Today (27 May) is the 33 year anniversary of my son, Pax. His name means peace, and he is laid to rest in Bhopal, central India. My (first) husband and I were working in India at the time. We were travelling when Pax became ill on the train. I still remember looking frantically at the timetable to see where there might be a hospital. Bhopal was the first big city that we passed, so we got off the train and took him to the hospital. Despite treatment, it was too late, and he was gone within 24 hours. My heart broke and has never healed. How could it? Pax had a life that was too short. He was a gentle boy, usually very calm. He had toys and books, and a little sister whom he loved.
I went back there two years ago, for the first time. It’s a long story which I’ll save for another time and place, but being back in that location, with its incredibly painful memories, actually brought Pax closer to me again.
Bhopal is the city that was the scene of a terrible industrial tragedy; the struggle for justice continues. During our visit, we heard eyewitness accounts and got an idea of the impact that continues to this day.
We also met and were assisted by some very kind people and pastors from local churches, both Protestant and Catholic. Pax is laid to rest in the garden of the beautiful St Francis of Assisi Cathedral.
Nothing can bring our children – or whoever we have loved and lost – back to life again, and going to Bhopal didn’t restore Pax back to life. But that trip was very important for me, his mother, and sometimes we, as the bereaved, have a compulsion to do things that other people may not understand or approve of. We may fuss over a grave, create collages of photographs, write books and blogs (!), turn a corner of our garden into a shrine… These are ways of showing our respect and love, and also perhaps sometimes our frustration that we cannot do more, that we could not do more, to prevent their passing, that we cannot bring them back.
This can be true, I think, no matter the faith and beliefs we hold. Because no matter what we hope for a world beyond our own, our loved one is no longer here in this world. We don’t watch them grow up or grow old. The chair at the table is empty.
If you’re a bereaved person who is reading this, I hope you will be just a little encouraged that the “thing” you do is just fine, no matter if your friends think you a bit crazy. And that there is no time scale for these remembrances that bring you comfort. Just do whatever helps you through (within safe limits, of course!).
It’s 33 years for Pax. My plan today is to walk to Catherine’s grave, which is now my local location for Pax too, as I have a double-headstone and I buried some of the soil from Bhopal in that spot. Perhaps I’ll write about the day later, or perhaps not. There are some places in my heart and grief which are for me alone – as I’m sure you have your own too.