Boundaries. With chalk in hand, I am declaring mine.
I received a note out of the blue today, no doubt well meaning, but it told me to be happy during this time with Ryan and that she felt Justin was urging her to share this with me. I haven’t responded, I may or may not. I have learned to wait twenty-four hours before responding to boundary incursions.
First Boundary: If you have not stood over the grave of your child and held their tombstone when it was so cold that it burned your fingers, yet it was something solid to hold on to, you have no point of reference to address a bereaved parent on how they should be feeling. If you think you may be stepping over a boundary, go with your gut and stop talking.
Second Boundary: Don’t use the word happy to a bereaved parent. What does that word mean anyway?
Third Boundary: Don’t assume that a bereaved parent isn’t happy. If you have not bothered to reach out to them in six years, don’t have the audacity to presume their feelings.
Fourth Boundary: Never say to a bereaved parent that their dead child told you to tell their parents something from them. I do not require a medium or a psychic. I have the sixth sense and I talk to Justin, he has never said for me to be happy. He understands that we are wired for struggle and that we will suffer and feel anguish, it’s how we become empathetic. It’s how we get our fur rubbed off like the Velveteen Rabbit and become real humans.
Fifth Boundary: Don’t presume if I grieve the dead child that I am not happy with the child who is alive.
Our surviving son, Ryan, has become engaged to a young woman who is more precious to me than life. Scares the shit out of me. Do you have any idea how much courage and energy it takes to make your heart vulnerable to joy and hope? It takes a warrior’s strength. I know what it is like to live the reality of having your heart ripped from your chest and to feel so dead inside that physical death beckons as a relief from the emptiness.
I look with eyes of love on my surviving child and I know that it could be the last time I see him. Every time he walks out the door, I may have experienced my last minutes with him. The next time could be a knock on the door with a state trooper telling us he is sorry. Yet, I dare to love.
And I dare to grieve. I cried for three days after the engagement announcement. The talk of best man and the unspoken dialogue that a brother is often the best man, and that brother is resting deep in the earth, ignited a cold burning flame of longing. If I don’t cry and feel the depth of pain, than I cannot feel the exquisite joy of life. Profound sorrow and exquisite joy are two sides of the same coin of life. It is the human experience.
Final Boundary: Age does bring wisdom. If you are a young mare and have young foals, you may not want to approach an old mare who is battle scarred and tired with chirpy advice, you may catch a hoof or get nipped.
We have entered into wedding plans with joyful hearts and tears, we are making lists and dreaming of how to have good coffee available at all times. I will ache for the son who loved and still loves his brother, but is not present in the flesh. I will not apologize for my tears.
I have done and continue to do the hard work of grief, this is my turf, I know my way around. I can enter into blackness and find the light. I am now a native of a land that is harsh and unforgiving. I know where the quicksand is, I know where the riptides crash, I need coffee, not your advice.
Don’t shame a bereaved parent for not being happy. Do not condemn their grief. And by all that is holy, don’t use scripture to bolster your shame language. And know this, because we have tasted the bitter gall, we know when something is sweet and priceless. We hold this time of anticipating a wedding as sacred, minutes to savor and breathe in the wonder of life.
I am putting my chalk down. Artwork for a client was just delivered and it is gorgeous! I can’t wait to call them and share that it arrived!
Walk gently, let your words be few, speak beauty, drink coffee.