By Ernie McCray
Folks say to you, when you’ve lost a child: “I can’t imagine your pain.”
And they’ve got something there because the pain wrestling my emotions to the ground is unimaginable. Losing a child is in a category all by itself. It’s surreal.
I looked for a photo to go with the mood I’m in and I saw one that matched just how I am feeling, how I seem to be trudging through a burnt out forest on an LSD trip gone horribly awry with bees stinging the very fabric of my soul.
I’m reeling from the very thought that my daughter Debbie’s death was against the natural order of things: she was supposed to some day mourn me — not the other way around.
I mean you bring a child into the world and you work hard to give her all that will help her grow and you wish for her nothing more than a good life, with her basic needs met. You want her, relatively speaking, to live happily forever and ever.
Yet there you are one day sitting at her bedside in her last moments, wanting nothing more than for her to just close her eyes and die. And anybody there would understand why, as the quality of her life had died some time before her passing. But that does not, in any way, diminish the pain of shattered hopes and dreams.
But, hey, I will survive. I’ve been through this before and have come to know that the intensity of the pain eventually fades away and you continue making your way through what remains of your life – because you’re still breathing and life is for the living.
What helped me in getting over my mother’s death was the realization that her passing had left me as the top fruit on our family tree and I then had the responsibility of being, as much as I could, an exemplary human being for those under me on the tree to emulate – in the meantime tucking her into my soul as a precious memory, remembering, predominantly, how much of a role model of good living she had been for me.
In easing the grief of losing my soulmate, my wife, I concentrated on loving our children for the both of us. And I slowly dug myself out of a deep dark hole of despair, gathering her spirit inside of me, as I did with my mom, to remember her well, and I’ve kept on trying to make the world better as we had been doing, finding, in that journey to breathe again, another remarkable woman to enrich my life and face the days ahead with me.
Now here I am striving to become emotionally pain free again and I’m leaning towards reviving as many memories as I can to keep my Debbie alive inside me, in the manner in which I’ve memorialized the other great losses in my life.
I’m already visualizing memories of our time together. I can see her and me running to catch the ice cream man.
I’m recalling her excitement holding up pieces of her preschool artwork: prints of her cute little feet and hands.
So many times I said to her “That’s my girl” for her Good Citizen Awards or for her straight A’s or for how well she played the clarinet during her school days.
And she gave me my props too as I remember her once saying “I know a boy in your class. He said you’re the coolest teacher in the world, that all the kids at Perry Elementary like you.” That made me want to purr and coo.
And, of course, we had our negatives, too — our, “Don’t make me climb back there!” moments when she’d trounced my last nerve fooling around in the backseat of the car.
And I have recollections of a few of those nagging father/daughter, “Hey, this is your homework not mine” kind of times; me going, “Money doesn’t grow on trees” and she replying, “All I asked you for was a dime.” Me reacting to her, “You need to learn how to cook” with, “I’m doing the best I can! I’m not Chef Boyardee!” when she was in my custody.
And what child hasn’t called a parent out with something like, “Ewwww, Daddy, you said to never lie” when they see you trying to wiggle out of a situation with a neighbor or a bill collector or Uncle Bud.
These memories that have already surfaced in my mind make me both cry and smile and want to fall into a state of denial, a dream world where someone looks out the window and tells me, “Hey, Debbie just drove up.”
But that’s not how it goes. I’m just in the beginning stages of my sadness, seeking ways to go about plugging away, day to day, doing good deeds, being there for my remaining five children and my 12 grandchildren and my nine great-grandchildren, including Debbie’s four grandchildren, until the darkness my grief has inflicted on me gives way to light.
I can’t imagine how that’s going to go.