was a business owner who worked 4-5 days a week. I worked out five days a week and watched what I ate. I had just lost about 35 pounds and felt great. I spent evenings on the couch with my kids watching our favorite shows. I organized a charity Christmas party every year that we as a family participated in and Dad was Santa. We vacationed one week a year in the tropics and one week at the Jersey Shore. I planned girls’ nights. I went out with friends. All summer long, friends would be over for BBQs and the pool. I was the life of the party.
After. I don’t even know where to begin. My daughter got one too many concussions and had to quit her sport. I do not have to taxi anymore. I am not on a soccer field or at a cheer competition on the weekends (unless we go to watch friends). I do still sing at church. That’s one thing that IS the same.
Work is tough. Feeling like I can’t function and am just not up to doing things, it falls through the cracks. I do what I absolutely have to, but my regular work schedule is thwarted.
I work out as much as I can, but often not the five days I would like. If I feel bad mentally, I push through and go, but if I feel bad physically, I often don’t make it.
I feel, like my friend said, railroaded.
Eating. Another area that has been railroaded. Food. It’s what people bring when someone passes. Food. For months after. Food. Please don’t get me wrong. I greatly needed and appreciated all the food. If it weren’t for those friends who brought meals, I’m not sure any of us would have eaten. It is just much harder to eat the way you know you need to. Days turned into months and months into more than a year.
Railroaded. There are still shows that I watch with my daughter. But it just isn’t the same watching things without my son. Sometimes during Survivor I still get teary-eyed.
The Christmas party lives on. It was just different this past year. It felt railroaded as well. It was hard to plan because my son’s birthday is in December and I couldn’t do it that day. We struggled for the right day, but we did it because the kids would miss it. Dad was still Santa.
Vacations. Another victim of the railroad. We all did go to Florida last year. My husband and I were tourists, and our daughter spent her time at a cheer competition. Even though we were all there, it didn’t seem like a family vacation. There was the trip to Costa Rica that wasn’t. Cancelled at the last minute. It was just too hard to go without our son and brother. There was the attempt at Vegas for Christmas. We were there less than 24 hours. Too much anxiety and pain. We ended up coming home and blessing some homeless people in the midst of our pain. The Jersey Shore. I miss it so. I spent one weekend in early June and have not been there since. I miss a beach house and boardwalks with our family and friends. No more boardwalks, just railroads. I miss true family vacations.
My social life. Railroaded. I don’t want to be Julie the cruise director any more, planning a fun night for friends. Sometimes I turn down invitations because I don’t feel good. I miss being carefree and going out with friends. I miss feeling good.
As I contemplated my friend’s word, I realized it meant even more than she intended. This all started the night my son died on train tracks. My life has been, in more ways than one, railroaded. I hope that some day I won’t feel so lost and off kilter. I know that through all of this, God has held me in his hand and He has not let me go. That is the only thing that is keeping me on the tracks.
My response to her:
This is a good start to getting your feelings out there. It makes so much sense to me. It’s good to speak of losses and to say them out loud. It gives a beautiful glimpse at the real stuff that makes up grief. It is so good for me to hear and learn from you and share your pain. It brings me both sorrow and healing. I pray your sharing would bring you some measure of healing.
For those of you who have loved fiercely and lost someone precious to you, I pray that you would find a safe space to share your true heart, the one that might be hurting. I pray that those who listen would dive deep and sit still and share some measure of your grief and suffering. I pray that in God’s vast wisdom, compassion, kindness, mercy and love, He brings unfathomable healing to each of us in the places only He can reach.
To my friend who was willing to put her heart out there today, thank you. You have given me the gift of yourself and there is nothing greater. I am asking God to give you many good gifts straight from His heart to you today.