Bread Crumbs--Finding Our Way Back
By Rich Edler
Bread crumbs are all we have.
They are what is left behind after the death of our child. They are our memories and our mementos.
A bread crumb is the little answering machine cassette tape that says “Hi, it’s me. Leave a message at the beep.” We may be the only people with a cassette tape in our safe deposit box. It’s not much, a few quick words, but it’s his voice—a small crumb from the original.
A bread crumb is his favorite shirt that I still can’t part with, so I wear it for good luck on special days. A bread crumb is the last Father’s Day card he wrote in his own hand before he went off to college.
Thanks for everything Dad, especially the $. My years at home were better than words can say and I never took anything for granted. I’ve had the best childhood anyone could have. Thank you for the ideas and opportunities I grew up with. I love you. Mark
I call these things crumbs because they are a disappointing piece of the real thing, but treasured because they are all we have.
I also think there is a second way of looking at this. Bread crumbs are a part of children’s stories symbolizing signposts along the way to help lead us out of the forest—to find our way back to the land of the living, at least if the birds don’t eat them
I like to think that the return from grief is like finding our own way out of the forest. The way is marked by great changes or signposts if we will only follow the bread crumbs. I think of them as gifts left behind by our children. They change us and they lead us out of the forest—but at a very different place than we first went in. Here are three I have found. Maybe you will find others.
We pick up a new sense of what is important and what is not. We suffer fools, superficial cocktail parties, and convenience friends poorly. We seem to develop an immediate impatience for the meaningless and the trivial. On the other hand, we pick up an incredible sensitivity to the world around us that we did not have before. We watch the news differently. We value people more than things. We live more in the moment and less in the future because we know that sometimes “tomorrow doesn’t come.”
We find our real self on the road back. After the loss of a child and a period of emptiness, we do eventually come back. But we come back differently—and I believe better—than the person that entered that awful forest. With our new understanding of priorities, we listen again to “that still small voice” that we silenced in the race to climb the career ladder or have the “perfect life” or do what our parents or teachers thought we “should” do We find new courage to be the person we really are.
We begin living from the inside out instead of the other way around—from a sense of what is important, not what is expected. From a life of “what’s in it for me?” to “how can I help you?” We discover new and compassionate friends, and sometimes drift away from old ones. We go from a thousand name Rolodex of contacts to a handful of people we love.
We often also find our spiritual center and an inner peace. We become unafraid to died, at the same time we are beginning to live again.
We pick up one more gift that I have noticed. We seem to get anointed with an ability to help someone else. You know what I mean. We didn’t want it. We didn’t ask for it. But we got it, anyway. It’s almost like a giant invisible radar screen gets mounted on our head and we now pick up vibrations from other people in need. And we find that we really can help. People seek us out. People who don’t know what to say when a child dies call us and ask: “Could you please go over?” We know we can and will, if only to listen
I am reminded of the story of a little boy who arrived home late from school. “Where have you been?” his mother asked. “I was helping Timmy who broke his bike,” the child answered. “But, Honey,” the mother said. “You don’t even know how to fix a bike.” “I know Mom,” came the reply, “But I was just helping him cry.”
Sometimes we can just help someone else cry, and that is enough. Unlike most other people, we can walk directly up to a bereaved parent or sibling, look them in the eye, and say, “I know how you feel.” That is what TCF is all about. And in helping another person, we help ourselves heal too.
So, what do we do with these new gifts or bread crumbs left along the way for us? New priorities. A new sense of self. And the ability to help someone else.
These are definitely good things. They did not come from the death of our child. Nothing good comes from the death of a child. As Rabbi Harold Kushner said in Seattle: “there is no silver lining.” But there is change. These changes come after the death, when we recognize that we can’t change what happened, but we can change what we do about it.
One day our surviving son, Rick, put his arms around us in a family hug and said: “Okay Mom and Dad, now that we are a family of three instead of four, we each have to live our lives one-third better.” That, more than any other moment in our grief, marked our turning point.
My wife has a reoccurring dream. She is in Heaven many years from now and she greets our son. “Okay, Mom,” Mark says, “So tell me everything you did after I died?” On that day she will be proud to answer: “I lived the rest of my life one-third better in your name.”
I suspect most bereaved parents divide their lives into those two distinct stages of time: before and after the death. What we do in State Two we do in our child’s name.
And because we do it, the world after our child died in some small way is changed forever. And when the world in some small way is changed forever, then our child’s life continues to make a difference.
And when our child’s life continues to make a difference, he or she is never entirely gone.
Well that is beautiful I try not to read some poems or things but this I couldn't take my eyes away even as I sat here and cried the whole time.
How true this is, those little bread crumbs of our lives, now to find our way out of the forest.
Thank you for sharing.
What can be said.
cindy Monica's Mom