Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is There Really Overcoming Grief?

To be honest when it comes to the grief of losing a child there is no getting over it.  It’s a misperception in reality.  It is moving through it.  Imagine being immersed in a giant bubble.  The more you push against it, the more resistant it is to breaking through.  The bubble is a part of you – a manifestation of sadness, loss, anger, and questioning faith – at least in my case.  Every one grieves differently.  Still, getting over the grief? No, I’m sorry and other grieving parents can agree.  I learned, as a human being, to assess, adapt, and overcome.  I may still be a prisoner to my grief, but I have learned to move forward, walk, talk, and BREATHE.  It’s still a barrier from some human comforts.  It distances me from others…some by their choice because they are uncomfortable around me.  Their loss, not mine – I know I have changed.

My son Tim was killed nearly a year ago, I can still see his body on the hospital gurney.  Lifeless, warm and cooling, the blood pooling on the floor as it dripped from the gurney; the nurse tried her best to block it from my view.  I do love her for that.  She held me up, she cried with me…she cried for me; she cried for Tim. 

I go to counseling to learn how to deal with the emotional skein that has been woven over the past eleven months.  I occasionally visit my parish priest for a little spiritual guidance. I write to express my love of my son.  Still there is no overcoming grief.  I have learned that I need to master my grief and not allow it to master me.  It took time to be aware of how it was attempting to take over and replace me like a hellish version of The Body Snatchers.

I fell into this Wonderland…no a new unknown circle of Hell that Dante never considered.  It’s a Hell that I as a parent question everything I have done up to the very moment I told my son was dead.  I question did I piss off God?  Did I offend God so much that he took my son?  But that opens up the subject of the well meaning condolences that do nothing except make me want to scream “What a stupid remark!  Hey God, are you listening?  Take this person before they pollute the gene pool further!”

"It was God’s plan."  Really, I don’t recall anything in the scriptures saying God works on a plan for children to die and rejoice with the choirs of cherubs and hierarchy of angels.  I am pretty sure He doesn’t call down to Saint Peter saying “Hey Pete, I got another one coming!”

"It was Tim’s time."  Really?  Was my son born with an expiration date?  No.

"You have other children."  I know this.  But you see my best one was killed, so I am giving up on the others because I just don’t see the point.  I am right now in Zombie mode - and I have totally forgotten that I have other children.

"I don’t think he suffered."  My son’s death certificate reads Cause of Death: Blunt Force Trauma.  He may have been unconscious and dying when he was laying on the asphalt while two teachers administered CPR and a priest administered Last Rites; but I am pretty sure he still felt pain.  I am very sure he fought to stay alive.

Still some time has passed.  Some healing has begun.  What gives me the strength to carry on is knowing that I must.  Where did that strength came from?  Was it some hidden reserve buried deep in my psyche?  To be honest it came from the kids that Tim went to school with at Archbishop Ryan.  It came from strangers wanting nothing in return offering their friendship…yes they are rare, but they do exist.  It came from my brother and sister cops that stood by me and supported me as I buried my son.  It came from people that have been my family, not just blood relations but those that share going through other losses and life changes.

Still there is no overcoming loss.  There is no happy ending.  There is no real peace.  Its nights spent curled up on the sofa in the late hours feeling the hot sting of tears because the house is too quiet.  It’s the time when the memories put to the back of the mind for the day scream to be released like the demons in Pandora’s Box.  It’s going to the toy store and seeing something my Tim would like and having to put it down because I realize it’s a reflex of love wanting to bring him a present.  It’s driving down the highway listening to the radio and the DJ spins Tim’s favorite song and I choke on the phlegm trying to sing the words to American Pie.

All I can honestly say is there are moments of solace.  Recently the kids at the school organized a wiffle ball tournament to raise money for the scholarship in Tim’s name.  The school will be helping us memorialize Tim by planting a tree on the campus.  A few months ago the school added Tim’s name to a wall of those alumni lost to the Grim Reaper.  To these kids, I say find your own second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning.  Don’t lose sight of how you are inside, and never let anyone deter you from your dreams. 

I may show a strong face when necessary.  I may show a happy face during events.  However, in all honesty, my heart is shattered.  The repair is slow and will not be complete ever.  All I have done is compensate, not overcome.  I am still enveloped in this bubble of grief.  I have only learned to not let it hold me back from needing to live. 

I hold Jared Leto’s words to my heart:

I will live my life, I will never regret.  
I will live my life, I will never forget.

