Friday, 8 June 2012

Three Weeks, One Day: Collateral Damage

The grieving parent has a real tendency to become a consumate belly-button watcher.  To us, the entire world seems to turn on our tragedy and our problems, leaving us numb to the fact that we are surrounded by people with their own lives and their own tragedies. We are also surrounded by people who were cut nearly as deep by Calista's loss and others who just want to help lift us off our knees.  Everyone is hurting and we, who are at the hub of all that pain, sometime need to remember its not all about us.

In this last month I have met one young woman who just had a miscarriage; she told me that "everything is Ok, it's all good!" when clearly it was not. This woman just lost a child that she was likely looking foreward to with great expectations.  Maybe she had names selected, perhaps she had the nursery painted and ready to go, and likely she was already collecting baby clothes and toys.  She was just trying to be kind to me by making it all about my loss rather than hers. Certainly there will be other pregnancies; she was young and apparently healthy; but there will never be this pregnancy again. Each and every child is different and equally precious. Perhaps her cut was not so deep as mine, but it was there nevertheless. 

Last week I heard that one of my best clients was dealing with brain cancer.  Horrible and frightening.  True, that person has lived well and substantially longer than my daughter, but it does not change the fact that she faces an uncertain future,  risky surgery and perhaps the long drawn out horror of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.  Perhaps her tragedy is not as monumental as mine, but I have to keep in mind that my daughter's death is my cross to bear, not necessarily share.

One friend had her marriage fall apart while another friend is undergoing a series of tests for potential breast cancer. They deserve a hug and a shoulder to cry on, but it just cannot be mine since I am nursing my own deep wound. All around me the world continues to turn;  it's just me that is experiencing the "Groundhog Day Effect".  It's hard to remember that when your world has crumbled, but I need to because the only way my family is going to get through this is with the help of our community and friends.

Hundreds of people have been hurt by my daughter's death.  Close and distant family on both sides, old friends and teachers and her new friends here on the west coast all have been scarred by this.  Jack Cowin, her mentor for nearly 18 months remains at a loss for words almost three weeks since we notified him. Our nanny from Whitehorse days was physically sick for days after we told her. The mother of Calista's boyfriend in Regina cries practically daily when she thinks about my daughter. Many of her young friends from Regina remain shell-shocked that they lost one of their people at such a young age with no explanation.  Young people really can be scarred by their first glimpse of their own mortality. Finally, how about those girls who became such close friends during those wonderful eight months in the photography program?  How about the poor girl that had to stand by helplessly as the ambulance tore out of her driveway, taking Calista away from her for that last time?  Who is helping them come to terms with such an absolutely senseless death?  I would love to help everyone of them, put out my hand to them and tell them that eventually everything will be right with the world again, just not soon.  The problem is that I am dealing with my own demons right now and those demons include my wife's overwhelming depression.

The incident that jelled in my mind just how horrible this was for everyone around me was when my wife and I met a good client in the parking lot of a local grocery store. The woman is about my wife's age and has daughters only slightly younger than Calista. She knew Calista through a local fitness center and as a client of my veterinary clinic.  She was crying so hard about her death the poor woman was shaking and almost incomprehensible.  This poor soul was walking in our shoes for those moments; she could feel our pain because she was picturing the loss of either of her daughters and how that might feel.  My only comment to her: it's completely Ok to be thankful that death passed your family by. I would not wish this pain on anybody, ever.

The other side of the coin are all the well-wishers who want desperately to help us and they just don't know how.  I don't know how many people have stood before me, completely at a loss for words to express their compassion. I had one friend who flew hundreds of miles out of his way on an already long trip from New Zealand just to see how I was doing. He had not seen me in 25 years but it was as if we had just parted company.  He spent the entire afternoon we spent together trying to find some words to comfort me and, despite numerous efforts, eventually failed.  I finally hugged him and told him it was completely acceptable because there are no words possible. The death of a beautiful, healthy 20 year old girl makes no sense at all and you cannot reason away the insensible.  I now tell people right away that it is enough just to be there for my wife and I, they need not try to express themselves. Just standing beside me and trying to help is help enough. Thanks to everyone that tried; just the trying is enough.

I think the only possible support that I found a little upsetting was the time somebody told me they understood my pain since their dear mother-in-law had passed away suddenly. Your adult mother-in-law who raised a child, saw that child married, possibly saw and held grandchildren and is related to you only in a legal sense is comparable to a young vivacious daughter who had barely lived at all. You consider that a similar experience?  Please do not go there; it is sad, upsetting and perhaps devastating to your wife that she lost her mother but be thankful that you do not really understand my sorrow. Losing one of your children suddenly is the nightmare you will never wake up from. All of us will experience loss in our lifetime. The price of life on this planet is eventual death. I understand that, but death at the end of an accomplished life and before your children is the way the world is supposed to work. It is absolutely un-natural to die after your children. In my case, it will be decades before I follow my girl into the great beyond. That is just not right.

For all you out there wanting to comfort and help a grieving relative or friend; its enough that you want to help and are standing by ready to help. Thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Bryce, I read your story on VIN & came to your blog to read the whole story. For some reason this post in particular is resonating with me - I am reminded of the parents of my childhood friend K. K and I were close from grade 6-12, and subsequently met up every winter and summer vacation from college, and then graduate school, for group parties and so on. When we were 23 K was diagnosed with cancer and at age 24 K passed away. His parents were, obviously, devastated. K was their only child and now they were completely bereft. As young people ourselves, my friends and I had no idea what to say or do to help K's parents. I can tell you that the "why K and not me" feeling was very prevalent among our close-knit group. The only thing that helped me with that was time and perspective. Watching K's parents suffer was painful for all of us. During the first few years after K's death, all of us in K's group tried to include his parents in our celebratory life events - but over time, it became clear they found these things too painful, and they withdrew. Our contact now is sporadic, 20 years later. K's father became bitter and resentful, refusing to socialize, lashing out at everyone. He did not recover from his crippling grief before his own subsequent death as a complication of "routine" orthopedic surgery a few years later. K's mom became more resigned and still matter-of-factly remarks "well, eventually I'll die and this will all be over. I just have to try to make the best of it." As K's friend, a close witness to his parents' grief, I can just barely claim to imagine the depth and breadth of your terrible loss. You are correct when you say it is just not right. It is just NOT RIGHT. I am so terribly sorry for your loss and would that there were some way to ease your pain. Sadly I cannot, no one can, you wil live through this terrible pain and you will learn to live with it or die trying. I hope that you develop the ability to remember the good times and carry on in the spirit Calista would have wanted for you.