Did you know that the human body can scream without making a sound? I assure you, it can. And the "sound" of that scream is more deafening than any audible noise I've ever heard. It starts as a twist in your gut and bubbles up to your chest where it burns a hole in your heart and rips at your lungs as they try to breathe. It grips you from the inside and doesn't let go. The only partial solace is in an actual sound escaping from your mouth. Sometimes it's a scream, sometimes it's uncontrolled tears.
It makes you feel trapped and alone. It makes you think things and do things that scare you to death. It makes you want to cry out for help, but doesn't allow you the voice to do so. You start to shake with it's intense grip on your soul. You yearn for it to stop, and beg for it to leave you. You try to find it within yourself to get past this horrific moment in time. Eventually you realize that this isn't something to be conquered on your own, and this is the worst part. How can you ask someone else to join your pain? How can you actively seek out a friend when you know all you'll be doing is dumping this heavy burden of grief in their lap?
It's an impossible thing to ask of someone else, but the truth is that we're all connected and we're going to share in one another's grief whether we're asked to or not. I remember a time when Jeff and I were sitting in the lounge of the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at St. Louis Children's Hospital. We'd just had a particularly horrendous morning and for a brief moment, one of the doctors had offered us the slightest bit of hope. It was a rare occasion for the two of us to be together in a place other than our son's bedside. We were hesitantly making plans to actually eat lunch together. This hadn't happened in weeks, and we knew that we needed to grab the opportunity while it was available.
Just then, a fellow PICU mother (the woman right next to our son's room) came barreling into the lounge. She was tearing at her clothing and screaming, "My baby's dead! My baby's dead!" She reached out to her mother who'd been sitting next to us and pulled her to her feet while she looked wildly around the room. She seemed to be looking at everything and nothing, all at the same time. I'll never forget that crazed look or that guttural cry of pain. I looked at my husband's face and saw a mixture of fear and hidden knowing that shook me to my core.
I stood there, frozen for a moment. I was trying to take in what had just happened. I tried to give a name to the emotions whirling around my body. How could I be standing here experiencing this? How was it possible to ACTUALLY feel the pain of a stranger in the span of about 5 minutes? And why in the hell was it that one of the emotions I was feeling was relief? What kind of a person does that? I realized in that moment that the relief was coming from a place that recognized that the scream may have felt all-encompassing, but it hadn't come from me. I'd been spared that moment at that time. I felt grateful. Grateful, that the screams had come from room 19 instead of room 18. Grateful that although they'd closed the unit for awhile, I'd be able to go back into my son's room and kiss every part of his little body because he was still with me.
I could hear that scream for weeks afterward. I heard it in my few moments of sleep. I heard it in the elevator when I was alone. I heard it when I sat next to my son, stroking his hand. But, it was never more terrifying than the day that I recognized it coming from my own body. I became the woman tearing at my clothes. I was the wild-eyed person, spinning in circles, searching for anything that made sense. It had become my own voice, my own body, reeling with the pain that shredded my soul. And even though that particular moment is "over," the screaming hasn't stopped. I'm shaken with grief. I'm torn apart every day by little reminders of what will never be. As horrible as it is to be living and breathing this kind of torturous pain day in and day out, I find myself with another familiar feeling. The gratitude I felt in that parent lounge, on that cold day in November, is back. I'm grateful. Grateful for the pain because it means I'm still here, able to feel it. Grateful for the love I share with an incredible human being turned angel. And unequivocally grateful that despite the silence of the scream, someone always hears me.