Five months ago, my son died.
As I write these words and read them over and over, they are so incomprehensible that they might as well be in a foreign language. I read them over and over again, unable to understand that they relate to me, that they are part of my story. These words belong to a novel, or sad news about a poor family that I will never know, but that I will take a moment to feel sorry for before returning to my life. They can’t be my life. I can’t be the one people look at and silently thank God that my life is not his.
Needless to say, I am nowhere near the pain acceptance stage. I keep going in and out of the land of denial regularly. Part of the challenge is the shocking way my son Isaac died – in the Beirut explosion, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. Everything happened so fast. One minute I was sitting with Isaac eating dinner and singing lullabies, the next I found myself sitting at my in-laws’ house in the suburbs of Perth, as far from Beirut as possible, without him. I know there were many things in between: the explosion, the hospital, the challenge of getting flights out of the country. But everything is blurry. In a matter of seconds, our entire life collapsed around us like a house of cards. What happened was so great and beyond the realm of imagination that my mind cannot calculate that I lived it. When I think of that day and the immediate days that followed, I feel like I am seeing myself in a movie, rather than remembering actual events.
The inability to understand the explosion and the way Isaac died, at two years and three months, means that I cannot understand this new reality either. I feel like an intruder in this world, an observer but not a participant. This life in the Perth suburbs seems surreal and unnatural. It’s like I’ve slipped into a parallel universe and I’m just waiting to get back to the “real” one, the one where Isaac exists and our family is complete. On the occasions when I realize that yes, I’m actually here in the Perth suburbs and this part is real, I wonder if my previous life, and Isaac, were just my imagination. Was life with Isaac just a beautiful dream? Or am I currently in a never ending nightmare that I can’t wake up from? The contrast between my two existences is so stark, the events that led me to where I am today so surreal, the blow so cruel, that I simply cannot reconcile this new reality with the old one, so in my mind only one must be true. .
The only thing that connects the two realities is the flashbacks I get as I go about my day. A loud sound makes me want to duck to hide, the screams of children playing evoke the screams that filled the corridors with the hospital, and a moment of quiet brings to mind my last image of Isaac’s face, scared and confused. The people around me go to work, attend parties, and spend time with their children. They laugh, cry, and worry about their own problems. Their lives continue as “normal”, unaware of the little things that immediately transport me to that horrible night in Beirut. They live their lives, while I stay frozen.
Time does not interact with pain in the way we expect. Somehow the sun still rises every day. Somehow it still settles. But life as I know it stopped at 6.08pm on August 4, 2021, and that is where part of me remains. The idea that five whole months have passed is as incomprehensible to me as the explosion itself. How have I survived five months without my little one? Before his death, I spent a total of three nights away from Isaac. The first night, when he was eight months old, I was hospitalized with a stomach virus. I remember sitting on that hospital bed at New York University, with the breast pump on because I was still breastfeeding, and crying. Isaac was no more than a mile away, safe at home with his father, and yet it felt like he was a million miles away. The second time was when I was 18 months old and I traveled to Kuwait for two nights for work. I cried all the way to the airport and vowed right then, even before I left the country, that I would never travel for work again unless I could take Isaac with me.
Each of those three nights away from Isaac felt like torture and yet now I’ve gone 156 nights without him and I have my whole life left. How have I spent 156 nights without reading Isaac his bedtime story? 156 nights without him giving me a big bear hug and saying “Bonne nuit, mom”? – 156 nights without sneaking into his room late at night just to check he’s okay? How have I survived 156 nights? I don’t want to move forward, each step forward in time is a step beyond Isaac and our life with him, but going back is impossible. And then I’m stuck. Life moves on around me, but I’m stuck at The.
The horror of what happened to Isaac, the pain I feel, permeates every aspect of my being. It is omnipresent, even suffocating. I live in a permanent state of cognitive dissonance: on the one hand fully aware of what happened, on the other, unable to believe or accept it. Time and space no longer mean the same thing. Grief is not just dealing with the loss of my son, but also facing the fact that our lives have fundamentally changed and, try as we might, time passes without whether we like it or not.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism