How do you do it?
That is a question I’ve been asked so many times in the last eight months, in one form or another. I’m not sure I’ve ever really given a good answer. Honestly, I don’t know if there is an answer. Perhaps it’s because that’s a rather broad question.
I get up each morning, try to be productive, and function for the day. I do this because I have a family who needs me and a little boy who deserves more than a mom who honors him by hiding in bed everyday. (I keep it to a rarely stay in bed basis, but soooo have my days)
I talk about Caleb freely and openly because, while he has died, he lived! Oh, did he live. And he continues to live because we talk about him. We remember him and refuse to let his life be defined by his death.
I am a public speaking advocate and volunteer working to raise awareness of the importance of organ, eye, and tissue donation. I’ve been a registered donor since I was 15 and it’s always been something I believe in. I just have a greater appreciation for the good that comes from it, not just for recipient families, but donor families as well. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the joy this work brings our family. I speak openly about grief. I do this because I believe in filling a need when I see it. Our society has some unhealthy views about death and grief. They’re subjects that are taboo, awkward, uncomfortable, and secretive. It makes for loneliness and a perpetuation of the awkwardness.
I keep saying it and will continue to. This country is grief illiterate. To teach those who can’t read takes someone who can. The literacy will only improve with the help and support of those who know. Those grieving won’t feel support unless those around them are taught how to offer it. Those who grieve need to know they’ll be able to find support from those around them when they’re open and honest. That openness needs to be met with a willingness to learn and act. Think of it as a wall. On one side is the grieving person, alone, full of sorrow, confusion, bitterness, anger, and a myriad of other emotions. On the other side is all those who love and care for them, clueless as to how to break down that wall of grief. They knock, tap, and talk through the wall, but no real embrace can happen. The key is the sledge hammers sitting next to the grieving person and the rope next to their loved ones. The loved ones are afraid to cast the rope over the wall, for fear of disturbing the delicate person on the other side. The grieving person needs to let them know it’s okay…toss the rope. Then, they can throw the rope over the wall, but the grieving person still needs to attach the proper tools to be pulled back over. Then, they can both break down the wall together.
I was chatting with a friend this week and our chat is what really got me thinking about this post. We chatted about life, kids, and Caleb. It wasn’t awkward or weird at all. She didn’t cringe at the mention of his name or try to change the subject. She was thoughtful, responsive, and willing to ask questions. She was very complimentary of what we’ve been doing and how open I’ve been. That’s the kind of stuff I never know quite how to respond to. She specifically mentioned me speaking at Caleb’s service and complimented me on even being able to do that, saying she never could.
That got me thinking about the origin of this title question. It started that night, at his service. I spoke and others couldn’t believe that I was able to be coherent. “How did you do it?” It’s a question I’ve struggled with. I went through a phase of feeling like I must not have loved him enough or cared for him enough to be able to do that. It seemed obvious that the normal, loving mother reaction would be that there’s no way on earth I should be able to speak at the funeral of my child. What did that mean for me? I’ve passed it off on my background in theatre and being able to compartmentalize things when speaking in front of a crowd to keep my nerves and emotions in check. I’ve discussed my 12 years of experience with people I care for grieving the death of a child and how that must have prepared me in some way. It just never seemed like the right answer, the right reason.
After my chat yesterday, I pondered why I spoke at his service yet again and finally found my answer. He is my baby, my boy, my ‘nuggle bug, my Bubba Love. I couldn’t imagine sitting there, at a service meant to honor him, listening to someone else try to talk about Caleb, his amazing life, and all our family had learned up to that point. I didn’t want to be placated by a friend or family member. I didn’t want someone to try to help us make sense of the situation. Those who knew him best outside Brig, the kids, and me hadn’t been taught to read yet. That was my first chance to teach them and honor my lovie at the same time. That is what worked for me, for us, in that time and place for the path I am on. It’s not the same for everyone, but it’s so wonderful to know why you choose the path you do…or perhaps why the path chooses you.
So, thanks Michelle, for turning a play date drop off into a much needed adult conversation that helped me learn to read a bit better myself. It just goes to show you, you never know the good you can do just by being present and willing to chat.