One definition of Collateral beauty is beauty that is impossible to be seen. Perhaps a devastating tragedy has broken your life beyond repair. This tragedy so unimaginable, so incomprehensible, has rendered you powerless to see beyond your brokenness.
This weekend I witnessed the reoccurring presence of Collateral beauty as I attended The Compassionate Friends National Conference In Philadelphia.
This conference was specifically for parents like me. Parents who have survived the unsurvivable. We have out lived our children. We have received the phone call that no parent could ever imagine receiving. We have heard those words. Your child is dead. We know what it’s like to continue to breathe after our hearts have been ripped from our chests and lay shattered at our feet. We know the pain of planning a celebration of life when we should have been planning a birthday, a family barbecue, a wedding.
I really had no idea what to expect. I could feel my anxiety gripping my throat as I stood in line waiting to be given the conference materials. I remember looking around and recognizing the pain etched on parents who knew my grief. We were each given a red lanyard with our names displayed for everyone to see. Many like me carried pictures of beautiful smiling faces. Faces that should be here. Faces that should be laughing and living. Faces not memorialized but alive and well.
My heart began to race. My twisted thoughts gripped my brain. I wanted to scream. Hey! Do you really think we need to wear a lanyard? Look at our faces. Look at our eyes. Grief has been etched permanently into our being. All you need to do is look. We are marked by unimaginable loss..
I remember walking into the Ballroom and scanning the room. I could feel my tears beginning as I found the nearest table. So many people gathered together. It was as if we were one broken soul encompassing every inch of available space. No longer strangers. No shame, no uneasiness. Our connection was palpable. Pictures, names and stories were being shared without one thought of judgement or guilt.
Conversations that are taboo in society flowed like nectar from a exquisite flower. Nothing was off limits. The time frame of our losses were never an issue. The cause of death was shared without the worry of judgement. The reality that our child died overrode the how’s or the why’s. Grieving parents understand that this life altering grief will last a lifetime.
Unlike societies perception of grief having a time table with stages that lead to the completion of mourning, parents recognize that the loss of a child is not linear or logical. It’s layered with secondary losses. We have not just lost a child. We have lost the present and the future. We have lost hopes and dreams.
During this amazing time I never felt the need to defend my grief. I never felt the awkwardness I’ve felt among those who feel that enough time has passed and I should be over Matt’s death. I felt connected to those who needed no explanation when my tears flowed and my sobs were heard across the crowded room.
Mothers I’ve come to know and love due to the power of social media showed me compassion and comfort. Hugs and tears mingled as we were finally able to physically wrap our arms around each other knowing that nothing need be said. We live it. We get it.
I was given the gift of just being Matt’s Mom. I was given permission to leave my mask behind. To let my advocacy have a few days off. To disappear into and acknowledge my son and the sorrow of the profound loss I live with everyday. Permission to mourn is the greatest gift we can ever give to another bereaved parent.
I silently watched as Collateral Beauty surrounded me. I witnessed it as parents who were once strangers came together and carried each other’s grief. Just for an incredible moment our grief was lifted by another allowing our hearts to see the beauty of compassion and understanding that defies explanation.
Collateral beauty shining a light through the darkness of our brokenness. A light I will carry with me as I continue to live my grief. The experience of catching that glimpse of beauty among the dark ashes of child loss will remain in my heart forever.