Lydia knew suffering. She had endured physical pain far beyond my comprehension. She suffered emotional loss, the cruel deterioration of dementia and a broken spirit. We knew she was weeks away from death and her ultimate suffering was leaving her nine-year-old child to suffer without her. She knew Matt would ultimately suffer like her, die like her, but be beyond her touch.

Through the years as we lived in the shadow of death we spoke many times about the quality of Matt’s life and the role of suffering. We suffer as we sorrow – in our own way. I would often say to her, “You cannot define the suffering of another human being. What you see as suffering may not be what they see.”

No one suffers the same. No one sorrows the same. The universality of pain and loss is so individualized. When Lydia and I took turns holding Bryan’s body, as it grew cold, we suffered the same loss alone. We held each other after we put Bryan in the casket, but we could only hold so much.

When Lydia asked me not to let him suffer, I thought of Bryan. Bryan suffered. I held him hour after hour, day after day until the minutes stopped. All I could do was hold him. Bryan suffered in his own way – out of reach, beyond words, within love.

How do you define suffering for another? What is the definition of sorrow? The immensity of both our sorrow and suffering are indescribable, much less definable.

There are just some places I cannot go and some places no one can go with me. I could not go into the core of Lydia’s suffering. I had to wait on the outskirts till she surfaced. I could hold her, but never hold all of her.

In my sorrow, there are places I must go alone. The landscape of my Afterloss has many layers. Some layers are filled with footprints of others who grieve and know the depths of sorrow, but there are layers in my Afterloss painted solely in solitude. I am not afraid to be alone there. I have no expectation that anyone can find me there. I have no one to hold and nothing to hold on to.

Matt suffered. I have yet to meet a parent who would not die a thousand deaths to trade places with their child who suffers. Three years Matt lived beyond Lydia. Three beautifully excruciating years we shared joy, laughter, fun, tenderness, love…and suffering. We grieved the loss of his brother and his mother together. We grieved his physical deterioration together. We grieved his impending death together. We grieved as we lived – together.

But I knew there were places Matt needed to travel alone. There were moments when I knew Matt was beyond my reach. I would give him the space to go where he needed to go and waited with him like I waited for Lydia – on the outskirts till he surfaced again.

And after he went to bed, I would sit by candlelight in the spaces I needed to go until I resurfaced from my Afterloss into the outskirts of night. My pain was not in my Afterloss.

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