The lonely road

photo by  Xin Li

photo by Xin Li

Dear Friends and Family,

I initially wanted to direct this letter to the world in a general sense. From my experience, I can tell you that in all these years, I have received more encouragement, empathy and support from strangers than I have from you, those close to me. So today I want to start by telling you a story…

One day the young woman found herself standing in front of a secluded road. She stumbled across it on a regular day much like today. She didn't know how she'd gotten there, nor where it would lead her. She knew she had to take it so slowly, reluctantly she trod forward. The sky was a dull grey above her, the clouds thick, dark and heavy; as if ready to burst and engulf her at any moment.

She walked alone down that road, her coat wrapped smugly around her. Her ponytail came loose, causing strands of hair to whisk in front of her face. Her boot toes kicked the dry earth as she moved forward slowly. Suddenly, tears streamed down her cheeks. It could have been from the piercing wind that blew in her eyes, but somehow I knew those tears meant more. Seeing her that way made my heart feel heavy.

She looked up at the tall dark fir trees lining the road. So close together, too close, as if leaning on each other for sustenance. Their closeness almost mocked her as she made her way down the road—with no company, against the rampant winds, with a sky that threatened to deluge. The trees continued to sway, having their own deeply meaningful conversations oblivious to her presence.

Still, she moved forward, every step feeling so much heavier than the one she took before, every step into the unknown. There was no end to the walking. She walked until she stumbled, until sand covered her boots, until all she could see was a raging ocean before her. I watched her walk on until her feet drowned in the water, until she was covered up to her knees. I watched as the waves were too strong to hold her. The waves crashed and mounded into each other violently.

Only then did I understand that I couldn't save her. I was her.  

The rain came at me and I stood soaking in my shoes. Every so often, it washed away the tears as it streamed down my face. There were gut-wrenching cries, engulfed by the howling of the wind. The trees swayed violently, concealing my way. The darkness blinded me, surrounded me. I sent pleas for an end; I reached out for something, anything, to steady me. I was pushed and pulled in the inundation and often there was no hand to hold, what I would have given for a hand to hold.

Loneliness has a road of its own. This best illustrates my life after loss. This road is one I have been walking since that cold July day in 2013 when my daughter arrived and didn't. This is the road so many have taken, and more will unwillingly join us. The road stretched on even further this last year with the loss of both of my parents to illness. I know it well. I know every curve and bend in it. But knowing this road still fills me with a deep sadness: even after all this time, not much has changed. It’s still so incredibly lonely.

Shakespeare wrote in MacBeth: “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er fraught heart and bids it breaks." This is the basis of this letter to you and I hope, that by expressing this, you will come to acknowledge it, see it the way it really is.

I know this is not the picture you want to see. It is too dark and desolate. You want to see a blue sky, sun shining through the trees. You want to see me skipping along in a yellow sun dress, sand in my hair and a smile on my face, my complete and whole family meeting together on the beach for a picnic, flying multicolored kites and laughing.

But this isn't my reality. Death has been my reality. It came and it touched those I love. Death gathered them up and left, and I've been confused. There was no space for this sadness, for this real and tangible hurt. You must know that there will always be disparity in the perfect canvas of life. There will always be flaws. Life is not always rainbows and butterflies.

The sound of silence is deafening
Tears streaming down my face as I say goodbye
Goodbye again
then yet again.
The weight of the boxes and urns of ashes I have touched and carried
So heavy on my heart, so heavy on my soul
Those I love reduced to ashes and then
The emptiness of the days that follow.

I didn't need much from you. I simply needed you to walk beside me every now and then. I needed you to spare me a thought even if you didn't know what to say, even if you didn't entirely understand. All I needed was for you to simply acknowledge that my sadness is real, and that I have lost so very much.

I never doubted that the sun would shine again. It’s always there beyond the greyness of the clouds. But until then, I would have liked a gentle thoughtfulness. A recognition that my grief mattered, a thought for the loved ones I have said goodbye to, too soon. A visit on a death anniversary or on their birthdays. 

So today, I implore you: let no one else walk alone. Share the compassion you would like to receive. Share the kindness you would like to see. It is desperately needed by so many.

What would you have appreciated from friends and family after the loss of your child, in thought or deed? In what ways did they provide that and in what ways didn't they? How has your relationship with these people changed over time?