I went to a funeral a short time ago. While nearly all funerals are sad, this one was particularly heartbreaking, as the deceased had passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, and at a relatively young age. A mother, still in the prime of middle age, was taken without warning. A large and loving family had gathered from all over the United States to grieve the passing of a woman that they all had fond memories of. Although I didn’t know the woman at all, it was obvious that she would be missed by a great many people.
While I sat and watched the family pour out their grief during the funeral, and then later the burial, a strange emotion came over me. It was an emotion I would have never expected to feel at a funeral, and it took me some time to identify it. It was envy. I felt envious of the family that had gathered to mourn the loss of someone they loved so much. I felt ashamed of this emotion at first, and I tried to bury it. I was there to support someone who had lost a close family member, this was not the time to be focused on myself. But later on, once I was alone, I began to reflect on what I had felt, and more importantly, why.
I obviously didn’t envy the family for losing a loved one. I have many people in my life whom I love dearly, and I would not want to lose any of them. I have had loved ones die, and I certainly did not want that to happen to again. What I envied was not their grief, but rather that they were able to express it. My sons are gone. Not dead, but just… gone. They are gone from my life, and the lives of my family. When my wife filed false allegations against me, and took my children from me, it was emotionally devastating. It was a horrible feeling, a great loss, and it was very painful, but it didn’t feel like death, with its shock and finality and hopelessness – at least, not at first.
Unlike with death, there were moments of brief hope. For five long years, every event was a chance at getting my sons back into my life. Every time I went to court, I believed the judge would hear my story, and award me time with my children. When I was finally awarded visitation, I believed I would see them again. When my wife hit me with her car, I thought for sure she would be charged, and I would be able to hug my kids. When my wife burned down her house, and the arson report concluded that she had done it, I thought surely something would change. When my daughter was taken from my wife by Child Protective Services, and I spent nearly a year EARNING her back from foster care, I believed that the authorities would force my wife to reunite both of us with the boys. But each and every time I was disappointed. And slowly, creeping up more and more each day, the feeling that they were dead formed like a malignant tumor, growing inside my heart.
Now, it feels like my sons are dead. I know that they are not, but they have been removed from my life as surely as if they were placed in wooden boxes and lowered into the ground. No voices, no pictures, no word of what they doing has come my way. I don’t even know what they look like today. I know from letters that were sent to the judge, and from what my daughter has told me, that they hate me. They believe I am a terrible person, and that they want nothing to do with me. This is all so different from the relationship we had before. I was once their hero, their confidant, their champion – I was their father. The last time I saw Aiden he was sick, but he insisted on spending time with me, even though he felt awful. The last time I saw Seth, I held him while he cried in my arms, as I tried to console his fears about his parents splitting up. Now, in their minds, I am dangerous, a cancer – someone to avoid at all costs. Such has my wife poisoned their minds and hearts against me.
Everything I knew about my sons is gone. Our relationship no longer exists. The children they once were no longer exist. It has been five years now – they are both approaching 15 years of age, well into their teens. To me, they are still nine years old, frozen in my mind at the age I last saw them. But the children I knew have grown up, and every connection I had with them has been severed. Even if we were reunited tomorrow, nothing that we once had has been preserved – we would have to start our relationship from scratch. I have lost my sons.
Throughout history, our society has developed ways of dealing with grief. We have a funeral for the deceased. We tell stories of fond memories with them. We look at photographs of the ones we’ve lost, and we remember the joy they brought to our lives. We pour out our grief, and those around us acknowledge the loss, and they comfort us. Then, as the final gesture, we lower a casket into the ground, or present an urn of ashes to the family. The survivors go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. And often there is a stone at the final resting place, a marker of the one who has been removed from our lives. I will see none of that.
I will not get to hear others laugh telling stories of my sons, or cry over how much they will be missed. I will not be able to gather my family together in mourning, and watch a collage of photographs showing their lives. I will not see a casket lowered into the ground, or hold an urn, as a tangible reminder that my sons are gone. I will never allow myself to fully reach acceptance, because no matter how distant and dim hope becomes, it is always there, taunting me, just out of my reach. Instead of bringing comfort, that hope has become a hand in the graveyard, reaching up from the ground and grasping my ankle, holding me there. There is no plaque in the ground, no marble headstone, nothing to indicate the day my sons were taken from me. My great loss is invisible and unacknowledged.