For all those who undergo the tormented grief of the loss of a child and wonder how they will ever overcome it; who doubt that they can ever laugh again; who question if they can ever care again, I want to relate my experience of the excruciating pain and eventual healing of grief.
My son died suddenly after a prolonged illness. He had come through so many close calls, experienced such tremendous pain, and transcended it all with such a beautiful strong character that it seemed that fate had a purposeful life planned for him. Surely there would be compensation for all his childhood suffering! No, our philosophy and interpretation of faith did not allow for death at such a tender age. But it came, nevertheless!
When the doctor came to sign the death certificate, he looked at me straightforwardly and said, “You knew this would happen sooner or later.” I gazed at him blankly. Neither my husband nor I consciously thought our son would not reach manhood. Our main concern was the diminution of pain, and the cherished joy of each day lived without pain.
I cannot accept the fact that we were any more prepared for grief than parents who lose a healthy child in a sudden accident. The world had stopped for our son and it seemed to have stopped for us, too. On my first day outside, the ride to the chapel, I looked disbelievingly at the people walking, cars moving, stores open, sun shining and children playing. It was deceptive and cruel, and I hated life going on “as usual” when it no longer existed for him. I wanted no part of it. I vowed to bury myself from life until!, too, could join him. The only dim spark which penetrated my numbness was the overflowing tender love and support of my daughter and husband, who resumed their daily existence of school and work respectively. On their return home, I would stir momentarily from the domain of my bed to function briefly in the roles of mother and wife. The in-between hours, I remained in my room, wailing, screaming at God, demanding proof of His existence by “returning” what He took.
I was interested in only one part of the newspaper, the obituaries. Did other young children die? Did other parents know the torture of bereavement, or were we singled out by some cruel fate? Occasionally, when I found a notice of another child’s death, I derived a sadistic comfort from the fact that another shared my anguish.
Loss of my child was twofold. All the experiences of young manhood and adult life were deprived him. He would never know the bliss of love, joy, beauty, challenges, and accomplishments. He would also miss the stepping stones of disappointment, illusions, failures, and sadness; the duality which form an integrated life. And then there is the loss that parents go through; the loss of the right to plan, to hope, to dream, to share successes and disappointments, joys and hurts. I felt as though a part of me was buried with him.
The questioning, the bargaining and the anger came in waves. I carried my son’s photograph. I talked to him incessantly. By these acts, I denied the world’s proclamation that he no longer existed. Did dying mean nothingness – non existence, or was there something to the vague claims in the back of my memory of death being a transition? I began to search running from one library to another, scanning books about religions and philosophies for clues and interpretations on “life after death.” I found enough contemplation of the subject to open a door to hope that there was some possibility of an existence beyond death. And somehow, faith entered, eventually extending to belief. The compulsive search lessened, and I began to respond to meeting with other bereaved parents in a group. Timidly, sadly, I rejoined the world again. I became aware of a strong urge to share this stifled, cut-off expression of love for my son with other children and parents by working in a children’s hospital. A few years later I co-facilitated support groups for grieving parents. My full swing back into life occurred over time by “losing myself in others,” and with it came the ability to rejoin life and find the joy of purposeful living from the depth of my sorrow.
Sadly, we share this with each of you who personally or professionally knew Bill Campbell.
He died on Thanksgiving Day 11/28/13 after years of chronic illness that never defined who Bill was.
He was a part of TLC from the early 1990’s as a Nova Graduate student who later became a licensed Mental Health Counselor and TLC volunteer counselor. Bill mentored & taught TLC staff & students alike for over 20 years, and was also our technical wizard who brought TLC into the 21st century with computer skills, program development and is credited for writing most of our Office & Volunteer Policy Manuals which stand today. To say, that I/We have lost a dear friend on earth who touched my heart & soul, amongst hundreds of others at TLC, is an understatement. His native spirit will always be a part of TLC.