Sometimes the biggest challenges are the smallest mountains. Or the smallest mountains are the biggest challenges. I don’t know which way sounds better, but you get the point.
A few months ago, we received an invitation from Children’s Hospital to a support group for parents who have lost children (if I’ve said it a hundred times before, it still pertains: it absolutely sucks to be part of a club like this). The group was open for parents only – no friends, grandparents, siblings, other family, etc – and was going to run for nine consecutive weeks in the mid-fall (ie: now). While there was some initial trepidation, there really wasn’t any true apprehension, as both of us have been seeking ways to help deal with the grief and the range of emotions from this past year. Us, along with seven other couples/individuals responded, and the group was set. Start date, end date, time, child care…set.
But between us and the start of the group, there was a gigantic emotional monster that had to be confronted: the return to the hospital. See, the group would meet in the hospital, near the cafeteria that we ate at for nearly every meal of our two months there. It would be our first time back to that general area, the first time on that road, and the first time in the building since we left without Liam. I think that Ahna was a lot more realistic as to the difficulty that the first meeting would be, and I told myself that it wasn’t going to be that bad. When in fact, as the first meeting date drew closer, the reality was beginning to set in. The best way that I can try to describe the feeling is through a recipe: take that nervous pit in your stomach feeling that you get when you go in for a job interview (or anything super important), then add 10 tons of emotion.
As we drove up to the hospital, the roadway rang of extreme familiarity. As the miles to go got smaller, the nervousness and anxiety grew. Off the exit, the car got quiet and my hands began to shake from energy without a focus. We pulled into the driveway to the hospital, then into the same parking garage that we did so many times before. It’s crazy how familiar you can become with a concrete building designed to temporarily house cars. Ezra was with us on that first night back, and it’s moments like this where it’s good to have him around….on the drive to the hospital, he asked a lot about where we were going and for what reason. He refers to the hospital as ‘Liam’s Hospital’ and once there, his comfort level with the building was the key to having to find a way through all of our adult feelings. I think that had he not been with us, we might have just stood just beyond the front doors for a while and found it more difficult to actually go inside. Once we got into the main foyer area, and then in the cafeteria, it was nearly overwhelming. Memories came flooding back. Hundreds of them in a single pass of the main entryway. Then, we had to chase Ezra.
After we got Ezra tucked into the child play area, we had our first meeting as a group. They explained that the first two weeks were going to be extremely difficult, and that we should really hang on until the third week before we started to feel any true forward learning momentum. They were right. The first two meeting were basically comprised of learning about each other and each other’s child. For some reason, I envisioned that it would be a group made up of people that all lost children of similar-ish age to Liam. I don’t have a clue as to where I got that impression, but it was far from the truth (for the privacy of those in the group, this is about as much detail as I will share about everyone). The causes of death and the age ranges of the kids are equally as vast, and there is really only one other couple in the group that has had a similar experience to us. It has been interesting however, that it doesn’t matter if they were two months old or 23 years old, there is a lot of commonality in the difficulties that we face now. We learned about lives short and shorter, about stories of relatively sudden loss and ‘expected’ loss, and about how together – and seperate – people are attempting to deal with the new realities. It’s some heavy shit.
We left the first two meetings with very sad hearts. We tried hard not to add to our loss by internalizing the loss of others, but you can’t entirely help it. The group has forced us to reengage some of the emotions that have been suppressed or passed due to the rest of life – both a good thing and a very difficult thing. The sadness felt after the first two meetings lasted for days. The second trip back to the hospital wasn’t nearly as charged as the first one, although the meeting was. Perhaps that’s some sort of metaphor for our current process. Or perhaps it’s just a matter of having to get to a meeting.