I recently recognized that a series of issues I’ve been struggling with all have one theme in common. The thing that ties each of these issues together boils down to the worth of my children.
Death seems to strip an individual’s value from them in the eyes of the world. Daily life moves forward and it’s not long before the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind”, applies.
What is the value of one child’s life? To their parents, their siblings, their extended family, their circle of friends and acquaintances, to the community they lived in and even to the world at large? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that their value generally diminishes as you go through the list.
The grieving long to have their loved one’s worth acknowledged, appreciated and validated beyond the funeral and burial, beyond the first week they return to work, beyond the year of firsts, beyond . . .
This bereaved parent questions her own value as well – to God in particular. I wrote this quite awhile back. It’s a prayer of a sort, and deeply personal, but it clearly reflects how circumstances can cause a person to contemplate their significance. Keep in mind that my first child was stillborn, then I lost two in a car accident, and my surviving child has a rare and progressive form of Muscular Dystrophy. I’ve taken a series of hits.
“Am I so much more expendable than other Christians? Do my hopes and dreams mean so much less to You? From a logical perspective I know the answer to those questions is no, but from an emotional perspective I’m not so confident.”
“Why do You keep hurting me or allowing me to be hurt? Do I just suffer well for the cause? Am I too stubborn or rebellious to learn the lessons you want to teach me without suffering?”
Value and worth, it’s a struggle I see other parents who mourn wrestling with. Support groups, blogs, and Facebook posts are filled with the underlying theme.
Some make a shrine of their child’s room. And the outside world shakes their heads in pity – failing to understand why. Honestly, the parent may not be able to put into words why they do it themselves. But their child’s possessions are a visual, touchable testimony of both their existence and who they were below the surface. That room and pictures are often all the parent have to hold onto. They’ve lost their child and cling to the things they loved and touched in their absence.
And really, if you think about the alternative, can you blame them? Does anyone really think about the emotional price a parent pays when they sort through the remnants of their child’s life? Do they realize how it feels to decide what to give away – and who to give it to? What to keep. What things most effectively reflect the child they loved. What to throw away; now that, well that’s the nauseating one. Disease or accident, murder, suicide, or addiction, military or public service, has snatched their child from their hands and now they feel as if they are choosing to throw away their child, bit by excruciating bit. Maybe the shrine makes more sense now. It’s not shameful, it’s nothing less than a grieving parent defiantly refusing to toss away the evidence of their child’s life. It’s all about value and worth.
Almost two years after the collision that killed my daughters, I am still sorting, still deciding what to keep, what to give away – what to throw away. Granted, I was caring for Gracen, but I’ve had time to complete the task. Every once in awhile, I open the doors to the two rooms that hold the things my children once touched and I make value judgments until my heart can tolerate it no more.
Some parents set up foundations in their child’s name for a cause their child was passionate about or to raise funds or awareness for the disease or tragic circumstance that took their child from them. Those foundations meet needs, keep their child’s memory alive, and validate their worth. And some parents stand jealousy on the sidelines because their child did not live long enough to discover their purpose and passions. There will be no foundation and their child will all too quickly be forgotten, overlooked, or intentionally left out for fear of reminding the grieving parent of their death. Personalized gifts will not include their name, you will be introduced as the parent of one less child – and the parent of a stillborn child will not be asked about their child’s birth weight and length; all in the name of compassion. It’s not always true that actions speak louder than words. It’s amazing how loudly silence speaks.
Polite society encourages the family to let go, move forward, have another baby, take in foster children, adopt, and of course, be thankful for the children you have left; unwittingly conveying the message that the child you lost no longer has significance and that grief over the one you lost equates to a lack of appreciation for those you still have.
And the grief-stricken parent fights the war within; attempting to reconcile the worth of their child between the messages they receive from society and the intellectual truth that their child’s worth never stemmed from their accomplishments but from the fact that they were theirs and created by God.
The grieving parent is begging – demanding really – that society validates the worth of their child; their contribution, their significance in this world; regardless of their length of life.
I’m not sure any parent passes through this process until they either “feel” that validation (because a small group of people do just that) or until they resign themselves to the real truth – that it is enough if they alone recognize the worth of their child in this world. The battle within has been won, the enemy defeated by love – the love of God and the love of the parent. The only thing the parent needs to let go of is the desire to have their child’s worth validated by society. However, that’s easier said than done. Knowing what needs to be done does not make it easy to do. The heart wants what the heart wants, and it’s a process that’s mastered one painful step at a time.