For those of us with children, it is the worst nightmare imaginable; our beloved and beautiful child is here one day, and gone the next. His room stands as a silent memorial to his dynamic life. His absence is palpable, and for the parents, getting through one minute of the day is an achievement.
This couple understands the soul-making nature of the Universe - that life is not always easy or filled with simple spiritual clichés, or five steps to a happy solution. They understand that in some odd and horrifically magical way, even the depths of grief and loss are part of this poem we call life – that it can expand one’s experience of soul into realms not possible through pleasure and gain.
They told me that some people try to cheer them up, that these positive folks feel very uncomfortable around pain and grief. That is our culture – we medicate, meditate, mediate and do everything we can to avoid pain and emotional conflict. We numb or ‘cure’ suffering, see it as the enemy with nothing of value.
Jill has carried on email correspondences with various friends and relatives. Many of these supporters lovingly try to cheer her up, to pull her out of the grief. However, an aunt who understands that a full life includes the hard stuff as well as the easy stuff wrote Jill and Matt the following email:
I have decided that I like the rain. I like it when it's cold and dark. I like seeing my own blood and thrill at the sting of nettles. I like being hot or cold and wet or hungry.....or mad or happy. I like feeling everything right now..... It makes me feel real....maybe before, I was "velveteen." Loosing sight of Luke this winter has given me an acute sense of self in this plane of existence. I am here to feel and think and do things and experience a lot and when I die I will know a lot more and I think.....be amazed. You are always in my head and heart....I like you there.....It makes me feel I can keep you safe........I love you too................................aunt Paula
Jill wrote this in reply:
It was so good to read your e-mail. The LIFE in your words was true and vibrant. It spoke perfectly to where I am today: This morning, while I was playing basketball with Tommy in the back yard, a neighbor came by and tried to talk us into "being happy" and "start living". This urge toward happiness is a not-so-rare request we get from people. I told them that we are living bigger than anyone I know and probably bigger than anyone who we know will EVER get to live. I told him that happiness is just one part of life, and if we deny ourselves the feelings of this overwhelming grief and bereavement, we miss out on a lot of life. Life is WAY more than joy. I will not dishonor the enormous presence that Luke embodied by "getting over it", "moving on", or "focusing on the positive". Most people out there are so fearful of the effects of this tragedy, they spend a lot of time wishing it away with distractions masked as "happiness". We are living more now than I've ever lived. These days, I can account for every moment. Now, every second has a purpose. Life is intense now. Life is raw. I feel like I GET it. And although this kind of living does have clarity, I would trade it ALL for Luke. It's certainly not worth it. I'd live that dull, pursuit-of-happiness, running-from-pain life if I could have my child back. But since I don't get that, I chose to experience this suffering. Right now, THAT'S where I feel Luke. My worst moments now are when I'm numb and "looking okay". In my sadness and longing for Luke is where I feel him and where life is. The biggest support we receive is in those who can experience this loss too. The only strength I see is in those who don't run away from this tragedy, but in those who feel it personally. There is no room in my world for fear-filled people who can do nothing but attempt to distract us with trivialities, "have a nice day" balloons, or reminders of how blessed we are to have two healthy boys and some sunny weather over the weekend. This void will not disappear by running from it. On the contrary, it will devour us if we don't face it head on and even embrace it.
Jill then wrote this email to me:
Michael, I remember our talk about "too much light" and "joy, joy, joy". It's true. Some people need that, but the mistake is in thinking that "joy" is on one end of the spectrum and "sorrow" and "suffering" are on the other. The way it really works is not like this:
but like this:
And the truth is, if one can accept deep sorrow for as long as it lasts, even if it's forever (as in our case) one might be able to experience deep joy too. And if not, well, as I said before, there's more to life than joy.
There is little more to add. This is from someone in the midst of the stuff most humans dread. She is not writing from some academic chair or spiritual class at church, but from the midst of Job’s whirlwind. In my opinion, her words apply to what happened at the Virginia Tech and all around the world everyday. If we could reverse these horrific tragedies, we would. But as Jill so wisely wrote,
“But since I don't get that, I chose to experience this suffering. Right now, THAT'S where I feel Luke. My worst moments now are when I'm numb and "looking okay". In my sadness and longing for Luke is where I feel him and where life is.”