Black. White. Black or white. Losing a child does many things to a person’s soul. It complicates. It simplifies. It creates a contradiction of one’s former self in that one can hardly see compromise in anything. It hardens you in a way that you only see things as black or white. It either is or is not. It is either fair or unfair. It is seldom somewhere in between.
Black. I’ve spent the past three years in somewhat of a mid-life crisis which is odd to say of a thirty-two year old man. Not caused by a lack of job satisfaction or a bad marriage or financial trouble but because of grief. I lost my father and son within a year of each other. I take that back. I didn’t lose them—they died. My father died in four months due to pancreatic cancer, my son in four days due to complications from birth. Their deaths have been difficult to bear.
White. The small things matter—the inside jokes, the smiles, the laughs. I wish I could say that before Timmy’s death I would see the blessings I had in the small things. Little did I know that I find peace now in the small moments throughout the day. Seeing my pajama-clad daughter push my youngest son, Jack, around in a toddler truck with her bottom hanging out of her sagging pajama bottoms like a Norman Rockwell painting is heaven. I say, “I love you” to my sons and daughter far more now than I ever did before. I am thankful.
Black. It doesn’t take long to feel uncomfortable any time I find myself at a family gathering, any time I meet up with friends, or any time I see someone who knows about the past few years of my life. I carry my grief with me wherever I go. It’s inevitable. It is a stain, a scarlet letter that precedes me wherever I go. I see cocked heads and raised eyebrows, uneasy smiles and nervous laughs. My ears burn red knowing people talk about me and quite possibly refer to me in “before and after” terms. He was like this before, they might say, but now…It’s easy to understand that the subject of my son’s death is avoided. People don’t know what to say. One can hardly blame them.
White. Simplicity is golden. Love is simple. Throughout all of this, I’ve come to one incontestable conclusion time and time again—you would be hard-pressed to find a man that loves his wife and children more than I do. We may be a household of four but we will always be a family of five. To speak of the four of us without mentioning another is an insult to my family. I am not ashamed to say this and do not try to tell me otherwise. I am thankful for ALL of us.
Black. Patriarchal isolation. Too many times a man who finds himself in the grips of extreme fatherly grief will fall victim to society’s expectation of him. He’s taught to stay quiet. He’s taught to grieve his child’s passing in private. He’s taught to suppress his feelings for the comfort of others. Too often that man’s story is one that ends in a “fade to black.” It’s a scenario I’m not willing to accept.
White. The white word processing screen I see every month taunts me. It screams at me the way a white canvas begs an artist to create a beautiful mixture of paint and light. It’s an invitation to be honest, a conduit to the depths of the emotional mind. It takes me to places I could never have imagined before my son’s death nor would I have wanted to. It’s a struggle. I wish I could say that it’s always easy to write about my Timmy but it’s not. It’s a gut-wrenching cleansing of the soul that has created far more tears than I’m willing to admit. I am thankful.
Gray. I spent much of the first thirty years of my life trying to find the compromise in everything. I forgave easily. I usually accepted faults and strengths in stride and prided myself in doing so. One of the worst byproducts of grief, I’ve found, is falling into a world of black and white. Before Timmy died, I would have thought that a tragedy like my son dying would enable me to have more patience for people, opening up a more kind hearted and accepting individual of others and their situations. Instead, I often have far LESS patience with people in general because most don’t realize how lucky they are. The challenge is to find the gray again, to be accepting yet uncompromising. And the first step is admitting to myself, once again, that the world is rarely black and white.