Eight years ago on this day, the 27th of May, my son died. Thus, began for us who loved him, and love him still, a journey of mourning and grief from which I sometimes feel there is no way back. In a sense, this is true. Having walked through the valley of death, by way of lamentations for those we lost, we can never return. At least not as we once were.
For one thing, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis in his classic “A Grief Observed”, some aspects of my fatherhood must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will I have my son on my knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see my grandchild.
Or get a haircut together. And share some burger and fries after. Which we used to do on a regular basis, just the two of us.
Still, I cling to memories and mementos of our time together, specially books, which he loved. It gave me indescribable pleasure to read to him, most often in bed just before sleeping. A particular favorite, “The Sailor Dog”, about a dog that always wanted to go to sea and realizes his dream, has pride of place in my bookshelf.
He would have been fourteen now, going on fifteen. Try as I might, I have trouble envisioning him as a young teenager. In my unimaginative mind, he will always be six going on seven.
For now, my own words fail me and I have to borrow that of Gordon Livingston, a bereaved father who lost a son the same age as Lui:
Parents who have lost a child speak of the “zero point”. Our lives are divided into the time before and the time after our children died. No event — no graduation, no marriage, no other death — so defines us. At one moment I was one person, then, suddenly, I was someone else. The task we face is to create with our new selves something that, in some measure redeems our suffering. We plant gardens, establish memorials, cherish our children’s memories and help those who must struggle, as did we, with despair. We read stories of other parents bereft; sometime we reach out to them with our experience of bearing the unbearable.
We see, always with longing, children who remind us of what our child was or would be now.
My view of death has changed. I fear it more for those I love but less for myself. I have the curious confidence of one to whom the worst has happened.
We have been humbled but not broken. If it is true that our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses, then it perhaps follows that these terrible losses can ultimately ennoble us — if we can persevere through our pain to cherish what remains.
And so, as I contemplate the western horizon of my life, I think of my son with exquisite sadness and profound gratitude. He evoked in me a capacity for love I did not know I had. Those feelings did not die with him, nor will they, I pray, die with me.