Friday, May 18, 2012
But oh! Damn, some days are still full of land mines...
Out of the blue, Stephanie's best friend from high school wrote me an email. She had been looking for Stephanie on Twitter and found me instead...and then she found out the news.
This isn't the first such email I've gotten in the last three years. Several other of her friends, while looking to reconnect with her, get the shock of their young lives when they find out their dear friend, so young, is dead.
"Over the years I think about her often. She was a very good friend and loyal. The only loyal good friend I had through h.s. The last couple of yrs I attempted to locate her but was unable to do so. I recently joined twitter and decided to see if she was on there. That's when I ran into ur twitter and read the awful news. I am in shock to learn that stephanie has passed. I wish I would have tried sooner to look her up. To tell her what she had meant to me as friend and that I was sorry we lost touch. She was so full of life and am deeply sorry for loss. I don't know what her life was like before she passed but I hope she was happy and successfull."
I want to be able to reach out and hug her and reassure her that she will survive this news. I know how hard it is when I, at 50 (tomorrow), learn that a friend is gone. I don't want any of these young people who contact me to think they can't bear the news.
But the way the email affected me was kind of odd at first. Paul was over here last night, and we had been watching the season finale of Grey's Anatomy (a show that Stephanie got me to start watching in its second season). I picked up my phone as I was exiting the DVR recording. My first emotion was of sadness for J, the girl who wrote to me. But when I began to read the email aloud to Paul, I broke down. It took me several minutes to finish reading it.
I ended up crying so long and so hard that I could not fall asleep. I was up until a little after 4 a.m., just trying to rein in my anxiety. It was as though it was day one all over again--because it is day one for J. In the grips of something like PTSD, I kept reliving the moment when we got the news. Today, I was physically ill all day. Whether it was from a stomach flu or from the feelings of shock again is a mystery. Maybe it was a little of both.
As much as we think we've conquered it, we never truly will, this grief. I have a shelf full of books telling me the stages of grief, the experience of the bereaved parent, the ways to handle this "worst loss" -- but none of them have much to offer me. An exception is a book about fear and courage by Gordon Livingston that I just finished reading (and am reviewing). At first, I was ambivalent about it. It's a slim volume with chapter names that are little more than cliches or platitudes. But then I read the chapter entitled, "You have never suffered enough."
Livingston's 22-year-old son killed himself. Livingston and his wife survived it. Nine months later, their 6-year-old son was diagnosed with a virulent form of childhood leukemia. He died six months after his diagnosis.
I spoke with a woman at church who lost all four of her children to the same genetic disorder, which they didn't know about until the newborn twins died. She then had to learn that her other two sons had the same genetic condition. She and her husband had to live every day with the fact that those two boys would die before they hit puberty. I don't know how she survived it. She doesn't either, but she credits God.
Another friend has two boys in heaven and one precious daughter left with her. I suffered a miscarriage before I had Stephanie. I spent the better part of the last three years angry with God and telling him that he could not have my son.
We tell ourselves that it can't happen again, that God wouldn't be so cruel, but it isn't God who rips these children from us. And it can happen again, a fact that has given rise to a great deal of anxiety in me. It is simply a fact of life that if we are born, one day we will die. How and when, we don't know -- unless we make that awful choice to choose the place, time, and method, as the author's son did.
If a man who has lost so much and who is a psychiatrist himself can muster the courage to go on and to help others, then the rest of us can, too. It took courage for me to get out of bed today. It is taking courage for me to write this. It must be courage that has kept me, my son, and Paul going since 4/3/09. What else would you call it? Life goes on, and you either get up and engage it or you lie in bed and become paralyzed with grief and anxiety.
I'm not saying I get it right every day. Livingston probably doesn't either. But we try. We must.
at 11:11 PM