If there’s one thing that the cruel twists of fate in my life have taught me, it’s that no two people ever experience traumatic events–even similar traumatic events–in the same way. If there’s a second thing I’ve learned, it’s that some people will never get that message.
At the “young” age of 46, I have lost both my parents, one of my three uncles, and most painfully, my son. My parents passed away at 55 and 60. My son passed away at 15. These are just numbers–facts, statistics–meaningless in the end. They may match the facts and numbers of other people I’ve known that have lost loved ones, but those numbers are still trivial scribble. No two people that have lost their children will ever feel the same–outside the likely common thread of deep sorrow and loss.
Losing Micah was, bar none, the most intense experience I have ever had. Fifteen months later, the wound is as raw as it was the night he died. My moments of grief are just as intense now–if not moreso–than they were as we prepared to lay his body to rest. In the end though, these are my moments, my experiences–and no one, not even my wife and daughter, shares the exact same experiences.
The most genuine response I’ve heard when people discover for the first time that I’ve suffered the loss of my son is, “I’m so sorry. I don’t have any idea what to say.” How can you know what to tell someone that has suffered the death of his son? Sure, you can express your own sorrow, or how horrible you feel for my loss. These are acceptable responses. However, when you cross the line into making my son’s death some kind of message for your faith, your god, “warning,” or task on your part–that’s when you’ve stuck the poisoned arrow deep into my chest.
Micah did not die because of anything anyone else did. Micah did not die because he “wasn’t saved,” or because his parents “didn’t believe in Christ.” Micah was not part of some random deity’s grand plan. Micah did not die to teach me, my wife, my daughter, the Jewish people, democrats, liberals, independents, gays, lesbians, transgender individuals, queers, the State of California, non-believers, or anyone else a lesson. Micah did not die because he played sports on Sunday. Micah did not die because he played Xbox on Saturday. Micah died because he suffered from depression and other facets of mental illness, and despite everything his loving mother, father and sister did to help him, the power of his mental illness was too great. To tell me anything else, to try and preach to me or “explain” his death in some other fashion is to dishonor Micah and everything he stood for. Most of all, to try and blame some facet of our lives, our beliefs, Micah’s beliefs, or any other contrived excuse for his death is slapping me in the face with a spiked medieval glove. I don’t like being slapped in the face.
I don’t care what you believe. The Quran teaches, “To you be your religion, to me be mine.” (Quran 109:6). Dave Allen, the old Irish comedian, used to end his show by saying, “Good night, and may your god go with you.” My message here: peace be with you and whatever you believe, but do not trouble my family, myself, by imposing your beliefs on us. All you will do is upset my family and drive a wedge into any friendship we may have.
More troubling, though, is when especially close friends or even family feel the need to impose their beliefs on us. To them, I quote the Book of Proverbs, 11:29, “He who troubleth his own house…shall inherit the wind.” (Some day, maybe I’ll take a little more time with this particular quote, and my fascination with the play and movie that added it to my knowledge base.)
You cannot walk in my shoes. Heaven knows why you would even want to try. You can certainly feel for me, my family, those who were closest to Micah–but you cannot be us, and therefore you can never know truly how we feel, save for this: if you troubleth our house, prepare to inherit the wind.