(This post is dedicated to Lucia, mother of amazing Elizabeth Blue. I love you both.)
“When you’re unhappy you are at war with the truth.”
I used the possessive there because the things Philip tells me are both simple and profound and I am humbled and grateful to be his mother. It’s because I want some acknowledgment that I brought this child into the world. It’s pride, and I do not say I’m proud of my children. It sounds arrogant and self-serving, as if they need to do something for me to be proud of them, as if their being wasn’t enough. Of course I praised them. Of course I’ve taken deep pleasure at their achievements, at the the things that were important to them. But to tell them I’m proud of them seemed a set-up where they had to do something to get something from me, and if they didn’t do it were they disappointing me - but it wasn’t about me. Philip and Natalie didn’t have to do anything for me to be proud of them. Their presence was enough.
I wrote before of the way it used to feel to have Philip beside me, to be able to say, this is my son. I can’t do that in the way I want, but I can do it here, with his words. What he says is so right and so true and yet so so so damn hard.
I am not unhappy all the time. One of the reasons is my blog. Here is where I slow down, where I get to spend time with my grief and with my son. And I do need time with both. Another reason is work – I spend over 40 hours a week in a place where my spirits are lifted and laughing is easy. If I did such a thing as make a gratitude list, my job would be up top there with Natalie, Philip and all the people I care for. It’s a blessing, for sure.
But then there’s the quiet. That’s when I think about Philip and the shock of it all. I do better when I’m talking to him instead of thinking about him, because he does comfort. As the edges of my life grow sharper, clearer, I see a way to live with what I know, with what I’m being taught. What if I stopped arguing about the fact that Philip died? What would that look like? It doesn’t mean I’d be carefree about his death. But arguing creates more unhappiness in a situation already fraught with anguish and despair. Arguing is polarizing. It makes it impossible to experience the deeper emotions of what I call grief. “Grief” isn’t one thing. It would be nice to make this all neat and tidy by calling it grief and expecting something of it. Like it will get better every day, that there’s some end to it. There isn’t. But the rage around Philip’s death – that is what keeps me wracked with pain. When I stop the argument – which is what I do when I’m talking to Philip – then a deeper mourning is revealed. Then I hear things like, “When you’re unhappy you are at war with the truth.” Then I have a chance to make meaning. Because meaning isn’t found, it’s made. It’s not a secret that’s revealed, it’s not something anyone can give to you. It’s what you make of what is so, what’s uncovered when you pay attention.
So when I’m not arguing about Philip’s death I can experience what it is. And not just once – there’s not one meaning that wraps it all up. I will live with this sorrow until I die. And life goes on because life is not my life span or Philip’s life span – life is, and it is the fact of death that gives each of us life’s meaning. When we don’t think about death, we’re avoiding it. All the money that’s made and things that are bought and successes we strive for are all to avoid the inevitable. Then when it comes and we are unprepared we ask, what is the meaning, what was it all for? When all the meaning we needed was right in front of us. We just kept looking the other way.
“If you want to die fully, you have to live fully.” That, too, is from my son. Is that not something to think about? Because really, who wants to “die fully?” What does that mean? You and I going to die. So why not do it fully – the way anything you care about doing feels better when you do it fully. But you don’t care to die. The thought makes you unhappy. Because there you are, at war with the truth. If the truth of life is that we’re going to die, how do we live with that? How will we die with that? And how do we live with that most grievous death of all, that of our children? Our children, for God’s sake.
I can’t work with these questions when I’m arguing. Because I’m not listening, and if I don’t listen I can’t learn. Or accept. Or stop resisting. Or whatever words describe what I think I need to do to live with Philip’s death. It is when I relax back into his love that I can talk to him, that I hear what he has to say. Whether I’m asking him which socks go best with my boots or how the fuck am I supposed to live with his death, he answers. Then there’s room for something else besides this raging grief. There’s sadness and mourning that have room to turn into something else. When I’m not arguing I’m transparent, allowing what I feel to shift and move. Understand I’m not talking about happiness. Happiness comes and goes like every other emotion. I’m talking about allowing these feelings to become something different. I’m talking about discovery, I’m talking about the mystery. So sometimes it’s worse, sometimes not. It’s part of the mystery that I miss when I’m insisting things should be other than they are because this is the way I say it should be.
My son. My beautiful, kind, loving child. Look at what he’s done for me in his death – he has blessed me with a better life and he’s asking me over and over to go live it.
© 2014 Denise Smyth