Rumi said it best: “Grief can be the garden of compassion.” I spotted this quote as I sat in my garden grieving over the sudden death of our 26-year-old daughter.
Jogging with her fiancé in New York’s Central Park on Memorial Day 2008, Lauren Nicole Zussman went into cardiac arrest. One phone call changed the life of a virtually happy family. It happened exactly eight years to the day after she almost died of an overdose of alcohol while vacationing at Lake Havasu.
Clean and sober, never wavering, this Ford International Model went on to just about become a poster child for the 12-step program. She was only four courses short of a life coach credential from New York University when she was unexpectedly taken away because of an unknown heart condition.
Temporarily, there is no value to life when you lose a child. I am now on the outside, looking into other houses filled with life and laughter. The ebb and flow of my realization of her death terrifies my soul. My thoughts weave back and forth between the awareness of life and death and a false sense of security. The conveyor belt of confusion, anger, sadness and dread continues on, as a quiet death within me permeates.
I speak to my daughter daily, if only in my mind: Soothing music, burning candles and the comfort of your maroon shawl surround my many sleepless nights. I turn to photographs and memories of you constantly. I fear that I will not bounce back to life as I have known it, but as time goes by your light overshadows the darkness of the hour. I can never see or touch you, but in my heart an imaginary cord will always unite us.
The time since Lauren’s passing has given us periods of normalcy — although, as my husband has said, we have to create a new normal. I must have the courage to go on, not only for myself but, more important, for my family. We all wear a silver chain bracelet with “courage” engraved on one side and “Lauren 08" on the other side. Lauren’s courage inspires us, and she would so not want us to suffer.
I hope that Lauren is with nature. She loved gardenias, trees and the ocean. She loved fairies, and we have a statue sitting in our garden of a fairy that looks a lot like her, reading a book. We also have a bird feeder, with hummingbirds flying to it daily.
I hang on to that imaginary cord, that rope, knowing that I will never relinquish it completely.
There are so many unanswered questions, but I do know one thing: There is no prescription for grieving.
Zussman, who lives in Newport Beach, is the author of “Throw Me the Rope: A Memoir on Loving Lauren.” She can be reached at LZ28@cox.net.
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