The Lucky Ones Fall Off

by C.J. Couvillion
(Baton Rouge, LA)

"The Lucky Ones Fall Off" was written on approximately 9/15/10. It is the second chapter of my book called "Nightmare to Normal." A few selected paragraphs from that piece are presented below.

My son Stephen has been dead for a little over 4 months now. I think I’m doing alright. But, I really don’t know what to expect. This is a first for me, losing a child. Besides, I’m just the father here, not the mother. I can’t even imagine what Kathy, my wife, is feeling or even how Sarah, Stephen’s sister, is feeling. He was her little brother all of his life and most of hers. She says she can’t remember being without him and that she always felt like she had to look out for him. And now he’s dead from drug intoxication. God, that has to hurt!

What about Kathy’s pain? She risked her life to carry him. She risked her life to give him birth. She has put her life on the line for him more times than I can remember, more than I ever did. He was literally her flesh. Her body prepared his body for this world. God, it must hurt for a mother to lose her child.

But, not me, I’m just fine. (This reminds me of a line from a famous Melissa Etheridge song, “I’m alright. I’m alright. It only hurts when I breathe.”)

“Looking back, nothing is ever as bad as you imagined it would be.” That is what I can say to myself now, looking back. But this new-found “wisdom” was not easily acquired. I’ve had prostate cancer. I’ve spent two weeks in a Houston hospital watching my 26-year old son go through emergency open-heart surgery. I’ve watch my father die from cancer in his hospice bed, right there in my living room. I’ve gone blind in each of my eyes at separate times in my life, and a lot of other events in-between, the pain and distress of which I really can’t describe adequately in print. Oh, yeah, and did I tell you? Most recently, I’ve had to identify my 29-year old son’s body in the morgue of a Philadelphia hospital.

“Looking back, nothing is ever as bad as you imagined it would be.” I think I can say that now, or maybe it just makes for a good story, looking back because God’s unimaginable, incomprehensible comfort has flowed toward me each and every time one these things has happened. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. And, quite frankly for me, tragedy gets a little easier every time. It’s almost as if I have been injected with a miracle anesthesia medication that makes me numb to new pain and allows me more easily to get past the old pains. But maybe I’m numb because something is broken. Maybe the nerves are just dead.

But I really have felt, I believe, the mercy and comforts of God and those whom he has sent to come to my aid. In this regard, I consider myself blessed or lucky or whatever other description can explain how I feel, because not everyone feels so “lucky.” Loss does not get easier for everyone. Not everyone gets injected with the miracle anesthetic. C.S. Lewis was one of those not-so-lucky ones. He wrote about the experience of the death of his wife. In “A Grief Observed,” Lewis writes:

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”
- C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I particularly like the last part of the quote from Lewis: “…don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.” I think that Lewis hit a common theme when he wrote that very honest line. Through the death of his wife, he had stumbled into an abyss and found that the “consolations of religion” didn’t work for him.

C.S. Lewis was not alone. If you speak with anyone who has lost a loved one, let’s say a spouse or a child, you will find a common experience of loss, of living each day knowing that you are grieving for your loved one and that there is no antidote, no magic anesthetic. Some find that the grief train does not stop, as it goes around and around in a circle, and they can’t get off.

As I am writing this, I keep thinking about John Mackey of the old Baltimore Colts. He was drafted into the NFL out of Syracuse University in the early 1960s. He played tight end for the Colts and was so big and brutal and hard to take down by the puny defensive backs at the time, he became known as “Mackey the Meat Grinder.”

I once heard a sports announcer say about him that “the lucky ones fall off.” As a kid, I saw clips of him dragging three defensive backs at a time with him into the end zone. The “lucky ones,” you see, fell off before he stomped them to death. That’s literally how he got the nickname of “Meat Grinder.”

However, regarding grief and the grief train, “Do the lucky ones fall off?” I’m just asking, because though I have said that I consider myself one of the lucky ones, am I really? Or, have I merely fallen temporarily off the train onto the track, and eventually the train is going to come back around and run over me? I sure hope not.

Nowadays I feel as though I’m listening for the train all the time. Worse than that, because I have trouble feeling my own pain, it is hard to notice the pain of others also. The magic anesthesia hasn’t worn off yet, I guess. I bet it’s going to “hurt like the dickens” when it does.

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