"A circle has no beginning and no end. No part of it is more or less than any other. A circle is an endless sphere that encompasses, embraces, and encloses. It is a cycle of forward and backward loops, a symbol of enduring love, a joining together without borders."
And with these words, I opened the 23rd Annual California Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Conference in the fall of 2001. At that time, our daughter Lauren had been gone for four years, dying of SIDS during an afternoon nap on her third day of daycare. Today, more than 14 years later, I'd like to share my opening comments....
Circles. Circles. Before grief entered my life I probably thought of surviving the death of a loved one as a straight line. That grief started horrible and eventually got better. All in a straight line. The circle of life - a very simplistic pattern of birth, growing up, having children, getting old, and eventually, after a nice long life, having your children bury you. I think I remember - back when I was another me - contemplating the symbolism of the wedding ring and the universe and the wholeness of the circle. But it never meant as much as it does now.
Circles. Circles. We grow up expecting certain circles in life. All of us have surely heard Elton John's theme from The Lion King, the "Circle of Life." In case you never quite heard those words, here are a few of them:
I think about the circles of Lauren's life. Only 3 months and 27 days old. Yet she touched so many with her life and even in death she is still present in our lives. The ripples of her life - her story - are concentric circles, growing and expanding.
I think about the journey of grief. I have long likened grief to walking on a difficult path with a huge boulder blocking the way. The boulder is too big to go around, you can't turn back, and you have no dynamite to blow it up. The only option is to just start climbing over that rock. No easy way around it. And the trick is to never give up.
There is a strong circle metaphor to grieving that works for me too. The early days of grief for me were an endless loop of tears and doubts, and whys and what ifs. I would replay the day before she died in endless detail. The sunny day - the smiles - planting flowers. Like a tape in endless loop. The same was true of the afternoon she died. The phone call - the trip to the hospital - receiving the "news" from the pediatrician on duty and the emergency room doctor - saying our goodbyes and slowly, sadly and so excruciatingly alone, we walked through those hospital doors into the hot August night, without Lauren.
Circles of despair. Circles of sadness. Circles of doubt. Tears. Each day, each 24 hour day, was a struggle. One foot in front of the other and then it would start all over again the next morning. Circles of minutes. Circles of hours, days and weeks. Circles around the sun. First birthdays, first anniversaries. The circle of time expanding. The moment of impact at the center of the circle growing more distant in time, but still reverberating strong and clear in our very bones.
But the circle changes ever so subtly and eventually new circles begin to move within your life. The circle that once possessed every waking moment and felt like a downward spiral of despair, begins to feel like a wheel - a way to journey on, a way to transport, a way to move into the future. Circles of support. Circles of community. Circles of caring. Friends, family, SIDS professionals, and especially other SIDS parents who really understood and listened.
So we join today at this celebration of the circle. This morning we will light a candle. Later this afternoon, we will form a circle and speak the names of our children. Children, while no longer physically here, will always be a part of our circle of life.
We come together as a community. A circle of protection. A circle of strength. A circle of shared sorrow and the promise of future joy. We journey together and together the circle is made stronger.
Lorie Gehrke, NC
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