“I’d kill the bastard, if it was one of my kids.” I’ve heard that so many times over the past few years since my son was stabbed through the brain. I can understand it; that is precisely what I would have thought too, until it happened to one of my kids, and yet, oddly enough, that thought never entered my mind. “You’re in denial,” “It’s just the shock,” “Wait till the anger sets in…” These were a litany of comments I became used to hearing until it became, “It isn’t normal not to be angry.”
Well, normality is overrated. The truth is that when something like this happens you react to the events in your own individual way… and that may be utterly and completely different from anything you might have ever imagined.
For me, the truth seemed to be that I was too busy dealing with what was to waste energy on extraneous speculation. Of course the five stages of grief come into play, they always do on some level. But they may not be what you expect. Denial lasted the length of that initial call from the hospital. Not even that. The bargaining stage was simply a case of ‘whatever it takes’. Depression … the unexpected onset of PTSD qualifies there, and all the practical things that such drastically changed circumstances are bound to impose took their toll. Acceptance had to come fairly fast. There was, after all, little choice in that.
The anger I reserved for a system that can only provide based on averages and probabilities and cannot take into account the individual, thus writing them off… and for a system that leaves the disabled and their carers with so little on so many levels. There I could rant to some purpose. But anger at the perpetrator of all this? No. To be honest, I gave him little thought and my heart went out to his mother. I knew nothing about her or their family, but I could feel for her.
The instruments of such major, life changing events come in many forms and may serve a greater purpose than is seen on the surface. The things they may have to teach us may not make themselves felt for years… again, we simply do not know. To feel anger at the instrument, who would undoubtedly have his own path to walk, burdened, consciously or not, by his actions, seemed fruitless. I knew though that the Law cannot administer anything but the Law and justice is not served in the courts; life itself does that. I also knew that although I could have wished it to come in almost any other way, we had an opportunity gifted to us from which we could each of us learn and, hopefully, grow.
There is no way of knowing what causes these events to happen. What may appear to be a tragedy may bring the greatest gifts and the deepest joy and opens many opportunities for learning. My sons have learned and grown and I am prouder of them than I could ever say for what they have achieved within the quiet confines of their own hearts and minds. The things they have faced and dealt with are not always what you might imagine. You can fantasise about your worst nightmares till the cows come home, but it is not until something actually happens that you can ever know how you will handle it, or what you will need to do in order to survive the crisis.
“Mum pulls plug on son; then he wakes up”… totally inaccurate, of course, but you can imagine the damage that kind of thing could have done. Let alone how that snap, judgemental headline made me feel when we were fighting for my son’s life. I didn’t even know we had been international news until someone told me. You don’t even consider that could happen to you and your family. That was something borne in upon me early on… you are, when in the grip of these extreme life events, in completely unfamiliar territory and the normal structures of reaction no longer serve. There is no frame of reference and you may not act in any of the ways you might have imagined. We have all seen the news items where people are screaming and wailing, or preternaturally calm and collected under the weight of incredible grief… and many of us may have thought, I couldn’t/wouldn’t behave like that under those circumstances. Well, you’re wrong… you could… you might. Or you might not. You just do not know. You cannot know until those events hit your own life.
And they do. Extreme events happen to everyone, grief touches every life. Loss, depression, fear… they come in many guises and you may think that to others they will look like piddling little worries… especially if they have come through ‘much worse’ and are still standing and the contrast of your seemingly small woes is stark against the more obvious tragedies. We had that a lot…people held back, felt guilty for telling us their troubles, as if their emotions were of less value than ours simply because the events that caused them were seen to be less shocking. “It’s nothing compared to…” broke my heart.
The thing is, I don’t think grief has a measure. Nor does fear. The emotions themselves bear little relation to the cause when they have you by the throat. Terror is terror, regardless of the origin, one grief cannot be compared to another no matter what its apparent origin, for to the person caught in the miasma of tears and overwhelmed by fear, the feeling is the same.
“How much does it hurt on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the worst pain you can imagine?” They ask you in hospital. If you tell them it is a ten, they do not laugh and say it isn’t possible, because you have ‘only’ broken a leg. They accept that the individual’s tolerance and reaction to pain is different… and a ten is a ten regardless of the injury.
The pain we feel within is even harder to quantify; and there is no anaesthesia for the heart. We can never judge the pain of another, or how they react to it, not even if we have suffered exactly the same event, because we are each of us unique, our circumstances are as different as our characters and formed by an unrepeatable life. All we can do is hold out a hand, open our own hearts, and say with a little compassion, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’