I have begun reading rather compulsively. For the first five or six weeks after Hudson died, I had no desire whatsoever to read any books about grief or about bereaved parents, despite the growing stack of them arriving in the mail from thoughtful friends and family. Then, a week or so ago, I picked one up. And started reading it. And had a hard time stopping. This one, When the Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter (horrible title, helpful book) was written by Judith Bernstein, a psychologist who lost her 25-year-old son to cancer. She and her husband, also a psychologist, decided to undertake a research project where they would interview bereaved parents down the road a bit to see how they survived. Although the book leaves a fair bit undiscussed, it was incredibly helpful to discover that everything I am experiencing right now is totally normal. Even though I rationally know that anything I feel right now is OK, there are still days where I can’t help but feel as though I must be insane, or heading in that direction.
One section that struck me is a discussion of how bereaved parents experience changing attitudes about death. The gist of it seems to be that parents no longer fear death, because death is a “place where their child resides” and thus it no longer seems scary and unfamiliar. For these parents, death offers the hope of reunion with their child. They also view later deaths differently, for they envision those loved ones joining their child in heaven or wherever.
My attitude about death has changed, too. But in the opposite direction. I fear death more than I ever did before. Not because I fear being dead or the unknown of death—god, if anything, right now death seems like it would at least offer permanent relief from this unbearable pain (this sentiment is totally normal, too, I was grateful to read). No, I fear death even more because of this unbearable pain. I have now lost my only living grandmother, my mother, and my daughter to death. I know the pain, all too well. The very possibility of losing another loved one, the very idea of my loved ones, especially my Ed or our future children, having to bear the grief associated with my death… well, I can’t even let my mind wander too far down that path.
Obviously, I can’t, and won’t, live my life paralyzed by a fear of death. If anything, losing my sweet Hudson has taught me (in the worst of ways) that we have to live as though we might die tomorrow, not as though we are afraid to die tomorrow. But on the morning of May 10, despite a general malaise about my work, I was blissfully happy, easily the happiest I have ever been in my life. I truly believed that the saddest times in my life were behind me. Twenty-four hours later, swelling in my 17-month-old daughter’s brain had put her into a coma from which she would never wake. For as long as I live (and it will be a lifelong struggle), I will have to work very, very hard to ignore that nagging feeling somewhere in the back of my mind that the other shoe is always just about to drop.