I recently re-watched the movie Stand By Me for the first time in many years. As with every exposure to one of Stephen King’s masterpieces, I was again struck by the particular insight the author has into the expanding and mysterious world of a child. As with all of my previous encounters with the story (either in book or movie form), I was drawn to the character of Gordie. He is the quieter, more introspective one of the group. He observes. He analyzes. He is both in the moment and aware of the bigger picture.
And he is also invisible.
We learn that his older brother, one of those “shining” boys that attracts the adoration of all, was killed the previous year in a car accident. The grocer doesn’t see Gordie, he only sees the brother of the one who was taken too soon. Even his parents barely acknowledge their surviving child, protecting the older brother’s shrine of a room over the needs of Gordie. We see them going through the motions of life without purpose. Nurturing the one who is gone while neglecting the one who is left.
They are living the life they lost, not the life they have.
It’s easy to do. When the loss is acute, it demands attention. It insists that it be the primary focus of every day and every breath. And in healthy grieving, the loss never fades completely, yet it no longer occupies the front seat, displacing everything else.
But sometimes grief becomes stuck. And the loss remains the number one, relegating the ones who remain to a place of invisibility and inattention.
Nurturing what was instead of what is.
It’s hard to change the future. But it’s even harder to change the past.
Live the life you have, not the life you lost.