About a month had passed, and I was treading the dark waters of grief. In a desperate search for peace and understanding, I was in Mitchell’s room meditating on the purpose of life and what I was to learn from the tremendous weight of sorrow. I sat on the floor by the edge of his bed, in the same spot I often prayed for him. The same place I tucked Mitch in for the last time. In every way that mattered, I was on hallowed ground, and my soul was searching for answers.
At one point, I noticed his school backpack hanging on the wall behind the door to his room.
It hadn’t been touched since the day he went to the hospital for heart failure. With trembling hands, I opened his backpack expecting to discover special artifacts he left behind. I discovered in-progress homework, report cards, and other school things. I opened a spiral binder which had several creative stories he’d written. They were so cute and creative. My eyes welled with tears, and my already tender heart broke even more. I wished I had the presence of mind to discover those stories while he was living so I could tell him I was proud of him. I even found drawings Mitch made with the words: “To Dad.” I hadn’t seen them before. I wept like a child, for I wanted Mitch to know how much he mattered to me. I told him a thousand times, but I wanted one more.
As I explored the rest of Mitchell’s backpack, something seemed off. As I dug deeper, I found an uneaten sandwich covered in mold. I immediately burst into more tears. I wondered why Mitch didn’t eat his lunch that last day of school. Was he not hungry because his heart was already failing and we didn’t know? Or did a friend share his/her lunch with him? Was Mitch playing with his friends and simply forgot to eat? Or did he decide to eat cafeteria food that day? So many questions, absolutely no answers. All I saw was the tender evidence of a mother’s love in the form of a sandwich.
What I’ve discovered on this journey is, for those who grieve, there are sorrows that the eye can’t see. What’s more, the death of a child isn’t a singular event where the tragedy happens once, and that’s the end of it. The truth is, after the death of a child, the tragedy is just beginning. In fact, there are 10 million little tragedies between death and learning to live again.
The discovery of this sandwich is just one example; something invisible to others and known only by the person who grieves. But there are countless other discoveries the soul in sorrow must face.
Among the many difficulties of coping with grief is carrying sorrows the eye can’t see. Close family, friends, and others move on, and there is often an unspoken expectation that we move on with them. Yet, to tell someone who grieves it’s time to stop hurting is as audacious, even ludicrous, as telling a parent it’s time to stop loving their living children and become someone different. Love and grief are inextricably connected.
In earlier entries, I’ve described the loss of a child is something akin to becoming a spiritual amputee. We must learn to live without that part of ourselves; for years, we may struggle with balance, but if you’re patient, we’ll find our way through the hellish shadows of death to a new normal.
When tending to those who grieve, perhaps Susan Evans McCloud, an American novelist, author poet, and hymn writer put it best:
I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.
Who am I to judge another
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can’t see.
Having walked the path of grief, I see things differently. Anymore, I ask those who walk in the shadows of sorrow, “Where does it hurt today?” Then, a tender exchange ensues, and a sorrow once invisible is made plain to see. Then pain is released inevitably.