Two Dates and a Dash

By Gretchen Addison

If you are looking for direction during a difficult season, a cemetery is a good place to start. A visit to a cemetery reminds us of what is actually important and what is not. It cautions us that time is limited—and therefore invaluable. As I walked across the cemetery to my son’s memorial (I cannot come to terms with the word “grave” yet), I read the dates of people who had lived and existed on this earth. Every “memorial” had three things: a beginning date, an ending date, and a dash between the two. Out of the three, I believe that dash is the most important. That dash represents how we live our lives with the time we have been given. It represents the struggles and heartache as well as the joys and blessings we experience.

For those of us who have lost a child, Mother’s Day is one of the worst days of the year. We feel lost, alone, and the grief can make us feel like we are stuck. Painful emotions trigger even more distress, weighing us down, and they can cause us to feel like we are back at square one in our grief journey. As I spent Mother’s Day with Tyler, I was taken back to the first year after his death. Thankfully, I have only bits and pieces that come back but what I remembered most was the constant darkness, a darkness so thick you could feel it on your skin. I remember feeling like I was dying from the inside out, literally screaming from the pain at times. I remember driving to work or to the grocery store and out of nowhere, my mind would go blank and I would have no idea where I was. Only those who have lost a child can understand what those days were like. It’s difficult to believe it has been almost six years.

After I left the cemetery, I decided to drive past our old house with the huge yard where he played with his friends. I drove past his tee-ball field where we had so many great memories of him playing and us working the concession stand together. I drove past the barbershop where he loved to go because he liked the pretty, blonde, and young lady who always cut his hair. I drove by the park where we flew kites for hours and hours at a time…and I was okay. I was actually okay. It was then I realized just how far God has brought me through the years since Tyler’s death. I was able to drive by these memorable places and feel some joy in spite of my grief for the first time.

To those who have lost a child, you made it through another Mother’s Day. You overcame, you conquered, you won. When you feel stuck in your grief, when you feel like you have not made any progress in your journey, take a few moments and look back to where you were six months ago, a year ago, five years ago. You have made progress, you have become stronger and more compassionate at the same time. Consider the “new” friends who have come into your life who share your agony, who understand without judgment, who are there for you in your darkest hour. Think about those you have comforted in their time of loss, and those who have not yet lost who will need to hear your story.

Ultimately, death is inevitable. We all will end up with two dates and a dash. But what are we going to do before we get there? How are we going to make an impact, make a difference, leave our mark? We were never promised this life would be easy, but the struggles are what makes life so beautiful.