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“Time heals all wounds”…  If I had a penny for every time someone has told me that I would most certainly be very wealthy right now.  I certainly do not know who was the first to utter those words, but I would be willing to wager my unseen earnings that the person who coined that phrase did not lose a child.  Two years and four months after losing my little boy I can most assuredly state that my wounds are not healed.  Not only are they not healed, but in many ways the wound is just a fresh as it was on that fall day.  I still find my breath taken away by random visions of my little boy’s motionless body floating in that pond.  Those images have no no periodicity that I can discern which makes their unwelcomed visits all the more disturbing.  Time has not eased the intensity of the ache that manifests as a persistent pressure in my chest that boils up towards my jaw, always threatening to erupt, but never quite reaching the critical mass necessary to do so.

That ache that feels so palpable to me is apparently undetectable to most everyone else; an invisible wound that only people who have felt this loss can comprehend.  It feels so exclusionary to say this, but it’s true… the only people who can understand the turmoil that child loss creates in your soul are others who have lost a child themselves.  The death of a child places us in an fraternity that we never wanted to be a part of – and can never, ever cancel our membership in.  The dues are paid on a daily basis, with no hope of ever remunerating the full price of admission.  The more I speak to parents who have lost children, the more I understand that no matter how much time passes, the pain is always there – It never, ever leaves.  The river of time cannot wash this pain away – at least not all of it.

Parents who lose a child always experience the loss.  People often feel the urge to put that loss in the past tense, but those of us who know the pain can truly understand why it should always be placed in the present.  More than two years after losing Rees we are still experiencing it – and will continue to, in perpetuity, because losing a child robs you of your future.  That is why child loss hurts so much.  Your children are the promise of life after your inevitable death.  Our children are the present, tangible, manifestation of our eternal lives.  The loss of a child is the loss of life eternal…

Eternity is a long time.  Actually, it’s the longest time.   Almost every parent that I have spoken to that has lost a child has pointed out that time itself becomes something of an adversary to them.  To understand the adversary, you must understand its nature – and time has a very distinct nature.  Time flows like a river, with the past left in your wake and the future shrouded in a mist that obscures the destination.  The only part of the river we can navigate are the waters we are in at the present.  From our vantage point in the present we can see our wake and anticipate the future, but we are absolutely powerless to affect either. Therein lies the ultimate, 3 pronged, cruelty of time:  First, while we can see the wake of times past we cannot go in reverse to undo that terrible moment.  Second, the essence of time makes you equally as powerless to speed up it’s flow so that you can put more distance between your present and that awful moment.  Third, here in the present,  you can see the empty spot on your raft of life that should be occupied by your child.  The empty seat hurts the most.  No matter where you look, aft, stern, port or bow that empty seat is always right there and there is nothing you can do to avoid it.

It would be nice if you could simply look past that empty spot, but you can’t.   The only option is to start to embrace time and experience everything you need to experience.  Feel every feeling that pulses through you.  Don’t suppress the pain, or the sadness… Rather let it flow through you and you will find that the river of time will erode away the edges of the wound, softening it, diminishing it. The river of time will gradually slow the ebb and flow of the pain to a point where you can navigate through the troubled waters of life with confidence.  It took me a while to figure this out.  My first instinct was to try and damn up the river – and that was the mistake I made.

You can’t stem the flow of time, or the pain it carries with it.  When you try, the damn you create merely holds it until it reaches it’s breaking point and bursts through. When that damn bursts there is nothing you can do about the collateral damage it inevitably causes, which only then creates more pain.  Left to this, a vicious cycle keeps going, destroying you – and maybe those around you in the process.  There is only one way, at least that I have found, that can stop the cycle: Feeling everything.  When that pain hits you, let it flow through you.  If you feel like screaming, scream!  If you have an urge to punch something, do it (I punch and scream into a pillow – two for one!).  I found ways to let the pain flow creatively too.  I started to write.  I started this blog, which started a movement in Rees’ name, which put my wife and I on a path we would have never have guessed we would find ourselves…

Through it all I made sure to feel that pain, get to know it, and lay claim to it.  A friend of mine, who is an author and has experienced a similar loss, said that his pain made him put up a wall to try and block it.  He realized that the wall was never good at holding it back, so he decided to push the wall over and turn it into a raft.  That is what you need to do in the case of child loss.  Turn that wall you want to put up into a raft and ride it out.  The river runs forever and given time, it will erode away that intense pain to a more manageable one.

I can honestly say that my waters are calmer now, but the ride and it’s pain keeps going.  I still have those moments where the pain feels fresh and new.  The sharp edges of my pain have yet to erode away completely.  I know it will never go away completely, but that is understandable… afterall it was borne out of the purest love there is.  The pain and my love for Rees are inexorably tied together.  Since my love for him will never die, neither will the hurt.  I think the key to appreciating my present more is learning how to reconcile that dichotomy.  The key is accepting you can’t alter the flow of the river, you can only float along with it and go wherever it takes you.  I still see that awful moment in the wake of my journey – but every day gets me closer to where I want to go and further from that moment.   I know we will be together again one day. Hope is knowing that each day brings me a little closer to my little boy, even though time takes me further away. Happiness is trying to enjoy the ride, one little piece at time…

How can I not enjoy the ride with this little girl by my side?

How can I not enjoy the ride with this little girl by my side?

6 thoughts on “The River

  1. as always, your writing never fails to move me. i am blessed that all 4 of my children are still with us, but i have lost people in my life that are very close to me. i say “are” because they still live in me. you are right- that pain never goes away- and little things that you arent expecting bring them back to you every day. the pain ebbs and wains, but it is always there- it just becomes different. i pray for you and your family- please continue your writings- it reaches to more people than you will ever know. god bless!

  2. I have wanted to write to you for awhile. While my infant son was in the hospital clinging to life, my brother died. My son survived and is a 14 year old boy now. The only thing that kept me going was my son who needed care round the clock. The loss of someone we love so dearly-too early is devastating. It is the fraternity or club you pray not to join. And then we are here and the pain and ache never go away-It ebbs and flows. I can be so sad and I can be angry. I love how you are honoring Rees and yourselves. We are a country that does not like to acknowledge pain in emotion. Please keep sharing with your raw honesty. As a teacher too, I know you are wonderful at what you do. Thank you so much-

    Julia

    • You are so right about how this country views grief… especially for men. The “macho”, get over it, attitude is so destructive in the long run. Of course the only people who have told me to get over it, are people who have never lost a child, or never even had a child to begin with. This issue, probably above all else, is the reason I share my feelings on the blog. It seems that a grieving mother is to be expected to grieve (but not too long!) – but a father should just “suck it up”. I hope my writing shows that Men (fathers in particular) experience grief too.

  3. Billy Bob Thornton, on Oprahs Master Class decribed what he felt when he lost his brother.

    “I have never been the same since my brother died.

    There is a melancholy in me that never goes away.

    I’m 50% happy and 50% sad at any given moment.

    The only advice that I can give people when you loose someone like that is “You won’t ever get over it.”

    And the more that you know that and embrace it – the better off you are.

    I don’t want to forget my brother and I don’t want to forget what it felt like when he died because he deserves it – that’s how important that he was to me.

    So if I have to suffer and I have to be sad for the rest of my life and I have to be lonely without him, then that’s the way that I will honor him.”

    I just changed it to be 51% happy 49% sad in order to win the day.

  4. This very much describes the journey no one wants to be on. Thank you for sharing your journey with others. Hearing other parents share their stories helps those of us who are only beginning the journey.

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