My husband and I had the opportunity to have a little "us" time yesterday and decided to see the movie Lincoln at the local cinema. We had heard so much about the film - as I'm sure all of you have, too, and were looking forward to seeing it. I read some of the information about reactions to the film, and was aware that it centered around the former President's efforts to abolish slavery. I was prepared for a stellar performance by Daniel Day Lewis and looked forward to seeing one of my all time favorite actesses (Sally Field) in action. I have always been fascinated by our First Ladies. Where our Presidents have had the ability to decide whether or not to run for office, it is their election that catapults their wives into the public eye whether they are ready for it or not. I have read several books about the stories of these women - in particular, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy, and of course Mary Todd Lincoln. Truth be known, I was more interested in seeing her role in this movie than his.
The movie, of course, was fantastic. It was a little drawn out on some of the political debating for my tastes, but my husband assures me it was very well written and very true to form for the men that were emphasized. We expected debates, and we got them. What I didn't expect... What completely took me off guard and hit me to the core, were the two scenes in which Mrs. Lincoln grieved over the loss of their son Willie.
William Wallace Lincoln died in February of 1862 at the age of 12 of an illness described as "most likely typhoid fever". The movie was set in January of 1865, making the Lincoln's three years bereaved at the time of the vote on the 13th Amendment. Almost exactly the amount of time that has passed since we lost Henry.
When Henry died in 2009, I was so lost. I didn't know how to live. How to keep breathing. Every breath I took was a physical effort. I had to remind myself to do it. There would be times when I would gasp for air because I would forget to inhale for a bit. It seems odd that something so ingrained would be forgotten, but it happened. As a semi-related side note, the song "No Air" by Jordin Sparks is one of the songs that will bring me to tears and has since the first time I heard it after Henry's death for the exact reason described above.
I was determined to keep living my life for Jack's sake, but although my head was convinced, my heart wasn't sure I was up to the task. I looked for comfort in the most unlikely of places - the cemetery. After Henry's funeral, I found myself wandering around the cemetery, memorizing the names of the people he now took up residence with. I would try to piece together different family members of strangers and figure out how they met. I'd calculate the years between the death of a child and the death of his or her mother. Then I'd think, ok, she lived forty years past her son's death. If she can do it, so can I. I found one woman who had buried three sons and was still living. I wanted to call her and ask her how she managed, but even in my grief state I realized that might be a little too stalker-ish. How would I even start that conversation? "Ma'am, you don't know me, but I found your stone at the cemetery..." Umm, no.
At this point, needing more information (or inspiration) than just dates and life spans, I turned to the celebrity bereaved. For better or worse, the lives of those in the public spotlight are kind of an open book for anyone to read, and I took advantage of that. The first person that came to mind given my life long fascination with our First Ladies, was Mary Todd Lincoln. I started reading book after book about her life and her children's deaths (three of her four sons died at age 18 or younger). I read about her grief and about her life after their deaths. Although she handled her grief much differently than I hoped to, my heart still went out to her and I've often wondered if her insanity that came with later life was simply a defense mechanism to save her broken heart after burying three children and a husband.
Yesterday, when the movie turned away from politics and slavery and turned toward the very real emotions of a bereaved mother, I was inconsolable. Thankfully there were very few people in the theatre at this late date so I didn't make too much of a spectacle of myself. Each time Willie was mentioned, I cried. If Mary cried, I cried. I also cried when the votes were tallied for the 13th Amendment, though for very different reasons (by then I was on a roll with the tears and they flowed easily). I find that I am much more emotional since Henry's death. Even the mention of a loss of a child or a child who has passed can bring my soul to its knees. Seeing a woman - or the portrayal of a woman - who I looked to for inspiration, in the midst of her pain was heart wrenching. And then to watch her compounded grief when she lost her husband so unexpectedly... I have no words. None. It was just too much for me.
It is often said that time heals all wounds. I disagree. Time does nothing more than put distance between you and the epicenter of your pain. It puts a bandaid on your wound. You feel better, but at any moment a turn in life can rip that bandaid off and there you are with that open wound again, just as painful as ever. Thankfully, each time the bandaid is removed and the wound re-opened, you become more adept at first aid and can more easily transition back out of grief to that more comfortable state where life and emotions seem somewhat under control.
Where breathing comes naturally.
Lincoln is a fantastic movie. My husband and I both enjoyed it and the acting was superb. I encourage everyone to see the movie and allow themselves to be engulfed with such an important man and moment in our nation's history. I only ask that when you do, you also allow yourselves a moment to grieve with the Lincoln's and raise a prayer for this family that gave so much to our country despite their personal heart aches.
On the off chance that anyone else seeks out fellow bereaved parents for inspiration in their own grief journey, I encourage you to also look to the lives of:
Bill Cosby (Ennis, age 27), John and Elizabeth Edwards (Wade), Joe Biden (Naomi, infant), John Travolta and Kelly Preston (Jett, age 16), Sylvester Stallone (Sage, age 36), Marie Osmond (Michael, age 18), Eric Clapton (Connor, age 4), Kirk Douglas (Eric, age 46), Barbara Eden (Matthew, age 35), Carol Burnett (Carrie), Mike Tyson (Exodus, age 4), Vince Neil of Motley Crüe (Skylar, age 4), Dr. Dre (Andre, age 20).
In addition to President Lincoln, at least 23 other Presidents have buried children during their lifetime, including Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and John Kennedy, just to name a few.
Some day I would like to create a blog post detailing all of these individuals and their stories, but that is a post for another day. In closing, I will say to my bereaved readers that if you are looking for modern day inspiration in hopes of life after loss, look to former Biggest Loser contestant Abby Rike or the now deceased Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards. Elizabeth was very active with The Compassionate Friends and very open about her grief journey.
This morning, while watching Good Morning America, I saw footage of Robin Roberts returning to her home in New Orleans after her surgery and I heard her say, "My mama always said, 'Make your mess your message.'" It should come as no surprise that I got tears in my eyes. Abby and Elizabeth have done just that, and I hope to follow in their footsteps and do the same.