Recently my friend, Debbie, lost her 21-year-old son, Roma, from a fall off a ladder. It was a shocking thing to the many people who knew him and his family. It is one of those things that is hard to wrap your mind around when it happens. A young person who seemed to have a long life ahead of them doesn’t get the chance.
It is more than sad. It is devastating.
My heart broke for Debbie and her family. It is a parent’s worst nightmare to bury a child. I wept for their loss and for a life that won’t get to be lived. I wept when I thought what if that had been me. I wept because imagining the loss of my own child upset me.
How does one survive that? —I am not sure.
I have always been inspired by Debbie’s very loving spirit and strength and her deep faith in God. She has helped me during our friendship more than she may even know. In her time of grief I want to be a comfort to her. I have been thinking about how best I can do that.
Words of sympathy, anecdotes, and many pictures have been pouring onto her Facebook page. She told me they were comforting for her. But I imagine as the days after the funeral creep on and other people get back to their lives these things might quiet down some. This is the time that I hope to be helpful.
Sometimes when a tragedy happens such as this we may find it hard to know what to do. Some people may distance themselves because even talking about the loss of a child is too painful even for the one who might be trying to provide comfort.
I can see that. But I knew her son…not well but I knew him – and I knew him better because of how she shared him with others. Her son was adopted and she wrote a book about her journey to adopt him. She also had a blog where she often wrote about him and then recently she wrote an amazing story of how they found his birth family in Russia.
But the best sharing we did was together in our conversations. I also have a son who is adopted and who was having some problems. She not only helped get support for me and help for my son she listened to me talk (vent!) about my fears and worries for my son.
When she spoke of her son -who had also had some challenges during his teen years and had just seemed to turn a corner before he lost his life- she spoke of him always with love. She never lost hope for him. She had such compassion and care for him despite the frustrations and fear she also had for him. She is an inspiration to me.
So from all of these conversations I had with her, I learned about him and I learned a bit about compassion (and I have tried to emulate that in my relationship with my own son and others).
Things with my son had become difficult. It stressed the entire family. Kevin and I tried to get help for him and tried to let him learn through natural consequences. It was really taking its toll on me. I wanted to make him right. I saw his potential even if he couldn’t see it.
What I learned from Debbie is that we can guide with love and though we hurt terribly to see them falter or have to learn the hard way that we can just love them.
Debbie has written in her own blog that things got better for her when she realized God didn’t intend on her to fix Roma- only to love him. Reading her words was a changing point for me. I still have my moments of anger and sheer frustration but I am better able manage that and I try to see my son through the eyes that Jesus would have seen him through.
If anything comes of Roma’s death for me is that it puts so much of life with my own kids into perspective. I realized after I heard about Roma’s death how so many things I got upset about with my kids really didn’t matter. That what really matters is to love them.
And these are the things I can talk to her about. What she gave me and what her son gave me through her. Perhaps this will be a comfort.
Sometimes words aren’t needed though. When I got cancer I know that some people really didn’t know what to say. And that is ok. Some of the nicest things I got from people were simple cards. I loved the Bible quotes and sometimes little pictures. Sometimes just a few words of encouragement – “good luck today” or “I prayed for you today” were just the thing I needed at that moment. It doesn’t have to be a dialogue.
When my friend died last year of thyroid cancer I had no words except “I am so sorry” and how many times was I going to say this? So I stopped saying it. Instead I posted pictures on her face book page of my photographs. In fact, I did this in her last weeks of life. I had no words then so I would take a photo for her and attach an encouraging quote to it and post it on her page. I wanted her to know I was thinking of her and I hope in some way it was comforting. Posting on her page after her death was perhaps more of a comfort to me but maybe it made someone else feel good that saw it.
With Debbie, I hope to provide some comfort in these ways. The other night my family was out to dinner at a local Italian restaurant and I looked up at the décor on the walls and I noticed a wall clock and under the clock was the word “Roma” – her son’s name. I had my daughter snap a picture and I posted it on her Facebook just to let her know I was thinking of her and of Roma.
I hope to get together with Debbie after the holidays. I told her I wanted to come over and chat about Roma and maybe have a glass of wine. I want her to tell me more about him if she feels like it. I want her to cry if she feels like it. I just want to be there for her. I want to do what I am not always great at- just listen.
I think having had cancer was a huge turning point in my life. One of the most important things I learned was what a gift it is to just have someone listen to you. My husband who is a great listener became a sounding board for all my fears and angst and anger and depression. He listened with love.
I had a few friends who had been through breast cancer and they were the ones I went to when I had a question or just needed to vent. It was just good know they were there. I didn’t always need words – I just needed ears.
And then there was the touch. During some really bad days hugs really helped. Kevin hugged me fierce. He caught my tears. I have not always been comfortable hugging on people. I didn’t grow up in a huggy family but over the years I have grown to be more of a hugger. So sometimes when I am in doubt of my words I hug. It brings connection and human touch is one of the most comforting things.
When I was in the hospital I was rolled into rooms prior to my surgery for icky procedures – my husband was often banned. He was my resident hand-holder and when he wasn’t there I just grabbed on a nurses hand for comfort and I told them it was a comfort. They were more than happy to lend a hand – pun intended.
So when in doubt of consoling words I hug or I hold a hand. I watched my friend the other day get hundreds of hugs. I bet she was tired but she told me that day that she and her husband really “felt all the love” from everyone…not just the days of the funeral and visitations but the days just following his death.
We all struggle with these things I think sometimes. We are lost for words. But it is ok. Any gesture that is from the heart is ok. It comes out of love. And that is a gift.
The loss of a child has got to bring unimaginable pain and sorrow. I can only imagine and I don’t like to – the imagining hurts. I feel such sadness over the loss of Debbie’s son Roma and such sorrow for her pain. I want to be present in my friend’s life- I don’t want to back away because I just don’t have the words or out of fear that I will make her cry because I do or say the wrong thing. I just want to her to know I care. I know I can’t make her grief go away but I hope to give support during it. It is all I have but I give it with love.
Debbie said it took a village to raise Roma. I know the village will be there for her and her entire family in their grief.
Debbie’s Author page here.
Photos courtesy of Debbie Michael
Rest In Peace Roma- though your mom says Rest and Roma don’t go together!
One thought on “On loss and friendship”
I been going back and reading the messages from the days after we lost Roma. I’ve read this post a few times already. But now that I’m coming out of the fog, I read it again this morning. Thank you Anne for writing this. My prayer when I learned about the accident was to let something good come from our tragedy. I believe many good things are coming from our loss. God is still good! It was an honor and a privilege to be Roma’s mom for 14 years!