Deb had raised six daughters. At the time of the story, her youngest was 14 and the eldest 25, married with one child, expecting another and just recently moved a thousand miles away. Her third daughter, Cathy, almost 20, was struck by a truck as she was rollerblading on the shoulder of the highway and killed instantly.
I chose to read the book last week because I figured I was ready to hear another parent’s story of loss. How did they respond? How did they deal with their grief? In truth, I wanted something to provoke my own grief. I have done little crying over Mikael’s passing. I would like to believe it’s because, like John and Eloise Bergen of the previous post, I have lived a life of intimacy with God so despair is not a factor. Is that the case or am I still in shock and denial and the grief will hit me unexpectedly sometime in the future?
Certainly my body has felt the stress of grief and has responded with exhaustion that keeps me sleeping more than I’m awake. Yesterday I slept for ten hours, was up for four and went back to sleep for another ten. But the tears and the emotion of grief I have felt only at short, infrequent intervals.
Reading Deb Watson’s story, I was able to mourn and weep. She talks about the “neverness” of death and said it hit her most powerfully many years later. Like the Bergens, she and her husband were able to forgive the man responsible and, at Cathy’s funeral, John called the man forward and embraced him, publicly declaring his forgiveness.
Who have I to forgive in Mikael’s death? Mikael? It was his hand and his decision that did the deed. Myself? I had been there, had checked on him and had failed to see the empty blister packs of his medication next to him. I covered him over and chose to not disturb him because he needed sleep. His doctor? Mikael had gained 80 pounds in less than a year because of his medication and wanted a medication that wouldn’t have that side effect. Was his death a result of the chemical turmoil inside as he came off one drug and began a new one?
Mikael had been in unendurable pain for over a year. He simply wanted the torture to end. I had been on guard for Mikael, watchful against suicide, even that night. I did all I could. The doctor had responded to Mikael’s despair about his increased size and his intention was to give Mikael a better quality of life, not worse. He did what he could.
The last moment Deb Watson had with Cathy before the accident was as she was about to walk out the door. “As I brushed past her, she reached out and stopped me. She spun me around until we were face to face. Wrapping her slender arms around me, she drew me into a huge hug that left no space between us and in a tender voice, she whispered into my ear, ‘I love you so much.’ Then loosening her grip, she stepped back ever so slightly before pressing her lips firmly against mine and gave me a momentous Kiss Goodbye.”
My last moment with Mikael was covering him with his favourite blanket so he wouldn’t be cold while he slept, being careful to not wake him because he needed his sleep. It was an act of love that would never be returned.
I cry as I write this. There is a whole lot more loving that I would like to give him. I miss him. When he saw that I was sad, he would come and give me great big hugs. He watched out for me and he never hesitated to correct me if he though it warranted. It will be three months tomorrow morning that we found him, cold and lifeless in the same pose he had when I had covered him over. Three months and I do not look forward to going through his things and deciding what to do with them. His books and journals we’ll keep. Erik will get his furniture and household items when he moves out. But what about all his photo developing chemicals and tools? His snowshoes, skis, kayak, bicycles and skates? His paper-making supplies? What about his oboe, bread maker and teas? The boxes and boxes of things stored in his grandmother’s garage? It will be hard.
I cried through the first two-thirds of Kiss Goodbye, as the story of loss was told and the continuance of life for Cathy’s family unfolded. There was her birthday, just days after the accident, the funeral, Christmas and all the other firsts. The anniversary of her passing. The neverness of her absence. Never again would she laugh, hug, play tag with the residents at the nursing home where she worked. Never again would she share a meal with her family. Never again would she bound down the stairs with excitement. Never again will Mikael play his oboe. Never again will he kayak down the river. Never again will he share with relish his adventures and accomplishments of the day. Never again. Never.
Deb Watson’s words about suffering resonate within me. She quotes Brennan Manning: “One of life’s greatest paradoxes is that it’s in the crucible of pain and suffering that we become tender.” Not all suffering results in tenderness. “...mourning, understanding, patience, love and the willingness to remain vulnerable...lead to wisdom and tenderness.” [quote from #49]
And Jehu Burton who says, “Suffering is God’s most effective tool for conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. God puts His workers through the refining fire; the greater the mission, the hotter the fire. Nothing changes a person more quickly or more completely than suffering.”
She herself writes, “In the crucible, much was stripped away. Death brought brokenness to my life, unlike any other circumstance. Pain poured out from me; I felt destroyed by adversity. My life turned upside down. Self was emptied, and the remaining, shattered pieces of my life were laid bare.”
In reference to Psalm 33:8 she prayed, “So Lord, this death, it was in Your plan—part of Your purpose. I trust Your judgment, but today I hate Your plan. Bear with me in my sorrow—be gentle with me. I know you questioned Job about his whereabouts when you set the world in place. I know you see the beginning from the end and I trust You—it is just that the pain and the loss is so great.”
“Out of sheer desperation, I began to walk in constant prayer and as I did, God revealed Himself to me. His Word became alive and our relationship changed. Praying continually was no longer a chore; it was a privilege. Now, I pray continually, not out of obligation, but out of a desire to know my Father more and to participate in the fulfillment of His will on earth. He is my life coach and I need to be in constant contact with Him.”
Lord God, I need and want to be in constant contact with you. Please help me always remember this.