I was recently reading a book about a woman who writes the obituaries for her community. She tells of entering the homes of the grieving families, with the greatest of care and quietness, and asking them one simple question: “What will you remember most?” That question, she said, and their answer, gave her an immediate picture of who she would be writing about.
It got me thinking about how I would respond. Obviously, remembering Samuel’s life means remembering Samuel’s death. The two are permanently intertwined, as are the joy and sorrow I feel toward this question.
“What do I remember most?”
Memories flood my brain and my heart; memories of both my greatest joy and my deepest sorrow. As I consider my answer, I realize just how complicated this question is, because so many of my blissful memories are immediately followed by the pain of our separation and my constant longing for him. I consider my answer and remember something that happened just after he died.
A few months into my grief, when I was at the deepest, darkest place in my agony, I was told by an acquaintance to, “Just focus on the good times instead of the bad.” I immediately recoiled at this suggestion. As if it were possible to ignore the pain of his death! It seemed so heartless, so uncaring, so completely oblivious to my pain, and I could hardly answer without lashing out. It came off to me, in that time of massive sorrow, like she was trying to put a positive spin on my son’s death and that idea repulsed me. Yes, I love him endlessly. Yes, his life was beautiful. Yes, there were good times. But couldn’t she see how terrible it was to ask me to ignore his death, his diagnosis, our suffering? (You know, the “bad”). His death was the very thing that defined my life at that time. Couldn’t she understand how impossible it was for me to see any good in anything when such an atrocity had just occurred? A tragedy I would never fully recover from? My entire world was shattered and she wanted me to “just focus on the good.” Her intention may have been innocent, but finding the good when all you see is ugly, is quite unfathomable.
I remember my response to her. I told her, “If you had any idea how horrible this is for me, you wouldn’t even think of saying that to me”. It was all I could say that didn’t involve words I would later regret. My son had just died. All I could see was darkness and pain. That’s the reality of grief.
Now, years later, I can see things in a different way. His death will always hurt me deeply. There is no way to avoid that truth. I wish with everything in my being he was alive and I never had to know life without him. But now, with lots of healing work behind me, I can separate the pain of his death and the beauty of his life. He was beautiful. His life was my joy. His existence is my greatest achievement. The times we shared are memories that fill me with pride and delight.
I’m still early in this journey of living without him, so I can’t say I’m able to only see the beauty. I’m not sure that will ever be possible because the beauty of his life’s story will always include the terrible ending of his death. And his death will always be ugly to me. But remembering the love, the joy, the sweet moments, and the good times we shared, are ways to keep his memory alive.
So, again, I come back to the question: “What will I remember most?”
I will remember the love. I will remember the joy. I will remember the quiet moments Samuel and I shared together, rocking, singing, reading, and listening to music. I will remember the crazy urge to eat anything I could find that included meat. (Ribs at 2am? Yes, please!) I will remember the moments of rubbing my big round tummy, closing my eyes and mentally covering him with every ounce of my love. I will remember his kicks of excitement when his daddy spoke to him after coming home each day. I will remember the bedtime stories and the times we rocked to sleep each night. I will remember his life.
I know when you’re early in your grief and sadness penetrates every aspect of your life, trying to see beauty in your story can be incredibly difficult (impossible, even). Asking you to see any good right now could land me straight into your strongest backlash, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit. If you find yourself currently unable to see the good in anything, you are not alone, and you’re not wrong. The world is an ugly place when your child has died, I know. You are doing exactly what you need to do in this moment to survive and that’s all that matters. Finding beauty, remembering the good – these things will come later, once a lot of healing has taken place, and only when your heart is ready. Until then, just keep breathing. That’s all you need to do.
If you have done work toward healing, and time has given you the ability to see thing differently, I ask you to remember: What were the special moments you had with your baby? Is your positive pregnancy test the moment you remember with joy? Was it the first ultrasound? Was it the kicks and wiggles? Maybe it was the special outfit you bought your baby. Or the food you enjoyed together. Or the special places you visited together. What is it about your baby’s life that brings you joy, and warms your heart as you remember?
What will YOU remember most?