September 12 is a date that never fails to affect me. It was at 3 am on a September 12th that I was visited by police officers telling me my son was dead. Not long after, I arrived on the west coast, close to the very place pictured here, to collect and bring Matt home with me. The memory of this time is as close as if it were last year or last month . . . even last week. Actually, it was 20 years ago today.
I have to admit that identifying the amount of time my son has been gone with an actual number leaves me feeling unsettled. The larger that number, the less I think I’m supposed to miss his presence and grieve his death. Let’s face it: cultural messages tell me I’m expected to be over his death by now, over experiencing tearful sadness or intense pain because Matt is no longer alive in my world. But the reality I believe I share with every other parent – every other human – who has lost someone more important than his or her own life, is that such expectations are unrealistic and hurtful.
There was a time when I did believe the adage that time could heal all wounds. It sounded so logical: the more time and space I put between myself and that specific time when devastation brought me grief, the more I should expect the sharp edges of my pain to inevitably wear away. This belief told me that if I could just tenaciously hold on, the despair of losing what I loved dearly would eventually be cleared from my mind and heart, that other people or things would take the place of my profound loss . . . all in good time. But what I have learned, what I believe and live, is that time cannot heal my wounds. Instead, time is meant to provide the moments I need to understand and surrender to my grief reality -- to breathe, look around and learn how to open myself to the grace that lives around and within that reality.
I still see the face of that police officer of 20 years ago and hear her gentle, sorrowful message; I still remember the bite of a cold September wind as I stood, clearing my head outside of a lonely motel room, right after finishing a letter to be read at my son’s service in Oregon; I am still sitting by Matt’s coffin, gazing at his face; I still remember what I wore, standing in both receiving lines, as I thanked others for honoring his life by attending his memorials. And so much more. Neither pitiable nor maudlin, these are true memories that I honor and choose not to be over . . . for they are elements of my very self.
Profound loss, no matter when it occurred, becomes embedded within our very core. Grief has no timetable and how we choose to live our days within it is ours to decide. Gwen Flowers’ poem helped me understand.
I had my own notion of grief.
I thought it was the sad time
That followed the death of
Someone you love.
And you had to push through it
To get to the other side.
But I’m learning there is no other side.
There is no pushing through.
But rather, there is absorption.
And grief is not something you complete,
But rather, you endure.
Grief is not a task to finish
And move on.
But an element of yourself –
An alteration of your being.
A new way of seeing.
A new definition of self.
May your ways of seeing and defining contain the forgiveness and mercy of grace, always present and waiting within.