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Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Grief and meaning

Riley's death took eleven years, but we saw it and feared it and anticipated it from the moment he was diagnosed as a newborn. His eighth anniversary is October 20, and in trying to understand the passage of eight years without him, I had a thought the other night when I was driving. I wondered if all the joy Riley felt in life – despite multiple heart surgeries and long hospitalizations – was his attempt to teach me. Perhaps he was showing me that if he could feel joy despite what he'd been through, then perhaps I could eventually feel joy despite what happened to him.

The idea that I could live a joyful life feels improbable, even though if you spend time with me, I will let my guard down from time to time and smile with my children or my husband or a friend. People have often told me that Riley would want me to be happy. There have been times when I”ve wanted to punch those people in the face. How could they possibly know what Riley wants? I now realize that those kinds of comments are that person wanting me to be happier because it will make my grief easier for them. You can’t move someone along in grief. Everything in grief has to be innate. You cannot make someone feel something other than what they are feeling. So maybe Riley would want me to be happy, and maybe he would like that I’m still so broken all these years later. Maybe he would find my brokenness refreshing in a world desperate for Hollywood endings.

So my thought is a work in progress. It just seems messed up that the 11-year-old boy would need to be the teacher. And because humans are meaning-makers, I’ve been trying to make my thought mean something. But it's equally possible that it means nothing. Our therapist said time and again that our minds are full of thoughts, many of which are not true. This might be one of those examples. Riley’s life and death wasn’t a lesson, even though I went to a "healer" at one point who told me that Riley and I made an agreement to have this life experience together. She also told me that his final surgery failed because there was nothing else for him to learn from this life. 

So for now, I'll think of his laugh and his loud voice, his love of garlic and Tabasco, his floppy hair, his love of baseball and reading and maps. I will think about how he hummed while doing his math homework and how he really wanted to learn to play the viola when he came home from the hospital. I will also think of how it will start raining soon and everything will turn green. And I will think about how he would love that. The rest of it, I'll just keep thinking about. 

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