|The Need to Grieve|
|Monday, 23 January 2012 21:04|
By Bruce Apar
When decades ago The Mamas & The Papas sang about “words of love, so soft and tender,” the ‘60s group wasn’t harmonizing about death. But never are words of love more heartfelt or necessary or comforting than when mourning comes.
It came without warning and with horror recently to the Yorktown family of young Patrick Werner, whose life ended tragically Jan. 15. The immediate outpouring in tribute to the rookie officer who had just finished working his way through the New York City Police Academy included long lines of mourners outside Yorktown’s Clark Funeral Home, standing in frigid temperatures to pay their respects to parents Jacquelyn and Paul and sister Danielle, and to console each other as best they could manage.
I know the Werners, if not intimately, then enough to know what a warm, giving and popular family they are in the community they serve as volunteers and model citizens. As with other families in Yorktown and beyond, including ours, they’re now members of the world’s most exclusive club nobody ever wants to join: those who have lost young children and siblings.
We expect to outlive our parents. We neither expect nor want to outlive our offspring. People understandably struggle with what to say, how to act when confronting parents who freefall into that netherworld from which there is no return.
Nothing you can say sounds adequate, because it never can be. Nothing sounds appropriate, because, despite the certainty of death for each of us, when a child passes it is as unnatural as it is unfathomable and unbearable. “I can’t imagine” is the refrain I’ve heard for nearly nine years since Harrison left us.
I have a different perspective, unfortunately. I am left only to imagine enjoying the presence of a son who today would be 24, who I could hug and love in the flesh instead of merely in spirit.
I feel obliged to tell families like the Werners, “You don’t need to be strong. You need to grieve. Let it out.” It’s one of our society’s great and terrible myths that suppressing emotions for a loved one lost is a sign of strength. It’s a weakness, a fear. I learned in the worst way possible that letting my tears trickle down in public empowered me with pride, born of naked love.
I was crying Harrison just as the Werners are crying Patrick. Be strong? Be natural. Trying vainly to deny yourself the rapture of outwardly mourning for your own flesh and blood is weak and unnatural. Put another way, the saddest thing of all is not to be sad.
At the funeral mass at St. Patrick’s Church on Jan. 19, Danielle delivered as poignant and potent and honest a eulogy as I’ve heard. It was brave too, as she soldiered through the veil of tears that flow like a mighty river to carry us onward when grief seizes us by the throat. Here it is in full:
“Patrick was my younger brother. And how can you sum up your brother’s life in a few minutes, because one thing Patrick hated was long speeches.
“I believed Patrick would always make something of himself, and I never stopped pestering him about what he was doing, or what his plans were, or how he was going to accomplish his goals. I don’t think I can explain our relationship, but I have never been so proud of him, and so happy for what he had accomplished.
“Throughout this impossible time, our family has learned nothing short of how much he meant to his extended family, his friends, his employers, his teammates, and his fellow officers.
“He was dedicated and he was proud of becoming a New York City Police Officer.
“My mother and father were Patrick’s support, from supporting him through school, to driving down to his first day on the job to bring him his badge he forgot. No matter what happened, they were always there for him, and he knew that. They always pushed him to strive for the best, and he did accomplish what he wanted because they were behind him completely.
“You may not have known that Patrick was the best Girl Scout in my troop, or that he used to count time in Batman [TV] shows. So when we were driving to Florida, it was 40 Batman shows. Or that every Sunday dinner, no matter how long dinner lasted, he knew exactly when to say, “Okay Grandma, I’ll take you home now,” just in time to get out of dishes. Patrick would always sit around a table and listen, most of the time waiting to put in a quick line that would sum up your life’s problems. He was messy and disorganized, but he would never leave the house with a hair out of place and dressed just right.
“Patrick was as simple as he was complex; he could make all your problems make sense, or he could leave your head spinning. Patrick could run like the wind, but he volunteered to be the [lacrosse] goalie.
“Patrick is my daughter’s godfather. But would not hold her when she was first born. He waited and waited, didn’t matter how hard everyone tried to convince him. But in true Patrick fashion, he came in one day, went straight to Madison, as he always did, picked her up and walked away with her to play, as if he had been holding her forever. Patrick didn’t do anything he couldn’t do right. He would watch and listen and learn, and when he was ready, he would do it right.
“He never said a lot, but he had a lot to say. One of his teachers once told my mother what took others pages to write, Patrick wrote in three sentences. No Fluff. Just direct and to the point. His one-liners could always make you laugh.
“There are not enough words to explain how much my family will miss Patrick. But we are overwhelmed with the support around us. As we all come together with our own memories of Patrick and the times we spent with him, we all join hands together and will continue to lean on each other for support.
“I have learned from my brother that there is always another way of looking at an impossible situation. And as I stand and look at you all today, you are our reason. Together we will remember, and honor his short life. I will not mourn his loss, but rather celebrate his life, and what he had become.
“We cannot truly thank you all enough for you love and support. It is a true testament to Patrick’s life, and how we lived our lives. And while his life was short, he’ll live with us forever.”