I met a woman recently who lost her son 9 years ago. When she heard that it has been almost 3 years since my daughter died she responded “oh, you are so early in your grief”. Her response was unexpected and definitely not intuitive. In what scenario is almost three years “so early”? Quitting a job? Moving to a new state? Getting a divorce? I’ve lived through each of these and by year 2 the old job, the previous state, and yes, even the former husband were memories stored away and rarely revisited. But child loss takes the concept of time and turns it upside down.
I struggle to try and explain to people that I now live in two different time-worlds, one much easier to explain than the other. Look up the word “time” in the dictionary and you’ll find many different definitions. I am clearly not alone in the struggle to try and explain time.
- “Time: The measured or measurable period during which an action, process or condition exists or continues” – Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. This is my “normal” world, one where I measure time by hours, days, and years, marking time by events such as birthdays and holidays.
- “Time: The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present and future regarded as a whole” – Oxford Dictionary. This is my “not-normal” world in which my child no longer lives on this earth. Time is essentially frozen and I no longer measure events by hours or years. My past, present and future is now my “whole” and I live confounded by a framework of time where I am supposed to move forward but she can’t.
I like to use visuals to help reconcile those parts of my life that are now seemingly unexplainable. Time poses an especially big challenge since time is not something we can see. For me, it is like being on a train. Next to my train is another train. One train is moving. The other train is not. Which train am I on? Relative motion can sometimes fool us into thinking we are moving when we are not, or vice versa. In my life now I am on both trains.
As the third anniversary of my daughter’s death approaches I have a sense of heightened awareness of the fact that I straddle two different “time worlds”. Although it took me a while to realize it, the feeling of diffuse anxiety that has been building in my soul the last few weeks is the result of my subconsciously counting the weeks and days until that 3 year anniversary of the worst day of my life arrives. I can’t stop the train from moving.
But there are two trains. I know because I see one from my window. And I am also on the one that carries the whole of time – past present and future – with me. Because I refuse to leave her behind.
The woman I met is on her own train. She has been riding longer. She knows that my journey, even as I approach three years, is still so very short when measured by real time. Her validation of that gives me permission to succumb to the passing of time. At least for a while, until I can once again stop marking time and re-find my whole.