The Rake

13 Jan

This post is about grief. If you’re looking for rainbows and unicorns and baby goats today, click away from here. I’m prompted to write after experiencing at close hand the unimaginable grief that happens when someone loses a child.  A dear friend of mine, and her husband, daughter, parents, and friends are experiencing the loss of their son/brother/grandchild who died suddenly and accidentally at the age of 18. I won’t detail the circumstances other than to say it wasn’t a suicide. My friend is at once overcome with grief, raging with anger, stymied by frustration at the unfairness of it and crushed by despair over the loss, the senselessness of it, and weight of it.  As you can imagine.  And can’t unless you’ve been there.

My biggest losses to date have been my Dad, and then 20 some years later, my father in law, who had stepped to be in the “Dad” role to me in my 30s and 40s and the sudden loss of my best friend when I was about 40. All of those were gut punches that in the moment I couldn’t figure out how I’d get past them. I cannot even begin to imagine the weight of what they are going through with the loss of a child.  I truly hope I never do. It happened in my wife’s family when we were first married – her cousin passed at a young age – and not having kids at the time I really didn’t understand what her Aunt and Uncle were going through.  But I understand much better now. And I thought a lot about them this past week as I was thinking about my friends.

In talking about grief with friends who have lost their parents and other close loved ones, and thinking about how I’ve dealt with it on my own, I’ve often described grief as a rake lying in the grass, waiting to be stepped on.  When it’s fresh and raw, you’re just standing there next to rake and most every step you take the grief slams you in the face.  Over time, you develop the ability to step around it.  But it’s always there, and you know it. On occasion, you put a foot wrong, and BAM, you’re hit in the face. Maybe it’s triggered by a memory. A song on the radio.  Maybe it’s triggered by a friend experiencing grief.  But it’s there, and it happens. BAM. And sometimes you just do it on purpose. Jump. BAM.

And there’s other times when you just straight up know you have to step on the rake. Perhaps it’s the birthday of the person you miss so much. Or the anniversary of their death. Or a holiday. Or a funeral for someone else. You try as gently as possible to step on it, to limit how badly it hurts. But it always still hurts. You take the hit and you move on.

I’m not a “dweller” when it comes to grief. It comes out, I take the hits every now and then, but I prefer to always remember the happy memories.  In a discussion I was in last evening, I spoke of my Dad being remembered at his funeral by a family friend as “the kindest man he ever knew.”  Yes, at the time I heard that, it brought me to raw tears.  Now, 27 years later, it just makes me smile. I carry that around with me like a comforting teddy bear. We smile and laugh at the wonderful memories of him. I’ve been very happy that my wife’s family all operate the same way when thinking about my father-in-law.  Yes, I’m sure the rake hits them, just like it hits me, but we sure do smile and laugh often when we think about him.

I went to the visitation for my friend’s son on Saturday.  It was an nearly an hour’s drive through the snow and ice we were getting here Saturday, but I couldn’t imagine not being there, if even for just a few minutes.  The reality was, that’s all the time I was there for, to hug her and her husband.  To share a tear together and to let them know that I truly hurt for their loss. And to feel their loss, their sobs as we hugged. I felt like a sponge, soaking up and dissipating some of their grief. Two hours of driving in crappy weather to give them 5 minutes of comfort feels like a great investment. I’m so glad I was there.

On the drive back home, I drove along in a silent car. Ironically, I had spent the drive out doing a bit of mourning for the loss of one of my favorite musicians, Neal Peart of Rush, and listened to Rush hits all the way out on the drive.  Going home, silence seemed to be the right thing.  I thought of my friends who lost their son and what they are going through and the monumental size of the rake they have to deal with.  I thought of my Dad; of Julie, my father in law; Darrell, my best friend, and others I’ve lost in my life, and yup, I ever so carefully but intentionally stepped on each of those rakes and shed a few tears while I drove, for my friends and their son, and for all those I miss so much.

And life goes right on. Step gently.

By the way, if you’ve read through this to this point, you really deserve some baby goats.

As you were,

Stew

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