There’s nothing that makes you feel more separate and different than grief. Grief is an individual and lonely experience; you can’t compare one’s grief to another’s because of so many factors. The manner of death, relationship with the person who died, social support system and people who will show up for you and listen, and your own mental, physical and spiritual health all play a part in making each person’s grief unique. All these factors also affect the length of time it takes to heal, mourn, and regain the ability to live again. There is a profound loneliness in having lost a child. There are very few people who have had a similar loss, it feels, and it’s very abnormal today, unlike 150 years ago when many children didn’t reach adulthood. Observing other people around me whose families are intact, who haven’t watched their child die, is like observing someone from another culture with whom I now have very little in common. Their innocence, joy, small talk, ease of manner and engagement and interest in life feels like something from a distant time and place that is a part of my past. I continue to journey in an alternate universe; the land of grief that is invisible to others but enshrouds and envelops my entire being. I can do my best to pretend to fit in, but I really no longer do. The loss of my child is changing my personality, my beliefs, my values, and my entire life; I will never be the person I was before.
Fiona was welcoming and kind to people who were different from her. She didn’t judge a person’s skin color, appearance or disability. She cared about orphans and refugees; she was very interested when they talked about the orphanage in Africa that our church supports. She wanted to sponsor a child and help others who were poor and displaced. I really would have like to see her grow up and see what she would have done in the world. When she died we had to complete the horrible chore of notifying the Social Security Administration; her social security number was no longer needed; she ceased to be an American citizen. She did not take her SS card with her into the afterlife. It sits in my jewelry box, needed for so few years, incompletely used. She was an American citizen while alive, but in death she is not a citizen of any country. That made me think about how silly countries, borders, and all the fuss we make in this world comes to naught when we die. There are no countries or borders in heaven, I’m guessing, and the gate is there to keep out evil and death, not people who hold the incorrect documents. We will share eternity with many of our Mexican neighbors despite a wall dividing us in this lifetime. Heaven will be filled with people of all colors from all over the planet. I wonder what God thinks of all the energy put into keeping what’s ours, ours, and keeping out those who we fear want to take what’s ours. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about it, being a refugee and immigrant himself while he was on earth. I wonder why we don’t fear more what God thinks about this issue, as he is the creator and owner of this planet and all who live on it.
I identify more with aliens now. I was a Canadian citizen until several years before Fiona died when I became an American citizen. I just read in the news that the U.S. government is monitoring internet search histories and social media accounts of immigrants, whether they are now legal citizens or not. That includes me. Another reason to feel different I suppose. But such a small one compared to being a bereaved parent. This summer we spent some time in Vancouver, B.C. where I was born. We saw part of the Canada Day parade celebrating 150 years. The parade appeared to be mainly groups of people of all colors from countries all over the world, proudly done up in their native dress, free to express their cultural heritage and identity. For some reason it brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes to see so many smiling faces, people from all different countries singing, dancing, waving and happy to have the freedom and acceptance to be themselves. They loved being in a country that embraced them with kindness, and the freedom to find a new life. I think it made me think that is a little what heaven is like, and what Fiona experienced upon arrival, and what we all will when we get there.