Sometimes it is the everyday small moments that throw you back into the depths of grief.
Sometimes it is the huge moments – those milestones that have significance beyond the day.
Last weekend marked such a milestone: our younger son Nik’s graduation from Tufts. With a B.A. in Sociology and Environmental Science. Summa cum laude – with highest distinction. Despite everything he went through – losing one of his moms to cancer and part of his other mom (me) to grief – he more than persisted. He excelled. The strength and tenacity he has demonstrated is mind-blowing. I don’t understand how he has done it all.
On Saturday he and his roommates organized a lunch for all of their families attending graduation. What a wonderful idea. Inspired by what they had done at his Sociology department luncheon, I asked all of the graduates – our “children” who we were celebrating that weekend – to take a moment to stand up and share with the group what they cherished the most about their four years at Tufts, to give a shout-out to whoever they wished to give it to, and to talk about what they would do next. As each of these young people got up, it became one of those meaningful moments that I’m sure no one attending will ever forget. Inviting all of us to connect in this way, maybe my precious unplanned gift.
Each of them speaking with such appreciation, love, and caring. What one of Nik’s friends said will forever stay with me: “Dom, you are the kindest person I’ve ever met. You literally have the soul of an angel and I don’t know how you ended up here on earth.”
An angel – yes, that’s what he is.
Amidst his own deep, deep grief, he extended love and care to so many others. And he literally kept me alive through these horrible past 17 months by taking care of me in so many ways.
Yesterday he said to me on the phone: Mom, I’m so glad you were there this weekend. And I replied: Of course, I was. Then this morning it hit me what he truly meant. I was there because I was still alive. Not dead. And there were long stretches of time since Wen died when no one, including he, knew if I would survive THIS – life without her.
People say, of course, you will survive THIS – grief, anguish, despair, pain, loneliness…But the truth is there is no ‘of course’. Some people die when their soulmate dies. There is the ‘broken heart syndrome’. There is no ‘of course when at times every minute becomes a matter of survival, of trying desperately to somehow just get through.
Holding on to this milestone, Nik’s graduation, has been a matter of survival. I made it there. 17 months. I’m still here when often I honestly didn’t believe I would. I held it together – mostly – during the weekend. For him. Our son.
And I more than wish Wen could have been there with us. Not just in spirit. Not just in our hearts and being on our minds. Nik would have deserved that. He was cheated out of that. Celebrating him without Wen – was – what? – hard (no, harder than hard), heart-breaking (yes, but more…), a maelstrom of so many different emotions.
I am beyond proud of him. I felt excited for him for reaching this important milestone and opening the next chapter in the book of his life. I was able to celebrate him and his accomplishments. And, yet, I couldn’t feel – joy and happiness.
Joy and happiness have left me. They went into hiding the day Wen was diagnosed with cancer. They went away, disappeared, nowhere to be found the day Wen died. I am trying to find them. Joy and happiness. And I can’t. I just can’t. Even for a milestone event such as Nik’s graduation, I couldn’t find them.
It’s a horrible feeling to have lost joy and happiness.
And this is what happens when you grieve so deeply – this deep, deep sorrow/sadness never truly leaves you and all you can do is hold it at the same time as you are celebrating a milestone.
But I wonder. And I doubt. Will I ever find them again? Joy and happiness. I don’t know. I really don’t.