How do you let go when everything in your being, every cell in your body, has been wired to hold on? The loss of a child, no matter how old, is as bad as it gets. Losing people is the hardest thing we go through as human beings. It’s devastating when we’re lost from people we don’t know how to live without. It’s crushing, it’s hard to breathe. There’s a hole where a universe once existed. It seems impossible the world keeps spinning. Or that people everywhere are getting up and brushing their teeth or driving to work or sending a text as if everything hasn’t changed.
I want to say up front that some things are never going to be “okay”. There are some losses that are so great, you’re just going to carry them. That doesn’t mean that joy cannot exist again, or that you won’t experience great love, or be filled with gratitude for those moments that come out of nowhere and leave you with tears of appreciation. It’s incredible to be alive. It isn’t always easy, but it’s wildly interesting and life is full of the potential to surprise us and help us to grow and open. Of course there are some ways we’d rather not grow, and some lessons we’d rather not learn, but we don’t get to choose. When your heart breaks, it opens and softens and expands, or it hardens and contracts. I highly recommend you allow the pain to open you, but I do not believe you have to be thankful for the opportunity to grow in that way. Not everything in life has to go in the “thank you” column.
Sometimes we lose people because they choose to leave us. This kind of pain happens between parents and children, between siblings, between best friends. I think it’s incredibly sad when family members stop speaking to one another. I recognize sometimes that’s the only way to heal and move on. If there’s physical or verbal abuse, if there’s addiction, if there’s a personality disorder that renders a person unable to empathize or communicate with any kind of compassion, then you may not have a choice. Short of that, it breaks my heart when I hear about families ripped apart.
I met a woman at a holiday party one year, and we started talking. Before long, she’d told me she has two sons, but she’s only in contact with one of them, her youngest. He was also at the party. She said her other son had married a woman who just didn’t like her. From the beginning, no matter what she did, it was wrong, or not good enough, and her son was in the middle, and his wife got pregnant, and the longer they were together, the less he found ways to communicate. She’d tried apologizing to her son, and owning anything she could think of, she’d told him how much she missed him. She’d never met her grandchild. She said she had been a single mom, she’d raised the boys on her own. She certainly hadn’t been perfect, but she’d always done her best. Her younger son came over at one point. He put his arm around her, and kissed her on top of her head. When she went to get food, he told me his brother had married a very unhappy woman, and that he was sure his brother wasn’t happy with the situation, but he also told me his mother was one in a million. Always there for them. Working her ass off to make sure they always had what they needed, and most of what they wanted, and that he was furious his brother was treating her so poorly. So it had taken a tremendous toll on their relationship as well. He’d asked his brother what their mother had possibly done to be in a situation where she doesn’t even get to meet her grandchild? And his brother’s response was to shut down their relationship as well.
What do you do in a mess like that? It’s heartbreaking. You cannot force people to communicate or be rational or kind or compassionate. They are those things, or they are not. Sometimes people are weak, or they’re insecure, or they doubt their worth on a core level, and then they get involved with a strong personality who takes over. Controlling people are attracted to fragile people. I don’t know enough about the woman and her sons to have any real sense of what was going on there, but you have a grown man who was abandoned by his father as a small child, and maybe some part of him has always felt doubtful about his worth. If your own parent can leave you, you must be pretty unlovable, right? Like I said, I can’t swear that was this guy’s thing, but I’ve heard from so many people over the years, and I can tell you from my own personal experience, if you don’t heal your deep wounds, they bite you in the ass again and again. They break your heart until you can’t see straight, and you become so lost to yourself, it’s easier to let other people make decisions for you. Tell you where to go and how to be, and how to think, and who to see. I mean, that isn’t a life, that’s a fog, but a lot of people exist that way, and you can’t march into the center of that fog and wake them up. They do that on their own, or they don’t.
It hurts like hell when someone revises history and turns you into a person you don’t recognize. It’s even worse when your own child does that. The person you bathed and fed and strapped into car seats. The person who’s lunch you made and breakfast and dinner, too, for years and years and years. The person who’s hand you held, and knees you bandaged and face you gazed into and saw the moon and the stars and the sun, all at once. The little person you read to and laughed with and fought for and sat up with through sickness and heartbreak and mean kids at school. Of course it hurts to have that person discard you. Deny you. Reject you. And it isn’t easy to go through the day and know that person is going about his business. That you could pick up the phone and hear his voice, or get in your car and see his face. Except you can’t, because you’ve been invited to disappear.
All you can do is communicate your love, your pain, your confusion, and your desire for connection. Once you’re sure you’ve done that, I think you have to do your best to let go with love. Hopefully, your child will find his or her way back to you. Hopefully, eventually, the fog will lift. The pain of being in a false reality will outweigh the pain of healing and making things right. Until then, you have to do your best to remember who you are, to forgive yourself your imperfections, because we all have them, and not one of us gets it right in every moment. You have to do what you can to remove the onus of guilt and blame if they don’t belong to you. That woman at the party told me she must have failed as a mother, to have a son who could do this, but I don’t agree. Maybe he needed help. Maybe he was in more pain than she knew or understood. Maybe she was so stressed out trying to make ends meet for herself and two boys, she missed some signs. Being exiled is a harsh punishment. After twenty-five, we are responsible for how we behave and what we do, and I’m being generous. Really, twenty-five is old enough to know how to treat people. It’s old enough to get help with your healing process. It’s old enough to recognize that you need help. It’s old enough to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse that no one comes between you and the people you love, and this guy was way over twenty-five.
Blaming and shaming and pointing fingers is a sad way to go through life. Being so unsure of your worth that you allow someone else to dictate the terms of your day and your relationships is a prison sentence. Having your heart broken by one of the two people you treasure most in the world is incredibly sad, but these things happen. All you can do is try your best to build joy around the fracture. The fault line is there, there’s no denying it, but doing your best to be kind to yourself, to gravitate toward love, to reassure yourself of reality when you need to, these are all things you can do. If the situation permits, maybe every so often you reach out. You stick with the through line of love, and leave it at that. You take your life day by day, which is all any of us can do, anyway, and you figure out what you can do to nurture yourself on this day. What you can do to uplift the people around you. What you can do that will bring you joy and peace and fulfillment, and you carve out some time for those things. Talking to people really helps. Sharing your story, finding support, being with people who know how to hold a space for your grief without trying to make it better, those things are all helpful. Hopefully one day your child or your parent or your sibling will realize life is short and time is precious. Holding on to rage when you could be opening to love is a poor choice.
Sending you strength, and wishing you peace,