A pair of pictures has haunted me over the years: a picture of a young mother, approximately my age, and her infant son, approximately the age of my own son, both lives cut short in an instant when the plane on which they rode slammed into the World Trade Center almost 19 years ago. I have thought of them and the young father, who was not with them, often over the years. With every milestone my own son met, I’ve thought of that baby who never had a chance. I’ve thought of the young mother and all the experiences she missed out on. And I’ve thought of the father, who never got to live life or celebrate anniversaries with his wife, who never got to see his son walk or speak, or make friends or go to school, or discover his passions and graduate from high school. Death is a thief, and it does not steal just once, for each day we live beyond those that we love, death continues to steal those treasured shared experiences and dreams for the future.
The journey of grief represents a constant tension between the losses of the past with their enduring impact on our present and future, and forging a new future without the presence of these people from our past. Much as the pedals of a bicycle, these two dynamics work in tandem with each other, one never really present without the other’s input. The journey is never really over. As long as we live, we take the gifts and the losses associated with our loved ones with us. Some days we do the work of living well. Other days, we grieve what never was. Today we may relish all life gifts, along with precious new experiences and relationships. Tomorrow, we may crave the comfort of an old friend and wish to share a special day with them. Grief is messy that way.
Along this journey, realize it is ok to grieve the “what if’s,” the dreams unrealized, the potentials unmet. And it is also ok to relish in the life that is, the gifts present and the hopes to come. Both are a part of our experience, without perfect resolution. These losses of the past, which we carry into our present, become part of the future we create. We do not lose our loved ones as we step into our future. We bring them with us.