In the past few weeks, two women I know have lost their fathers. One a new friend, and the other a very old friend who was with me during my mom's sickness and death. Their situations were different - one's dad died suddenly, and the other's suffered from a short illness. But they share a similarity:
I don't know what to say to them.
Why? I know what loss feels like, including that of a parent. I should be a wealth of sympathetic sentiment. But I'm not.
Partly because there is nothing to say. There are no words that can possibly comfort them. They know their dads loved them and they know they will always be with them. But they also know they are right in the middle of a horrible time and nothing anyone says or does is going to fix things.
But I also made a stark realization about why I have nothing to say: because I don't remember what they feel like.
Shocking. Seriously shocking. How can I not remember what the worst kind of pain feels like, when I have lost both a mother and a baby?
Sure, I know in my mind that the two biggest losses I have suffered were indescribably horrible. There is no one on this planet who can replace your mom, nor is there any way to describe what it feels like to lose a child, no matter how young or old. After losing Cohen, I truly thought I would succumb to a broken heart and didn't know how anyone could live through pain that deep.
But while I cried and cried and cried most of the day for weeks (months?) on end, my heart continued to beat. And over time the tears decreased to just a few times a day, then a few times a week, then one day, they sort of stopped.
And not to say they stopped permanently. Seventeen and a half years later, I still cry for my mom on occasion, and Cohen, well I cry for her a lot more often than anyone, including Jordan, knows. But now, after I cry, I stop crying and most of the time go on with things.
I am able to because the human heart is resilient. The heart that lets us feel both love and loss keeps going when we think it can't; keeps beating through the proudest, happiest moments, and also somehow through the saddest, darkest moments. We may never heal from loss completely, but somehow our hearts dull the intensity of feelings that are too hard to carry with us for the rest of our lives. Thank goodness for that.