Parents who have lost a child by death are often overwhelmed as they search for words to express the unspeakable pain they are experiencing. In fact, my friend, Nisha Zenoff Ph. D. has just written a book titled, “Unspeakable Loss, How Do You Live After a Child Dies.” Nisha’s story is unusual because she is both a bereaved mom but also a clinical psychologist. Her beloved adolescent son, Victor, died suddenly in a climbing accident. Nisha will be the first person to tell you that there are no words, absolutely no words that can help describe the horror that comes to a parent’s heart when they learn of their child’s death. By the way, you can find her book on Amazon.com.
So, how can this kind of grief be expressed or shared with others? After years of leading support groups, I can say with great certainty that this is one of the hardest tasks we face. If words are the vehicles or receptacles that carry our pain, which words can adequately describe this nightmare? There is no dictionary or Thesaurus that contains the words we can claim for our stories. It is far beyond anything Webster has in his files. So, we are often left to devise rituals to help us express the pain of our loss. As a wise person once said, “When there are no words, have a ritual.” Bereaved parents often make up their own rituals when trying to vent their anger and pain. I was sitting in a support group just the other night when one man offered up his favorite. He shared with the group how he searched his neighborhood garage sales, looking for cheap glass, such as unwanted flower vases or old fruit jars. After he had accumulated a bushel basket of breakable containers, he went to the nearest Walmart. Off in the corner of the store parking lot sits a large steel bin, designated for glass containers only. This bereaved dad unashamedly told the group just how good it felt when he reared back and heaved a quart-sized vase at the steel wall inside the bin. The sound of the glass exploding into a million pieces resonated with the way he felt in his heart when he learned about the death of his son. This dad thought he was offering a new idea to the group but soon others in the circle were chiming in and sharing other locations around town where they had done the same thing. This was nothing new to them. In fact, there were those in the group who had already tried the various recycle bins and knew where one could go to get the best sound, the loudest echo. I smiled as I heard them tell how they rated the glass recycle bins around town.
Still another way bereaved parents express their “unspeakable pain” is through cussing. When heart-broken parents run out of the “acceptable” words to say in support groups, they reach for words they ordinarily would not use, especially in a support group held in church. For example, I remember a support group my wife and I were leading a few years ago. Among the ten people sitting around the table, one man had lost his young son to gun violence. His son was a great kid but happened to be at the wrong place and at the wrong time. As this grieving father started to express his pain, his lament quickly turned to asking, “why the no-good drug dealers in town were going free while his good son, who did everything the right way, was shot dead?” This grief-stricken father’s face grew red as he hammered the table. His volume increased as he blurted out his, “why?” questions over and over. Soon, the normal, “acceptable words” were not working for him. What he needed were more powerful words and so he turned to cussing. I will not repeat here exactly what he said, but his voice grew still louder and his face was red as a beet as he screamed out his stream of obscenities. Still shouting and shaking, he rose from the table, walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He continued his diatribe against God and the police force who had not yet found his son’s killer. He was on a roll and couldn’t stop himself.
The others in the support group listened in silence as Jerry (not his real name) continued down the hallway and down the steps toward the parking lot. (Did I mention this happened in a church?) Back at the table where we sat, no one said a word. Total silence as we listened to him cussing all the way to the parking lot. It was as though Jerry had said it for the rest of us and we were all having a “vicarious” experience.
The next day, Jerry called me and offered an apology. “Pastor, I want to apologize for cussing so much…in front of your wife.” I smiled and accepted his apology but also thanked him for sharing his honest feelings. Later, when I shared Jerry’s apology with Buelah, she laughed out loud. She had heard it all before.
Finally, there are others in the support group who confessed the increased satisfaction they received when they mixed the two activities: cussing while hearing the bottles smash against the hard steel. Sometimes the “acceptable words” and conventional behavior don’t cut it when it comes to expressing our unspeakable pain.