Soon after my wife died — her car slid off an icy road in 1985 — a school psychologist warned me that my children and I were not mourning in the right way. We felt angry; the proper first stage, he said, is denial.
In late August this year, my 38-year-old son, Michael, died suddenly in his sleep, leaving behind a 2-year old son and a wife expecting their next child.
There is no set form for grief, and no ‘right’ way to express it. There seems to be an expectation that, after a great loss, we will progress systematically through the well-known stages of grief. It is wrong, we are told, to jump to anger — or to wallow too long in this stage before moving towards acceptance.
But I was, and am, angry. To make parents bury their children is wrong; to have both my wife and son taken from me, for forever and a day, is cruel beyond words.
A relative from Jerusalem, who is a psychiatrist, brought some solace by citing the maxim: ‘We are not to ask why, but what.’ The ‘what’ is that which survivors in grief are bound to do for one another. Following that advice, my family, close friends and I keep busy, calling each other and giving long answers to simple questions like, “How did your day go today?” We try to avoid thinking about either the immediate past or the bereft future. We take turns playing with Max, Michael’s two-year-old son. Friends spend nights with the young widow, and will be among those holding her hand when the baby is born.
Focusing on what we do for one another is the only consolation we can find.