Before Ava was born, if I were to have met someone who had lost a child or if someone I knew lost a child, I don’t think that I would know what to say. I have a bit of a social awkwardness at times. I am also an introvert. If anyone can get tongue-tied it is me. I had been places where other people hadn’t that were close to me. I had already struggled through the deepest pits of addiction, but even that doesn’t compare to losing Ava. There are a lot of people out there with my problem with substance abuse. Losing a child is also more common than you would think, but believe it or not talking about the loss of a child is not nearly as common as talking about addiction.
I chose for the most part to keep my addiction to myself. It isn’t like it’s a conversation starter and it certainly wasn’t anyone’s business. But losing Ava was different. This was a whole different kind of pain that I had never felt. It didn’t compare to anything and that also meant I didn’t know how to deal with it. Part of the process has taught me that you have to let the emotions out when you need to and you absolutely must find your own way through it. No one, and I mean no one can tell you how to do it. In Leah’s and my case, as long as we had one another, there was hope in my opinion.
I go to see Ava every day. When I am at her grave, I feel close to her and I feel more at peace. If I were anywhere else and I missed her, it would feel worse. Somehow, I feel there is a spiritual gateway or a connection when you are having a conversation with God at someone’s grave. Sometimes I talk directly to Ava too. Every time I leave, I always kiss my hand, kneel down and place my hand on her grave marker, and tell her I love her or something to that effect. I don’t say it out loud. I say it absolutely believing that she somehow hears me. To anyone who hasn’t lost a child, maybe that doesn’t make sense. And it shouldn’t. The nice thing is, given there is no instruction booklet for grief, I am free to do as I choose to get through the loss of my daughter, and I am beyond grateful that Leah would never stand in the way of that.
Leah mentioned at one point that she loved talking about Ava. I can’t say that I am always in a place where I think I can just freely talk about her without getting upset. I also can’t say I would be in the company of people I would just comfortably choose to talk about her. This is mostly because I don’t necessarily have a lot of friends and my family already knows what happened. I was never someone skilled at making friends and a lot of that has to do with my past and my personality. I can be awkward at times and I definitely have my fair share of social anxiety. This played significantly into my poor life choices. This leads me to something I am truly grateful for . The friends I do have.
Leah and I sat down to a nice dinner with another couple we had not seen since shortly after we lost Ava. In fact, it was only a day or two before the funeral that we had seen them. We were in a much more delicate place then. As they sat down, we just started talking. In case it was not clear this is another married couple. We would both drift off into our own side conversations, Leah talking with her and I talked with him. Leah and I had not sat down at a dinner in public since the day we buried Ava. You could only technically call it a dinner, it was more like a gathering of family where we all ate in the same place. This was not the fault of our family- Leah and I were just not mentally present. If I had to guess, a lot of our family wasn’t either.
As the conversations continued among us, I started to realize how much I missed just talking with people who knew us and cared about us but were not family. I can admit the fact that sometimes I believe people look at us differently since this all happened. I remember a passage in the book I am reading that talked about this very thing. Some people look at you like you have some sort of disease that they are going to catch. Like your grief and your sadness is just contagious or something. Completely separate from that, you have people who don’t want to say anything to you at all. You also have those who just say all the wrong things. You simply can’t avoid it.
This couple on the other hand could not have been more of a breath of fresh air and a glimpse of hope that people can help you in the smallest of ways. Between our conversations, my friend’s wife started telling Leah and I about this experience she had while we were away in Traverse City shortly after Ava’s funeral. She ended up meeting this woman who was speaking at some sort of event who had lost a child. As she started telling us this story, it it was like hearing the events of losing Ava all over again.
This complete stranger, who this friend of ours did not even know, talked about her experience of losing her son under extremely similar circumstances. I could tell by the way my friend’s wife was telling the story she was in complete awe of the similarity of our two experiences. He clearly was too when she first told him. Perhaps you would think this would have upset us, but it was quite the opposite. As this story was being told to us, she had my complete and undivided attention. It was amazing, like somehow God was working a small “coincidence” on our behalf. The similarities between our stories made me feel like we weren’t alone. I am still astonished by how much our stories were alike.
But what mattered the most to me was the fact that our friends wanted to talk to us about Ava. They weren’t scared to say her name. They talked to us in a way where I understood that they appreciated and respected how much Ava meant to us. They didn’t think for a second we would not want to talk about her. Not only that, after this person had finished speaking about her story at this event, my friend’s wife approached her and talked to her about us. Without any prompting, she talked to her and asked what advice she had about how she could help us. She got this person’s contact information so that Leah could reach out to her.
Speaking for myself, I could not have felt more gratitude for these two people we call our friends than I felt tonight. Maybe they don’t realize it, but they gave us a gift tonight. They let me know the kind of people they really are and how much they helped us with grief tonight. It didn’t require a single tear to be shed. It didn’t require the four of us to be completely miserable. All it took was genuine conversation and listening to people talk to us about our daughter without us leading the conversation. It may be safe for me to say that both Leah and I will remember this particular night for a very long time. I only hope that I can repay them for the generous gift they probably don’t realize they gave us.
I think Ava may know a little boy who lost his mother a long time ago, under very similar circumstances she had to leave us. I can only hope they are both in peace and above all else… happy. I love you Ava.