He's freezing

December 7, 2020

You were unsure which pain is worse –

The shock of what happened or the ache for what never will.

- Remembering Ryan 

Since losing Ryan twenty-seven years ago, I can still recall, in great detail, the many fragments of my journey through grief. I was understandably a mess. So much so that my father asked our family doctor to prescribe me something mild, a pill to take the edge off from the bruise that had not yet fully formed. I will never know if those meds made any difference since I had never before felt so raw. 

The anguish in my parents, still aches today, my mother, the first person I called, howled with me into the phone, and my father’s sobs echoed through the hospital, magnifying the heartache in us all. Their grief doubled with both the loss of Ryan and an inconsolable daughter. 

It is hard to describe the unimaginable emptiness, it created a chasm from anything I ever knew, curdling my pain and shock into numbness. The brain forms a fog that blankets our thoughts when in shock. This fog slowly dissipates allowing other emotions like denial and anger to surface. This thick, dream like state arrives to protect us from the reality of our grief. 

And eventually when that fog faded, I found anger. Bitter with the world, envious of everyone whose lives did not crash into misery over the course of a few days. A resentment that resurfaced as the channels of grief escalated. 

My job was to care for my children, and when Ryan died, I felt branded as a failure. Forever doubting each decision, I make, while speculating what could have been done differently.

A few weeks after Ryans’ death, Joel returned to work, for him, the distraction was necessary while I remained at home with then three-year old Chelsea. Most days I fumbled through the routine of life lost in a haze of depression. Buried in grief I craved the aloneness. My earned badge of misery that comes with loss. 

At home, I thrashed about trying to stay afloat in my own ocean of grief, searching for the instructions essential for survival. Joel maintained long hours at his job, in addition to snow plowing, his remedy to survival. Each of us discovering what we needed to endure one more day. Rarely does a couple grieve together except during those initial first weeks when you cling to one another in a search for something familiar. Eventually though, we move in new directions that divide our grief. He could not be idle while I remained immobile. 

Our lives will always be muted without Ryan, the bereaved learn new ways of celebration, lessons on the brevity of life. The ache of this reality grows into a scab that never heals.  At one point the heaviness makes breathing difficult, now with the passage of time, takes your breath away. Every season brings a fragment of cruelty, but it is often the winters that overwhelm me most often.

In a recent conversation with my daughter Chelsea, a memory, so clear came flooding back. There was a horrible winter storm, and Joel was gone most of the day and night working. With unstable thoughts, all I could image was the cemetery and Ryan outside. My 5-year old was alone outdoors as the winter winds battered our house. 

When Joel finally returned home, I was unhinged, screaming wildly "how can I go on when he’s outside freezing?” And no matter Joel’s response, I just kept crying “he's freezing, he’s freeeeeezing,” until there was nothing left in me. 

Moments like those don’t fade away with time, they haunt, and they hurt as they reappear with each season of snow.

February 23, 2021 will mark 28 years since his death. The day when an unknown virus found its way to his brain. There is no way to heal a heart after something like this. 

If only things were different.

If only we had the information of today.

If only it could have been about such a simple thing as wearing a mask…


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  • December 8, 2020 @ 6:44 AM EST
    By Lynn Schaefer
    So sorry honey.... I agree nothing takes away the pain of losing a child... prayers ????????❤️

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