I have thought endlessly about what happens emotionally when a mother loses a child. Or a loving partnership is shattered by death. What is grief? Why does it manifest itself in so many ways? Why is it so intense and prolonged for some, almost fleeting for others?
History, literature and fables depict grief in infinite variety, but it is always an agonizing emotional experience. Many of us are familiar with studies that identify five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Each of these can last for an indefinite period and can be expressed in many ways.
For instance, Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands is a dramatic example of one man’s grief. George C. Boldt was the immensely wealthy owner of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York when he began building a castle in 1900 on the island he owned. It was to be a gift and tribute to his wife Louise and was still under construction four years later when she died. Boldt immediately laid off the workers. The amazing structure remains unfinished more than a century later, a dramatic symbol of his heartbreak.
I know of a woman who lost her child and is now a homeless person, wandering the streets in endless distress. There are many like her, people enduring relentless pain over their loss.
After losing my first two children, I was empty and numb. When I would waken in the morning the reality of my loss would smack me in the face. My son Paul was left with two tortured, zombie-like parents unable to console him. One survivor cannot grieve for another. Paul, my husband and I each existed in our own world, tormented in our own way.
Four years after the car crash, my husband and I separated. I have since learned that the breakdown of marriages is common after the loss of a child. I have pondered on my marriage vows when I said, “‘til death do us part’’. My interpretation of that today is not our parting because of the death of either one of us, but due to the death of our children.
I would hear the comment, ‘’Oh Helene, you are such a strong woman’’ and I would think to myself, ‘’Sure, this is my mask you are looking at. You don’t know what goes on between me and the bottle when I get home.’’