My Son's Cross to Bear
A good friend of my oldest son passed away recently. Our family has experienced many losses but this will be the first time he’s had to bear the grief alone. It wasn’t an aunt or grandma, no, this one is all his. His emotional torment is as heavy as a cross and radiates a profound sadness that can be felt by all around him. I’d do anything to lift the weight from his weary shoulders and make it my own. Instead, I stand before him helplessly praying that he doesn't follow my footsteps into the perpetually broken world of depression. I hope I have raised him to never give up, no matter how sharp the anguish, to never let agony define him.
I frequently ask him how he is coping and whether or not he’d like to talk. His answer has been the same no matter how I phrase my question, “I’m fine”. Even as a kid, Spencer felt that he had managed to figure out all this world could throw his way. He exuded a presence that was larger than life and boasted confidence that was reassuring. I’ve seen these qualities temporarily disappear as he stands in the midst of a period of time that is frozen. I can see him trying to make sense of something that will never expose it’s rhyme or reason. I wish I could explain this to him but his pain won’t allow me to be heard. A defense mechanism of the saddest degree, our minds mute the meager explanations in it’s best attempt to protect us from understanding a topic no one should ever mentally process. I see the hurt in his eyes and hear the quietness in his voice that screams for relief.
Kubler Ross, a psychiatrist, pioneered a model detailing the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I have struggled through this torturous 5-step program many times and have noticed my very own son do the same right before my eyes. I observe as he moves back and forth between anger and denial. Anger for not having control over such an important aspect of his life and denial that something so horrid could happen to someone he loves. He has been forced to grow up before his time and I can’t help but think back to my first life-changing loss. I would never be the same and pray he doesn’t lose himself as I did nearly 20 years ago.
With time, he will progress into the next steps and they will surely prove to be equally challenging for loss gives no special treatment and does not play fair. The hazy fog will lift giving way to a paralyzing blackness that pours over the broken-hearted with a numbing coldness that feels eternal. The warmth of the sun and the awe of all you once found beautiful will no longer feel palpable as they died along with the one you loved. These are feelings that cannot be read about in textbooks or taught in classrooms; only those who survive the darkness of a harrowing loss can understand. My son will soon fight his way through the fiercest of storms and, for the first time, I hurt worse for him than I ever did for myself.
For the strongest of the strong, the final phase is acceptance. Reaching this point in your grief does not mean you’re “okay” with the loss, rather you possess the ability to live with their absence. I have yet to fully experience acceptance nor can I say for certain that I ever will. However, I have no doubt in my mind that my son will find his way to the worst of finish lines. My once exuberant and confident little man is mourning his first personal loss but I believe with every fiber of my being that he will fair better than I. He has always had a way of convincing me that, no matter the odds, he is ready to face all this life has to offer - even death.