Wednesday, October 24, 2012

When the Unimaginable Happens.

Our community has been shattered by loss as of late.  It seems nearly every other day we hear of another heartbreaking story. 

Life is hard.  Life is unexpected.  Life is short. 

Loss is loss to whomever is grieving.  It matters to them and in those first few days is all-consuming.  To those unconnected, life continues without pause.  When the loss involves a child though, it is as if time stops for everyone.  If only for a moment.

A child should never die.  It goes against everything we believe.  Fairy tales have happy endings.  A child should never die.

I remember all too painfully well the night our world stopped.  Life as we knew it ceased to exist.  Austin was gone.  There were no answers that made it right.  No words that made it better.  Just shock, gut-wrenching pain, darkness and complete sadness. 

How my heart aches for so many living this new world right now.  In my backyard.  Some I know, some I don't, but all I feel for.  I know.  I remember.  I cry for them.
And then I do the only thing I know to do...

Pray.

In this moment, there is nothing else that matters. Right now, they are numb and they are raw with emotions, all at the same time.  To some, it may seem overwhelming to know what, if anything, you can do to help.  My best advice, from someone who lived it, do something.  Anything.  Just be there for them.

I remember those who reached out.  Even if I didn't reach back. 

So many phone calls, texts, emails, hugs, tears.  I remember them all.  They spoke volumes to me.  It didn't fix the broken inside of me.  Nothing anyone did or didn't do healed me.  But it meant the world at the time and those gestures, acts of kindness, will forever remain with me.

A friend I've never met, but joined this unwelcome club of bereaved parents, wrote the best collection of thoughtful ideas that I have found.  I encourage you to visit her blog and read this post:  What you can do to help a grieving family.  Her story is haunting but beautiful, as is her special boy Jack. 

And, as I'm a little further down the path than she, I'll add a final thought.

Don't stop.

One of the greatest fears for parents who've lost a child is that they'll be forgotten.  What I've learned is that they are not.  But never hesitate to mention the child.  Even if it brings tears.  We mommas don't mind crying in remembering our child.  They are thankful tears that tell us, yes my child was loved and is missed.

I call those "Austin hugs" now and welcome them.  Especially when they're unexpected, like yesterday.  In the midst of my normal daily rounds at work, I pass a young man at the hospital.  I've seen him before and we always exchange hellos.  One of us is normally rushing though and I don't think we've really ever talked.  Until yesterday.  On my way out, he says, "I think I know you."

This makes me stop.  I'm curious.  "How do you know me?" I respond.  He chuckles, somewhat taken aback at the question.  We swap names and families, jobs and other connections. 

"Aren't you Austin's mom?"

Now I freeze.  There was a time tears would be welling now.  This time I smile and proudly say, "Yes, I am.  Did you go to school with him?"  Internally I am gauging his age to be what Austin would've been by now - 18 or 19 and graduated.  I'm trying to search his face for resemblance of a younger version, to see if I can recall him.  Disappointed I cannot but we're both grinning now remembering him.

Back out in my car, though a piece of me aches for what could've been, my heart is smiling because of the memories of what was, and because I know Austin will never be forgotten.

It doesn't ever take the pain of losing him away - nothing will - but those "Austin hugs" sure do help me get through it.  And even still, lots and lots of prayers.

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