I am compelled to respond to the recent publicity about Debbie Reynold’s death following the sudden loss of her daughter Carrie Fisher the day before. My heart goes out to their entire family.
Unfortunately, the media has latched onto the term “broken heart syndrome” and has managed to “romanticize” this tragic story while, at the same time, trivializing the experiences of thousands of grieving parents who have suffered the death of their child and survived.
It makes me want to scream from the roof top for all to hear, “My child died and my heart is still beating!” Doesn’t my sheer act of survival count for something?? Why doesn’t the media share the remarkable stories of parents across the country who have buried their children and are enduring the impossible task of learning how to live their lives without them?
I want the media to know my own personal experience of losing my son, Michael, who, at the age of 21, died suddenly while away at college from undiagnosed pancreatitis. I want them to understand that, in the days following his funeral, I thought I would die. I just couldn't imagine how I could possibly keep living without him. I was amazed that my heart continued to beat after the shock of losing him. There were times that I missed my son so much that I wished that I could "just go and be with him." Not a wish to end my own life but rather a thought that I would welcome death if it came along.
As I met and talked with other bereaved parents, we shared our deepest, darkest secrets – ones that we would never tell to others and I learned that we are incredibly fragile, both emotionally and physically, especially in the first few years after our great loss. We suffer immensely and we tend to keep that secret from the people around us that just don’t understand our grief. And, yet, at the same time, we are courageous, strong and wise. We feel great compassion for others while persevering through it all – the sleepless nights, the insensitive things that people say to us, the empty chair at holiday gatherings, the milestones that our children will never achieve, and the holding back of our tears, the lump in our throats, the ache in our hearts, the pit in our stomachs that never completely go away.
Debbie Reynolds is the lucky bereaved mom who got to go be with her daughter. I believe she died because it was her time and NOT because she loved her child more than I loved mine and NOT because her heart was more broken than mine. Or more broken than the thousands of bereaved parents who get up every day and live their lives with meaning and purpose and love and compassion
We survive and even thrive --- not in spite of the deaths of our children but, rather, because of our great loss… and our great love for our deceased children.
I am proud to be in the company of all bereaved parents everywhere whose hearts are still beating after devastating loss…