Have you ever not been invited to a party? Everyone you know gets an invitation. You wait for yours. It never arrives. The day of the party comes and goes. No one even called at the last minute to say, “Oh, so sorry. I’m not sure what happened to your invitation, but please come.” You think of all at the party, having fun without you. You don’t feel as lovely or as important or loved. You second-guess your friendships. You wonder if it is your fault for not being the friend you thought you were.
On the other hand, have you been invited to a party you didn’t want to attend? And gone anyway? Perhaps obligation got the best of you. Or it was your boss’s birthday and you had to be there. If you expected to keep your job.
When my son died, I was ushered into a party. Some call it a club because it lasts longer than a party. This club goes on for a long time—the rest of my life. This is the club for all who have had a child die. Members, like me, never signed up to join. We would have been elated never to get that invitation. But one day, the doors opened and we were inside. The doors keep opening and others enter. No one wants to be there. The punch served upon arrival is sour and the refreshments all taste like moldy bread.
We second-guess ourselves. How could we have let our child die? We doubt God. Did I do something to make God mad and in revenge, he took my son? Other children with tumors and illnesses and victims of car wrecks are still alive. Am I unlovable? Thoughts bang around our heads like destructive tools.
We weep. We are lonely and listless. We watch others having fun—our old friends with intact families—and know that we are not. In fact, will we ever smile again? Is this it, for the rest of our lives?
Gradually, people start to talk to us at this club. One crawls over from a corner, wipes his face and extends his hand. He talks of his beautiful daughter and how she took too many pills one cold day. She never woke up. He asks about you and you say your son died from cancer treatments. You go into great detail about all the procedures and medical terms that doctors kept using about his condition.
You meet others. Some are enjoying a bowl of ice cream and you wonder how they can be happy about eating. You are offered some. “No, not today, thanks,” you say.
Others introduce themselves to you. They ask about your child and you explain the last days of his life, how the infection crept into his chemo and radiation compromised body and could take it no more. As the tears burn, people hug you. One woman says with compassion, “He had a great mama,” and you wonder why she thinks this, but you hope it’s true.
Time passes. Someone asks you what your son’s name was and what he liked to do. All you see is his body on a white sterile bed.
Later, someone talks about her child carrying out the recycle each week, but hating that chore. You remember. “My son slid down a recycle bin one winter when it snowed. He and his older sister had so much fun.”
Others smile. They want to know more, and soon you have shared stories about your son, how he gave away stickers in the hospital and learned to pee in the bushes.
You are offered a dish of ice cream and you accept. The ice cream is chocolate with nuts and as you talk and smile, each bite seems to give you a boost.
Slowly, you ask about the others and their children who died. You see faces light up as they talk of their daughters and sons. You learn names, birthplaces, likes and dislikes. A woman tells a joke her child loved, and you hear a strange, yet familiar sound. It is that of your own laughter!
You are part of this parental bereavement club because of death, but you will be able to thrive because of life. Your child lived, and loved, and is forever remembered. You will tell his story, and in so doing, you will live as a hero of your own.
Alice Wisler 2011