LIVING IN THE GAP- Insight on the disconnect grieving parents feel interpersonally and spiritually in the unrecognizable world they live in.
I remember scuba diving years ago and being very deep. We were in the Caymens and exploring farther out and deeper down. It was glorious and exhilarating! A stunning new world we were discovering together. We were exploring down the side of an underwater cliff when the sea floor seemed to disappear beneath us. We had reached a fissure so deep and so wide the bottom was undetectable-miles and miles down. My earth-dwelling instincts made my heart start, feeling like I would “fall” into the center of the earth.
Except I didn’t fall. I floated above it, my scuba gear holding me perfectly over this wonder, able to peer down for miles from the relative safety of above. The feeling was other-worldly. Floating over this great abyss in this underwater world, uninhabitable by humans.
An observer without really being a part.
Our World, But Not Our World
I’ve found that living with the death of a child is not unlike this. Our new existence much like hovering in a gap between what was beautiful, familiar and unmoving and the abyss of what is harsh, unfamiliar and unpredictable. Other-worldly.
A life, the complexity of which most cannot understand.
Observers without being a part.
I know my world is territory that physically looks and smells like my world, but should be uninhabitable by humans. There is nothing more unnatural or altering to the human spirit as the out-of-order death and burying of a child. I struggle to put words to this experience for myself and others like me, but in essence, we never have the ordinary pleasure of waking up feeling whole and unbroken. Everything about our life feels wrong, IS wrong, and there is no breathing tank to fill our struggling lungs with oxygen.
The disparity which exists between our reality and the rest of the world is one of the greatest gaps we have to live in. On one side of this chasm is normalcy- intact lives and families, including the people we love. They are the same. On the other side of the chasm is us and we are not the same. The person they knew us to be just isn’t there anymore. Merely a remnant remains, a small piece of our former selves to mask the new, post-traumatic, child-loss version of us. We become experts at wearing our likeness because it’s what helps us span the gap, to fit back in and seem like all is well.
The Interpersonal Gap
The more I’ve entered back into “real life”, the more I have become aware of this detachment or distancing from the world. I hear it in what others say as well, sensing a widening divide between who we know ourselves to be and how others view us. A relational gap. Always the outsider to others “good life” when everything in ours feels achingly disfigured. Bereaved parents miss our old selves and our old lives so terribly and why wouldn’t we? Our child was here with us in our old life. That UNbrokenness brought balance and stability and we feel nothing of that anymore, despite how we appear.
Living in the gap is nearly inescapable. I don’t think people, especially Mothers, would gravitate to others and groups whose members share this world if it weren’t. We need others who understand, who live it, who know we aren’t crazy and speak our language.
You see, the pain of child-loss is an entirely hidden disability. Nobody can see us bleed, yet we do so in a steady, uncompromising seep. Sometimes, like during the holidays, it’s a hemorrhage that weakens and drains us of life and energy. Maybe things would be different if our wounds were visible, if our pain could take shape around our being, if we didn’t try so damn hard not to show it. Maybe people would be less likely to say hurtful things? Less likely to walk out of our life? Maybe the hollow holidays and special occasions of heightened sorrow would be met with more words or gestures of comfort and remembrance of our child rather than silence and indifference?
Life is so full and busy, people are swept up in their own thing, it’s easy to overlook something you can’t see or touch. I get it. It takes special people to walk along and continue to acknowledge your child and your pain and endure the continued hardships with you. Very few will wade into the gap and sit with us in this upside down world. It can be ugly and tiring. The thing myself and others have learned, is that those special ones are never the ones you thought they would be. People you assumed would be your rock and your shoulder are sometimes the first to go or to turn away for good while many near strangers step in and hold you up from near or far for the duration.
The ones who do brave the long-haul with you and speak of and remember your child are rare blessings who help keep us together. They’ve realized there is no healing for child loss here. They know all it takes is a word, or a lighted candle in their name to make us feel held and comforted. They have no expectations of us being anything other than who we now are. Thank God for those few.
We live on our side of the divide, while peering longingly across to where most everyone else lives.
Observers but not a part of that world anymore.
The Spiritual Gap
For believers, the most profound invisibility is our transformed heart and the eternal hope that rests within it. We understand and savour things in life those who have not lost children can never experience. Even so, knowing where our eternity lies, we ache for what’s beyond. Our hearts become restless, wanting to be here, yet desperately longing for home. Here, but homesick for the comfort and security that comes with our family being whole again. It’s this unique yearning that creates a spiritual gap between our temporary and eternal worlds.
For believers in Jesus Christ and our promise of eternity, we take every breath holding fiercely to our loved ones here while continuing to keep our gaze heaven-ward towards our eternal home ahead.
Until our spirits depart, we wait in the most significant gap of all, the one which spans our heavenly home from our earthly one. Straddling two worlds. The great divide that distances us from this temporary dwelling and our eternal one.
Beyond the veil where our child resides.
And so we wait in hope,
and imagine that day…
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. A hope that enters into the inner place, behind the curtain.
I know my posts are long, so I appreciate you hanging with me until the end. =) I can’t seem to find time to write regularly, so when I do, I like to cover something at length. Thank you! The more people who try to understand the challenges of child loss, the less different and apart we will feel.
Read more about After Bad Things Happen To Good People
or what New Years brings for bereaved parents.