Goodwin’s birthday is always a time of reflection for me. I kind of dread it and anticipate it at the same time.
Four years now since his passing I have thought a lot about life. I have wished a million times that I could “go back” to life as I once experienced it, without the burden of loss. I have struggled with depression, anxiety, vulnerability, anger, cynicism and confusion. I have struggled accepting that my worldview is different now and continues to evolve. And when I hear about the suffering of others, it can be emotionally exhausting.
In short, it can feel almost impossible to be happy at times.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that everyone suffers in some way or another. In my situation, losing a child introduced a whole new realm of experiences and feelings that may differ from someone else in a different situation, but the fact that we all struggle unifies us.
In the weeks following Goodwin’s death, isolation was a very present feeling for me. Every time I went out I felt so alone because no one knew my story. No one knew (or could know) how I was breaking inside. I was just another stranger.
This made a big impact on me. It made me realize that everyone around me had a story and that for all I knew, everyone was breaking inside.
I think we shouldn’t assume that people are bad but that they are having a hard time. Further, instead of dismissing others as insignificant, we should accept that everyone has a valuable and complex life story. When we move beyond judgment and indifference, we open our hearts to understanding and compassion.
I experience this almost daily with my children. When they are fighting, whining, teasing, crying, it is almost always revealed that someone hurt their feelings at school, or they got embarrassed, or they felt like a failure. By showing them kindness, sympathy, and warmth those feelings soften and we can connect.
I also experienced this after Goodwin died. Many friends and family members showed their love in diverse ways. Many sent flowers and notes. Others generously financed the funeral expenses. Others invited me out to lunch, watched my children and prepared meals. Others wrote beautiful poetry and shared their tears without words. Others cleaned my house, sent thoughtful gifts and asked me how I was really doing. Others continue to visit Goodwin’s grave. And one other sends flowers every year on his birthday.
No matter how these people reached out to me and my family, it is their compassion that helped soften my feelings. They helped make life bearable. I didn’t feel completely alone.
I believe that we all struggle in different ways. Grief will always be part of my story. I think many of us suffer silently and few know about our hurting hearts. From my own experience of feeling invisible while suffering deeply, I am convinced that compassion – even among strangers – is a gift we can give others. While many of our situations do not change, I do believe that love and understanding can change us and help us.
And so, I am grateful for this legacy even though I still wish very much that Goodwin was here.