Here it comes again – The anniversary of the death of my three children. For four years now, it’s come at me like a wave on a stormy sea, regular yet unpredictable in its magnitude. Slowly, I’ve turned my ship into the wind, and now I feel as if I have the challenge properly in front of me. The waves still come, but with the right orientation, I can ride through them safely.
I’m writing this message in the hope that friends will join me in making tomorrow, this anniversary, a day of action. You see, that is the key to my survival. My children died on March 4th. As I grappled with the question of whether I could continue living in a world without my babies, the date struck me as a command.
That was the key. I had been hoping to live out my life as a proud father, standing witness as my children changed the world. All that was gone, and if the world were to be improved, then I would have to do it in their stead.
And with that, I understood that they were not truly gone. As I took action erecting monuments, planting trees, creating reading challenges and sportsmanship awards for their young peers, and generally reorienting my life to once again face the future, I could feel them with me, acting through me, being present in this world, even after death.
On their monument in the graveyard, there is a quote by A.A. Milne that touched me deeply:
If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:A._A._Milne
When I first read it and selected it, I heard my voice speaking to my children. But over time, as I visited the monument to meditate and remember, it became clear that it is them speaking to me, reassuring me that I can do it, and that they are still with me and will be, always.
I’m sure if you’re reading this, you have either suffered the loss of someone you love, or you know someone who is suffering grief and are struggling to find a way to comfort them. After the danger of being alone, the biggest problem I faced was doubt and uncertainty, which led to paralysis. However, what I discovered was that all my positive actions to honor Ben, Maddy and Sam, helped heal my spirit and break the paralysis, and the effect was especially strong when the action had an air of permanence about it: A carving in stone, planting of a tree, or affecting the life of a young person.
So, my friends, I propose that March 4th be a collective day of action. Let the date be a reminder to march forth – do something on that day that is forward looking, that will make the world a better place for the next generation. Do it with your lost loved one in mind, or if you are supporting a grieving friend, do it with their child, spouse, parent or friend in mind and let them know that what you did is just one example of their loved one manifesting in the here and now.
When I think of marching forth, I think of this saying:
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.– Unkown
Some see this as a call to selfless action, but I see it as revealing a truth that is hard to grasp – that we endure beyond the life of our physical bodies, and our care for the next generation is, in fact, care for ourselves.
Having children is like having your heart walking around outside your body, and losing your children is like having your actual heart torn from your chest, only to be left to go on living without it, somehow. This injury can be fatal, but it doesn’t have to be. It will certainly leave the injured with a tremendous scar, weakened and having to learn to adapt to their new body in the absence of the part they cherished most. It is that adaptation, that healing that the grieving need, that we all wish could be accomplished with a simple pill or magic incantation.
But the truth, we all know, is that rehabilitation and healing from a serious injury takes a tremendous amount of work.
The great thing about this, for those of you supporting someone in grief, is that your actions matter. You don’t have to be paralyzed, and you don’t have to ask helplessly, “What can I do to help?”
The grieving don’t know the answer. They are swallowed up and consumed by their loss, and there’s nothing anyone can do to take that away. Serving their physical needs is important while they are so damaged as to be unable to care for themselves, and the road to recovery is an endless one. Recovery doesn’t mean you regain the person you were before your loss – it means learning to live without the person who was really just an extension of you, like living without your sight, or hearing, or your legs.
So do something, and do it as a surrogate for those who gone but not forgotten, who are no longer physically able to affect this world directly but can still affect it through you.
Benjamin, Madeline & Samuel: I love you, I miss you; I’m so proud of you.