Monday, June 28, 2010

Jay Week 2010

This is JAY WEEK in my heart. July 2 is fast approaching, the 18th anniversary of Jay's death, and naturally, I'm thinking about what I'll write about my boy. Last year, I posted all of the writing that I did one year after he died. Many of you, Jay's friends and ours, read the posts and wrote to me to thank me for sharing my year-after thoughts. You told me that reading about those last days in Jay's life here on earth brought closure for you. Again, I thank you for letting me know how my words affected you.

I've been wondering for almost a year whether or not I should post parts of a letter that I received after my posting and the reply that I wrote to the person who penned the letter. I decided this morning that I wanted to place it on my blog, not really intending for anyone to read it but just to save it for myself.

Dear Sandy,

This letter is in response to your blog post about Jay. I hope I don't say anything that will upset you or hurt your feelings. I guess my motives in writing this are to be helpful to you and also to satisfy my curiosity.

Years ago I read a book, Necessary Losses, by Judith Viorst. (You could probably get it from the public library.) She lists the stages of grief in the order most people experience them: shock and denial, intense sorrow, anger, guilt, idealization, acceptance, adaptation.

It doesn't seem possible that you could have been stuck in idealization for 17 years, but that is how your blogging came across to me. I would love to be re-assured that you have reached the full acceptance stage and have adapted to that loss

My immediate response to the letter was hurt and, I'm afraid, anger. I couldn't believe that my words would be so misinterpreted. After Wendy and Frank talked to me, though, I understood that she just didn't understand. All of her children were still alive, and she had no idea of the way different people handle their grief. So . . . I wrote a letter in response to her letter, trying my best not to make her feel bad . . . just to let her know my heart. Here's what I said . . .

Let me assure you of a couple of things right away—you neither upset me nor hurt my feelings by what you wrote. (Yes, usually honest Sandy lied!) Mostly you confused me by your doubt as to my dealing with Jay’s death. Let me assure you this minute that both Frank and I have come through all of the stages of grief and have accepted our son’s going to live with the Lord. I feel, though, that I need to explain some things about losing a child and what happens to that person’s very being. The death of any loved one, whether it be parent, brother, sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew . . . or child, is heartbreaking; however, the death of a child is very much different from any of the others. Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents. It’s just not natural. Children are supposed to bury their parents. But who are we to question God’s decisions, right? I certainly don’t.

Almost every writer who writes about grief lists different stages. The writer whom I read (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, an author considered an expert in the field of grief) lists the following: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Judith Viorst’s listing isn’t too much different from Kubler-Ross’s, and I rather like Viorst’s list. It’s a bit more inclusive and certainly not wrong. I never quite understood Kubler-Ross’s “bargaining” designation, to tell you the truth.

As far as going through all the stages, I can assure that both of us have found ourselves in each one. The one that you’re concerned about, idealization, is certainly a valid one but one that I don’t consider myself stuck in. I’m not really sure what you see of idealization in my blog, so I’d welcome some specifics. If writing about Jay, the things that he did and that I remember so well, his charisma, his talent, his ability to make friends, the love that he had for others and that others had for him make you think that I’m idealizing him, you’re really wrong. These are facts mingled with the love that a mother had and still has for her son. I hope I’m not sounding harsh to you: I just want you to understand and not to worry.

Right after Jay died, the way that I got through those days was by feeling the strong arms of God around me, knowing that my friends and family loved me and were praying for me, and reading. I read every grief book that I could put my hands on. I devoured books written by parents whose children had died because only a parent who has lost a child truly understands that death, no matter how much a person thinks he or she does. The hole left in a parent’s heart never heals, no matter how many times he goes through the stages. Yes, the parent goes through those stages many times . . . back and forth and back and forth, until finally he gets to the last one, either acceptance or adaptation, and pretty much stays there. A person must adapt; he has only one other choice, and taking his life certainly isn’t in God’s plan. So we accept and adapt.

But what do we do to get through? Some parents shrivel up inside and won’t let others help them; some remove all remembrances of the child, almost pretending that he hadn’t ever been there; some don’t ever mention the child within the family or to others outside the family. I don’t understand any one of these methods. Frank, Wendy, and I chose to talk about Jay as much as we could; we wept and we laughed hilariously as we remembered so many funny things that Jay said and did. We talked to others about Jay, and we were very much open in our grief and about our grief. Our friends and family knew that we were grieving, that we were going through those stages, but they knew also that we were getting through them with God’s help. And get through them we did, each in our own way.

One of my ways was to write about Jay. I read early on that one of the fears that parents have when a child dies is that they’ll forget their children. I must admit that I had that fear deep within. So what did I do? I wrote about my boy. What you read is what I wrote the year after Jay died so that I’d remember the details of those days surrounding his death. I had to remember everything, both for me and for others. I put them on my blog this year so that Jay’s friends and ours could read about those days. Several of his friends wrote to me to let me know that finally they could come to closure. They never really knew all that happened during those days, and they wanted to know because they loved Jay. His death left holes in their hearts, too, just as it had in ours. You didn’t know Jay, but he was the kind of person who attracted friends of all ages, and they loved him just as he loved them. I can’t tell you how many young people came through the line at the funeral home the day before the funeral and told us that they were Jay’s best friends. Yes . . . he had lots of best friends.

I could write forever about my boy because I loved him so much (and still do) and want to preserve his memory and my “mother’s love” for everyone who’d like to read about him. That’s why I wanted you to read what I’d written . . . so that you could get a little insight into him and could know and understand that “mother’s love” . . . the same kind of love that you have for your children and that you’d want others to know about.

And so I’ll close for tonight, hoping that you know that you don’t need to be concerned about my being stuck in any of the stages of grief, that I still miss my boy and always will (I don’t ever want to get to the point that I don’t miss him, that I don’t cry when I hear certain songs, even rock music), that I write because through words I can preserve his memory both for me and for others who loved him. I also want you to know that I treasure you and your prayers and that I hope you never quit praying for me and for my family.

Thanks for writing to me. And for asking about my grief. You might have gone for the rest of your life worrying about something that you didn’t need to worry about.

This isn't my post for my boy this year. I have something in mind much lighter in tone. Stay tuned for more stories about Jay Young . . .