Side Effects of Tremendous Loss
Things you might not expect to occur when you bury someone you love, but they happened to me.
I’m going to go over a little bit of what happens when you have to say goodbye forever to someone you love. First, a bit of context.
I lost my kid.
Well, I didn’t exactly lose him.
I know where he is. I hardly ever go there. There’s something disturbing about standing on a bit of cold ground while your flesh and blood decomposes beneath your feet.
Even more devastating is the crushing sensation in my chest when I drive up to the cemetery. It doesn’t just happen in that moment though. It comes unbidden in unsuspecting scenarios for the rest of your life.
I mean, you know the holidays will be hard. That’s expected. And birthdays. Dates of departure are devastating, but you know those days are coming and can kind of half-ass prepare for them.
It’s those other days, days when things are good. You’re happy and laughing and….
How the hell could you possibly laugh when your child is dead? What kind of monster are you, anyway? Thoughts like these come to your mind and even though you know they’re irrational, you think them anyway and you can’t help it.
And it hurts so bad. Worse, you know it always will. The lump that you keep choking back in your throat is always going to be there. You’re never not going to cry when you hear the song that YOU chose for the funeral because it was a favorite.
You can’t fix this. The very idea of that is overwhelming. You feel helpless because you ARE helpless. Looking down the road at life you wonder if you even want to go on at all. Several times you decide that you don’t.
Sometimes you can count on one hand the reasons to stay. I’ve been there.
A few years ago, a young man in the town next to mine committed suicide. It wasn’t long after that his mom laid across his grave and did the same.
I spent an entire day grieving for her, even though I didn’t know her. Or maybe I was grieving for me. I knew what drove her to it. I live it every day.
When it’s your kid who dies, you separate yourself from other mothers. The ones who have never lost a child. They don’t know. You don’t want them to ever know.
You can pick out your worst enemy on earth, and you won’t wish this on them.
This grief is something you hold close.
But you DO want to talk about your loss. You want to talk about WHO you lost.
It doesn’t take you long to realize that people are tired of hearing it. They’re also AFRAID to hear it.
It’s as if the whole world thinks that talking about death means it will come to call.
Maybe it does.
I always hear the gravel fly from under my truck tires on that final stretch to the stone. I remember walking that road a hundred times. I also remember always ending at the cemetery and not being able to walk back. Someone always had to come get me.
How can everything be so intense when I’m so numb?
It’s like standing under a tree hearing a leaf fall without being able to move to try to catch it.
Reality can’t be real when you bury your baby.
Looking back, I realize I’m lucky. I walked through the woods so many times with a gun in my hand. Utterly crazy. Hunters would come down from their stands and lead me out. They didn’t seem to mind that I interrupted their hunting. I don’t know for sure. We never talked. I only talked to Mikey.
One day I stumbled upon a skunk. I was carrying a .22 rifle that day. No matter how crazy a person gets, you always know you don’t want to smell like a skunk.
I realized it was either him or me. He fell over like a cartoon character. I walked around him, probably giving him more space than he needed.
It felt good to kill something.
Then I found the couch. It wasn’t hidden very well. I would have done a better job of it myself. Something like that, you don’t leave to chance.
We called those woods the “forty.” It was forty acres of good hunting land. Full of deer, squirrels, and mosquitoes. Apparently, it had the occasional skunk as well.
The first thing I saw when I came through the pine sapling thicket into the clearing was that couch.
It had been in my living room just a month before when I found my son on it, face down and stiff. Already starting the rigor process.
I unloaded my gun on the couch. Killed it dead, the way it killed my son. My thought process wasn’t lining up with reality. After I shot it, I laid on it and cried myself to sleep. That’s how they found me later.
The couch was burned and buried after that. I never saw it again. It’s a good thing. I would have killed it again.
You should never have to find your child’s body. It should never be cold and stiff. Your child should not die. It’s a travesty. It’s an injustice. It’s the worst thing that can ever happen to a Mama.
I feel all of this again as I pull up to the cemetery.
My ears have been ringing since the day the keening started. The doctors call it tinnitus. I know it’s the echo of my own voice screaming for the life of my child.
Another side effect of a morphine overdose I didn’t take.
Call it PTSD or call it whatever. I have flashbacks. Who wouldn’t? Not as many as before, but they still come. Usually when I’m driving, which is inconvenient at best and life-altering at worst. I don’t drive to the cemetery much.
It triggers me.
I doubt it will ever go away. Terror has a strong grip on me. I wake up at night with my heart pounding and all I can do is call out to Jesus. No one else can help.
I’m afraid when my kids are out of my sight and I’m afraid when they’re with me.
He died on my watch.
My watch is scarier now.
I will never not check to see if my kids and grandkids are breathing. I always think about it.
All night long.
As a Mom, you think there’s an instinctive way that you’ll know when your kids are in danger. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that instincts can fail you. I didn’t know. You don’t always know. I question my ability to be a parent and keep my children safe. I question my grandchildren’s safety when they’re with me.
Children can die. The headstone in front of me is proof of that.
I’ve only gone over a few of them. I wish that life and death were an easier process, or maybe I don’t. What makes it so hard is also what makes it worth it.
Love comes with a potentially high price tag. We don’t know how things are going to turn out. It would be less risky to never take a chance — refuse to love — but life wouldn’t be worth living.
It would be a simple choice to never have children or truly love another human being because of the chance you may have to bury them one day. To make that choice is to choose to live without the greatest gift of your life.
Even knowing what can happen, I will always choose to love. It’s hard to say it, and hard to know it, but it’s infinitely worth the pain.
Also published here