black and white tree

It’s the neverness that is so painful. Never again to be here with us – never to sit with us at the table…. All the rest of our lives we must live without him. Only our death can stop the pain of his death.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son


The last time I saw my son Kai alive, he was smiling and laughing and playing with his friends next door in the back of their family’s pickup truck. My last words to him were, “Kai, be careful! I don’t want to have to take you to the hospital!” Nothing could have prepared me for the events that unfolded that afternoon, which culminated in me leaving the hospital without him, permanently.

We all know cognitively that life – our own as well as the lives of the ones we love – can end at any moment. None of us are guaranteed even the next moment on earth. But in order to protect our sanity, we live as though this is not true. How then do we live when this brutal truth visits its horror upon us?

I remember the first days and weeks, when I would wake up in the morning from a night of fitful sleep. Panic is the word that comes to mind, but this word really does not suffice.   I have not yet found a word that conveys how it feels to wake up and have it wash over you that your child has died. I simply could not comprehend how my son was alive one minute and dead a few minutes later and there was not one thing I could ever do to change this.   Since I could not change it, I would have no choice but to live the rest of my life without him. I would never see him alive again in this life, and that could potentially be a very long time. Even in the haze of shock, the thought left me trembling. My body shook uncontrollably and I would bite little pieces off the tranquilizer pills prescribed to me by the ER physician until the shaking subsided for a few hours.

Although those initial feelings of panic and absolute unmitigated shock and horror have softened to the point that I do not have to medicate them away, what has not softened is the pain of the knowledge that Kai is really, truly gone from this world. Several people have described to me how they felt or still feel their loved one’s spirit around them. I have never felt that. Although several things have happened that I think of as signs or gifts from Kai, I have never felt his spirit around me. He is truly gone, all of him. This is one of the most mind-altering parts of coping with his death. One minute my whole life revolved around him, and the next minute, it didn’t. And it never would again. Kai was such a vibrant and energetic child and we interacted constantly.   Then in a moment, there were no more words, no more hugs, no more kisses. There would be no more anything, ever.

If I had to distill my grief down to one element, it would be this: the permanence of the absence. Almost any situation in life is bearable if one has the hope of it ending. This situation will only end when my life ends. When the pain of this reality becomes almost too much to bear, I remind myself of the nature of time. Just as I cannot rewind the clock back to 4 PM on Saturday, February 16, 2013, I cannot change the hands of time now nor in the future. Time is on my side; it is my friend.  Time brings me closer to my son every day, and one day it will bring us together again.

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