One of the most difficult aspects of grieving the loss of a child is facing the loss of what would have, should have, been. As we move along this path, the pain becomes less raw because we’ve learned to absorb it into our selves and have it be part of who we are. There is really no choice in this. The depth of our pain is a direct correlation to the depth of our love. We can’t change what happened so we get up each day; we get dressed; we breathe; we do what everyone else does…because we have to. But in all of this “normal” of daily life, the knowledge that our futures have been lost is ever present.
Like others, I had visions of what my life would look like as it went along. I’d achieved much of what I’d wanted in my life, and I was looking forward to watching it all unfold. We worked hard to “do the right things” and to prepare a good life for us and our children. I wasn’t expecting a “reward” for being a good parent or wife or person. I was expecting to live my life intact and with gratitude as I’d done for much of it already….before Melinda’s accident. On May 18, 2013 I lost my daughter and a huge part of the future I had envisioned. No matter how I learn to “absorb” the pain and make it part of my daily life, I will never understand how to redefine a future I’d planned for decades and now can’t have.
Philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, “the most painful state of being is remembering a future, particularly the one you’ll never have.” He was right! I miss Melinda with every breath of every day, but I also miss the possibility of holding her children, of sharing in her achievements, of shared laughs and secrets, of so many many things. No matter how far along this path I journey, no matter how well I learn to absorb the pain, no matter how “healed” I manage to become, I’ll never forget and never stop suffering the loss of a future I can’t have. I’ve searched for answers, just like every other grieving parent or sibling I’ve met, but none have presented themselves as of yet. I still want to know why! I still want to know if I’m being punished! I still want to know the many “what if” parts that are unanswerable. I guess I still haven’t reached the Acceptance step, and I doubt I ever will, mostly because I have no idea what that even means.
About a week ago, my oldest daughter brought home the DVD set for the show Joan of Arcadia. We used to watch it as a family long ago…before. We enjoyed it as a family too. For those of you who don’t know it, consider this a spoiler alert.
The show is about 16 year old Joan Girardi who has recently moved to Arcadia with her family after her oldest brother’s accident. The family deals with typical stresses and then some. Joan and her two brothers must adjust to a new school, find new friends, and generally learn to fit in while their father tries to clean up a corrupt police department as the new chief of police. In the middle of all of this is grief. The oldest son’s accident has left him unable to use his legs and bound to a wheelchair. They all grieve the young man who once was, and the family they once were. To make things even more interesting, Joan is visited regularly by God who presents himself in various characters she encounters through the day. He’s there to give Joan “missions” in the hope that God’s work will be done.
As in real life, there are no clear answers in the show. God does not provide explanations and reasons. We watched the show when the girls were younger because it was well done, “taught” good values without being patronizing, and was both entertaining and thought provoking. It holds an entirely new meaning now. I’ve seen the episodes before, but this time they hold deeper meanings. Now, when Joan’s father does all the “right” things to clean up the department and still ends up losing his job, it rings loudly that being “good” guarantees nothing. Now, when Joan’s mother confronts a priest in the parking lot about “why” her son and he responds with Kierkegaard’s quotation, the confusion resonates much closer to home.
Watching the series is difficult because it is so close to home. It’s difficult as each episode’s subject matter is painful because it addresses suicide, loss, death, and more. I don’t know why, but watching the show now has brought moments of comfort. Maybe it comes from knowing that even the most skilled creators of fictional life can’t provide the answers I desperately seek. There are no easy solutions. Even a God who’s created by man can’t explain, can’t justify, can’t just make it easy. I don’t have the answer, but I do know that there is something in each episode that touches me, like Kierkegaard’s quotation, and I’ll take it because so very little touches me anymore. I’m still too numb.
I breathe because I believe Melinda was spared a hellish life on earth, but that is still not enough. I wake each morning and talk to her, and she is the last person I converse with every night. In between I look for answers and whatever little peace I can find. Joan of Arcadia offers moments of that…for now.
Wishing you all peace and grace whenever possible.