Butterflies, Dried Flowers, and Candles

The Memorial on May 18, 2011
On June 16, 2011, Friday, Archbishop Ryan High School had its transition Mass for the Freshman becoming Sophomores when school would resume in September.  I appreciated being invited to attend with Gi and the girls.  It was nearly a month since Tim was killed; nearly a month since the funeral?

Was it really a month?

I didn't know where the time went.

Where did it go? 

Grief alters the perception of time, I was told.  I had no idea.  Time moved so much faster.  It was if Einstein and Hawking found that quantifying short cut to bridge the continuum.

After the Mass, Alaina and Charlotte came outside with me.  I was speaking to Tom Emore, Tim's English teacher.  We were talking about how I was coping and how the kids in Tim's class were managing, as well as how Gi and the girls were managing.  Alaina began to giggle and Charlotte gave a shriek of joy as they chased two little yellow-cream colored butterflies. Butterflies are supposed to be a sign that the departed are near in spirit. 

Tom said to me that despite Tim's dream of being a writer, artist, and film director; he felt Tim would be an investigator or scientist.  Tom noted that Tim would think in many different directions of how something - anything- was related.  Tim, at times, seemed light years ahead of his class-mates.  He understood how things worked.  I marveled how well this teacher took the time to know my son as his student - and it wasn't just my son that Tom knew, he knew everyone of his students.  He interacted with them.  There were some afternoons Tim and a few other students hung out in Mr. Emore’s classroom.  They played with the newly acquired Smart Board, finding out its secrets, breaking the boundaries where the student becomes the teacher as Tim and the other kids taught how to use the technology.

Oh how I hoped that Tim was near.  How much I hoped that he felt our presence and came home with us.  How much I hoped the same thing during the previous four weeks since he was killed.  Nearly everyday since Timmy during those four weeks I had gone to the gates at Ryan Drive (North) and marveled how the memorial grew.  It started that Tuesday night on May 17 with the vigil.  At first candles in paper cups, a few rosaries, posters, cards then the American Flag. 

Some days I stood for an hour – sometimes longer, leaning against the pole that held the School one 15 MPH lights and sign.  There were times a kid would walk past the memorial during the month since Tim's death.  Of the times I witnessed every kid that walked by blessed him or her-self in the form of the Cross.  There were a few that walked and stopped out of reverence.  Not once was there any disrespect.

I knew in the distance some of the kids from the school stood off to the side.  Perhaps respect, maybe hesitation out of fear of upsetting me.  Some nearly inaudible whispers "That's Timmy's dad." 

The memorial assembled mostly by the students was made up from fresh and dried flowers, a yellow shirt from the Freshman color games, candles, an American Flag, a lawn figure of a little boy in a police uniform and the weather worn and tattered remnants of photo tri-fold and Funeral cards held down to the sidewalk by melted wax.  Home made signs with Tim's name and messages of love - a few sporting Spider-Man either hand drawn or stickers were between the bars of the iron fence at the front of the school.  In the distance the fence to the athletic field were Tim's initials, TC, in red and black tape; the girls from the Ryan Softball Team dedicated the remainder of their season to Tim – each team uniform of the softball team sported TC as well.  One thing that stood out the most to me was a solitary candle with a rose on the opposite side of the gate.  What it said to me was Tim was special to someone.

On some of the days I visited the memorial, I picked up broken glass.  The heat from the candles shattered the jars they were contained.  I wanted to keep it neat and respectful and I knew I wasn’t the only one keeping that in mind.  One day a woman stopped with her own candle.  It resembled a light house.  She carefully picked up the shards of glass and deposited into a plastic bag.  She looked at me and said “I just hope that no one is kicking the candles and breaking the glass.  This poor young man.  Can you imagine the pain his family must be going through.”

I only explained it was the heat from the candles that shattered the glass.  One of the girls that was in a class with Timmy came up and said “Hello, Mister Connors.”  She gave me a daughterly hug.  “My mom is over there,” she said nodding her head to the parking lot.  “She wanted me to come over and make sure you’re okay.”

I smiled.  “Yes sweetness, I am.  Tell your mom thank you.”

Before leaving the school after the Mass, as the kids were looking forward to days at the beach, vacation spots with their families, or a taste of the working life, we were presented with a box that contained everything from the memorial except the policeman lawn figure.  I figured it meant something to someone…it wasn’t mine to object.  I had to realize I was sharing grief wither I wanted to or not.  He was my son, but he was someone to other people as well.