In my first post, Grief and Resilience, I described how I wrote my memoir, and what writing it did for me. Today I’d like to talk about sharing my story of love and loss, and what that sharing means to me.
In both my original blog and in And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones, I wrote about the dilemma I find myself in when I come across parents whose children are being (or were in the past) treated for cancer. While Timora was ill, I was always hungry to share with anyone who knew what our family was going through. To this day, when I meet such parents I want to tell them I’m one of them, to speak and listen to them from a place of profound identification. But I can no longer do this, because they’d inevitably ask how Timora is doing. My answer would be the last thing they need to hear; my story is their worst nightmare.
I have no such problem when I meet bereaved parents; our worst nightmares have already come true.
When I meet someone who’s lost a child, our eyes instantly tell each other, Yes, I know. And so do you. All it takes is that mutual glance for us to feel as if we’ve known each other for years. There is no need for explanation, for words. But, paradoxically, because we silently know what we know, when we do speak our words bring us together, bridge the chasm that we sometimes feel separate ourselves from the rest of the human race.
My deepest sharing outside my family is with friends who’ve lost children; I’m sorry to say that I have more than one such friend. But I feel a connection with any bereaved parent, and am always ready to speak about what we have in common. A few times I’ve even reached out over cyberspace and corresponded with parents I’ve never met.
I wrote my book partly in order to reach out in this way to people in my position, to let them know they are not alone in the seemingly endless tunnel their lives so often feels like. I hope very much to show them that it is possible to pass through that tunnel and emerge into the light of a life that will never be the same, but a real one nonetheless.
I’ve recently begun sharing my story in another way as well. Twice now I’ve spoken to classes of social work students about my own experience and about my book, from my standpoint as both a parent and a professional. Each time, the students told their teachers that my talk gave them insights which will help them work more effectively with bereaved families. And each time a student approached me after class to share her story with me. The first, a young Jewish woman who had lost her husband (also to cancer), was very eager to let me know me she identified with almost everything I’d said. “No one in the class knows about this,” she said. “It’s a relief to be able to tell you about it.” The other, a young Arab woman whose lovely and gentle face was framed by a soft pink hidjab, told me that many years ago she’d lost a two-year-old brother. “Now I realize that I never understood what my mother went through when he died,” she told me, her eyes shining. “Your talk has made me understand.”
I can’t really say I’m glad to be reaching out in this way; I wish I didn’t have the occasion to do so, both for myself and for the other members of the “club no one wants to join.” But there’s no running away from the fact that I am a bereaved mother. So, as long as there are other parents out there grieving for their lost child, I see it as a privilege to be able to lighten their burden, if only a tiny bit, by telling them - in person, by correspondence, or through my book - Yes, I know. And so do you.