Children are about hope. Children are about our many hopes for them and for ourselves. We give these fragile beings all of our love, hoping and believing that they will grow with that love and then spread the gift to others.
We look at the mistakes our own parents made and vow to do better and to provide our children the best possible family life. We look at the suffering we endured as children, perhaps from poverty, from family conflict, from bullying, from failing to accomplish, and then we do everything we can to make their way easier.
We look at the opportunities we had, or didn't have, growing up and work hard to make sure that our children's lives will offer them even better and more-varied choices. When times are difficult for us, we try not to let our own frustrations spill over onto our children. We try to be the best parents we can so that our children will have the best of us upon which to build their own lives.
There are conflicts and difficulties, of course, as we bring up our children, but there are also moments that seemed bathed in grace when our children shine like angels in our lives, and other moments after seeing them work so hard to achieve, that we bask in their success, knowing we helped to make it possible. And then there is the quiet, ever-present sense of satisfaction we achieve from day to day from simply knowing that they exist.
Sometimes our children seem so much a part of us, and our hopes, that it can be difficult to know when and where they begin as individuals and when and where our hope for ourselves becomes more purely hope for them, for their lives, and their future families.
So what, then, are we to do when our children, one or more, are taken from us in one horrible instant that dashes all of our hopes? And what about the slower, sometimes more torturous tragedies we endure as parents? The unexpected traumatic loss of a child at the hands of a murderer or a drunk driver is among the most unendurable losses, but it is not the only kind.
There is the loss of watching our children become estranged from us through marital conflict and divorce that has spun out of control. There is the loss in witnessing our children sink into drug abuse and addiction, or profound emotional distress, dragging them beyond our reach.
There is chronic illness that afflicts our child and breaks our heart. There is seemingly-inexplicable conflict that creates rifts between us and our children, conflicts that we cannot seem to heal no matter how we try.
The loss of a child is the loss of a part of ourselves, and especially that part of us from which hope springs eternal. It faces us with the knowledge that hope may not spring eternally -- at least not in our lives and lifetimes.
I don't have any answers. But I do have a direction: to revive hope, to love again, and to reconnect with the eternal in ourselves, our children, and our loved ones.
We don't necessarily "recover." We may never "get over it." Instead, we may wrap ourselves in the wisdom gained from loss. We may learn that life means even more to us than we realized before our loved one was taken away.
We may learn to treasure life in a deeper way, bathed in the knowledge that loved ones can never be taken for granted. We may be sustained by accepting that we never do stop loving, even when our loved ones are removed from sight, because love persists beyond loss.
In this knowledge that love transcends loss, we can find continued strength to love. It is because of love that hope can spring eternal. It's at all times a fragile effort, but it's what we're supposed to do.
Peter R. Breggin, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York, and the author of more than 20 books, most recently, Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal: A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients and Their Families. With his wife Ginger, he is the co-founder of The Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education and Living (a nonprofit 501c3). His website is www.breggin.com.
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