Ten years ago on this day, we prepared to say good-bye to our little son. We knew that he likely wouldn't survive the day; and so we spent the day, alone as a couple, saying our good-byes and loving on him as much as he would let us. That night our beautiful boy passed from this life to the next, and the pain of losing him began.
I don't think there are words that can truly give you even a glimpse into what that pain feels like. Movies do a good job of making you feel some of what that feels like. A really good storyteller can pull those emotions from you. But until you lose a loved one, a child, you can't really know how deep the despair, longing, and hurt can go.
I remember I used to purposely watch sad things so that I could feel something deeper, something more meaningful. I don't do that anymore. In fact, I often avoid deep, sad things because I've lived it. I can recall it at any time. And I don't need, nor do I want to ever feel that way again.
How It Feels to Lose a Child
Those first few minutes after you lose a child, you're simply remembering how to breathe. You cry deeper than you ever thought possible. You keen. You feel as if you are breaking a part. You hardly know how you're holding together. You wonder if your wails, screams, and tears can be heard around the world because to you they are so deep and so large and so LOUD. You wonder if your heart will burst, break, or stop beating as you feel something so horrible, so awful, so excruciating that you question how you are still living. Time stops. And something so deep inside you breaks. And yes. It breaks forever. And it is a tear so long, so real, so raw that you feel a part of yourself drift away forever.
The drive home is surreal. Your arms already begin to ache with the emptiness, knowing they will never feel the weight of your child again. People pass you: living, breathing, moving about as if nothing matters. And you wonder how they could not feel what you are feeling. How could the universe not know your child has gone? How can the world not already feel the loss of him? How is it that time has not stopped for everyone else? Can they not feel the hole he has left behind?
You begin to tell others that your child is gone. What words can you possibly say? Gone. Lost. Moved on. And the word I never say and can only spell here "D . . . E . . . A . . . D." You will never say those words out loud. You will block them mentally. They will NOT cross your lips. And you will mentally cringe each time you hear that word used for anyone else who has left this life.
You sleep. Somehow you sleep. Can the body not endure the pain, the sorrow, the ache? You feel you've betrayed the pain somehow by "resting," and you feel guilty when you crash in exhaustion. You feel you must somehow outlast the pain. Stay awake until all is well again. But you sleep. You cannot help but sleep.
Every minute of every waking moment the pain washes over you, consumes you, takes over you. And you clutch your chest hoping to hold your broken heart in one piece before it escapes you and leaves you a shell of what you were before. But all the while, the pain is a connection. You cannot remember without the pain. And if you stop hurting, you stop remembering.
You live from minute-to-minute willing yourself to go on or questioning how it is that you are still alive. It is back and forth, and nothing, and everything all at once. You feel it course through your body, out your toes, through your fingers, seeping through your eyes, bleeding from your heart. It is all, and it is everything. Holding you together and breaking you apart.
Minutes turn to hours, hours to days, and days to that first week; and you realize somewhere along the line you've been counting: counting the seconds without him. Marking the time in morbid fascination of the time apart, the time you've survived, and the time you've mourned. Time becomes an enemy and yet a lifeline.
And so the years go by. Each year that passes the pain fades a little. Not fading away into nothingness, fading away into hiding. Buried deep within because you're never truly free of the pain. It's always there. It can be called up at a moment's notice sometimes with your permission and often without. It will appear in the most random places at the most random times and yet will elude you when you think you need it most.
And after 10 years, you realize you've survived. Such a strange word: survival. Can you truly survive when you are no longer the person you once were? You are changed. You are new. You are different. You are strong but you feel your weakness. You are sorrow, and joy, and pain, and happiness all wrapped into one.
And he? He is always a part of you, mixing and mingling in memories and moments and melodies that hint he is still there. And he is. Softly moving in and out of your life. Quietly reminding you that he too is moving forward, growing, changing, and becoming something new. And while you cling to the lifeline of your past connection, you look to a future with a new relationship when you once again meet.
And I will see him again. And that reunion will be as sweet as was the bitterness of his passing. And just as my mind could not comprehend how the pain of losing him would feel, I cannot quite understand the fulness of the joy I will feel when we are again united. But I hold to that hope. And I have faith in that moment. I believe we will be together again.
I look forward to that day!
(If you would like to read more about Joseph's story and his battle with colon cancer, you can read his story HERE. If you would like to learn more about my faith and testimony in the Resurrection, you can learn more HERE.)