In 1991, I was sitting in my wheelchair in a large conference room with about 60 other bereaved parents. It was my third time to attend this support group. The format was always the same – the director would begin by telling the story of how her child died, then we’d go around the room clockwise, each parent telling their sad story. Two rules: no interruptions and no questions. I was wondering when we were going to get to the part where we start to figure out how to feel better. I was already tired of telling the story of how my children died in a car accident.
I was getting to know some of the other parents. The director told me she had three estranged grown daughters and an ex-husband. She’d never been allowed to meet her grandchildren! Yet this woman I thought of as a paragon gave her every waking moment to our support group. It was time to begin the meeting…
She sat down and as usual, she began telling the story of her disturbed adopted son “Little Billy” who, at age nine, put a bag of natural gas over his head and willfully committed suicide! It was heart-rending, to be sure. But this time as she told it, she was sobbing and nearly incoherent. I thought perhaps he’d just died and I’d misunderstood. Or maybe it was his birthday or the anniversary of his death. I could understand that.
But something inside me clicked and I broke the rules.
In the middle of her weeping, head in hands, I interrupted! I had to know. I said, “How long ago did Little Billy die?”
She looked up at me in shock. No one ever broke the rules.
She took a deep breath and wailed, “Twenty-six years agoooooo!”
In that instant, I saw my future if I continued to “wear” the deaths of my children like some sort of sad badge of honor! Twenty-six years?! No way was I going to let myself be in such pain 26 years from now! Right then and there, I wheeled myself out of that meeting and never returned.
Waiting for my husband to come pick me up, I vowed that I would do whatever it took to find a way to survive all that had happened to me. There was NO WAY I was going to let anything ruin the rest of my life, all my important relationships, and my sense of peace forever. Suffering is NOT a favor we do for the dead.
In her own unexpected way, that forlorn support group director gave me the greatest gift, the greatest inspiration, the greatest wisdom: You have to CHOOSE to feel better, move on, let it go…or it just won’t happen.
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