By Kristan Rojas
Mary Jane Milano has been holding this Ceremony of Remembrance for the past several years since suddenly losing her beloved son, Jeff. She plans this yearly observance in conjunction with the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting so that our loved ones who live far away can also honor our children by lighting a candle in their own homes. Over the years, she has asked Pat and I to assist her with this event and even more recently, she asked for me to share some words as a closing reflection. This is not an easy task for me, but I feel blessed and compelled to share some of my thoughts, in the hope that they may bring you a moment of peace somehow.
So, yesterday morning, I allowed myself to sit quietly in Josh’s room, which is now our foundation’s office, and just let the words come to me. Being this vulnerable is never easy, even after nearly 15 years without “my little man with a tan” as I liked to call him. But I trust Joshua to help Mom through it.
This year as I was sitting there, a phrase that I read over a month ago, kept coming back to me. Dr. Joanne Caccitore, from the MISS Foundation, posted a simple phrase that really resonated with me. She encapsulated nearly everything a grieving parent feels into just two words. She used the phrase “tragic privilege.”
I mean, think about it. Doesn’t that explain the contradictions that occur in our minds and hearts every moment of every day since we lost them? Aren’t our lives now a paradox? We have become a mixed-up muddle of emotions that range anywhere from peaceful thankfulness that they were here to raging anger that they are not.
First, let’s focus on the first word in her phrase. Tragic. Tragic is defined as “extreme distress or sorrow.” When our child dies we cannot see past the tragedy of it. The unanswered questions like “why him?”, “why me?”, “what did I miss?”, “how can I survive this?” keep running through out conscious mind like they are on a recording. Simple tasks seem insurmountable because of this devastation that has occurred to them, to us and to our families.
This lack of confidence, aimless searching and overwhelming anger and grief consumes us. We cannot see past this gut-wrenching loss. In our fog, we are not our best selves. But, forgive yourselves for this. You are traumatized. You will be in recovery from this trauma for the rest of your lives. Be gentle with yourselves when you stumble and keep revisiting this tragedy.
The last word in Dr. Caccitore’s phrase is etched on the other side of the coin we now hold. Privilege. Privilege is defined as “a special honor, right or advantage.”
Imagine if I wrote down the names of each of our children and then placed those beloved names into a hat. If I asked you to pick another child’s name, someone who is not your child, would you? Would you allow anyone else to belong to them? My prediction is “No, you would not.” You realize that you would not want anyone else to have the honor of being your child’s mother or father. You alone have this sacred privilege.
You alone have the reverent devotion for your cherished one. Whether your joy lasted moments, hours, months or years, you will forever remember the glory of it. A tragic end of a life cannot diminish the wonder of a life… the impact of a life… or the purpose of a life.
I believe that you will find that over the years, you will have countless hours focusing on the tragedy of your loss. Yet, in time, you will also have countless hours focusing on the privilege of belonging to your child.
This pendulum of emotions will devastate you, empower you, weaken you, fortify you and ultimately recreate you into a version of yourself you would never have reached without traveling this agonizing journey.
Over an indeterminable amount of time, once the initial stages of grief subside, it will now become a choice for you. A choice to spend most of your time fixating on the tragic part of this journey or allowing yourself to be captivated by the privilege of traveling it.