The Apple logo has it. Like the Nike swoosh, it’s an image that is instantly recognisable worldwide. The apple is complete in itself, yet it has a piece missing. In fact there is an apocryphal story associated with the logo that suggests it was inspired by troubled genius Alan Turing, the man who laid the foundations for the modern day computer. He it was, who died after taking a bite from an apple he had laced with cyanide, but the theory that this event inspired the logo has been dismissed by Apple. So too has any biblical reference suggesting the apple’s association with knowledge. More prosaically, the designer of the logo confirmed that the reason for the bite is to show scale “so that a small Apple logo still looks like an apple rather than a cherry”.
What is the relevance of the Apple logo to grief? I think there is a significant correlation. Ten years after the loss of my son James, I am complete but with a piece missing, at least that is how it feels. To the outside world, I am like the Apple logo, whole, but I know I am not quite as whole as I was. And on the inside, I feel much the same. I am not alone in this – by the time we reach a certain level of maturity, we have all experienced events in our lives that represent chunks out of the apple, but the face we present to the world is complete.
Early grief would not be represented by a small segment out of the apple, rather the fruit would look decimated with a huge chunk missing and the core laid bare. I remember feeling distinctly unbalanced after James died. It was though I had lost some symmetry of form with the loss of one of my two children. I was blessed to have that symmetry for the time that I did. It was a long time before I felt evenly balanced again, albeit in the way I live now, in a new normality.
If we as parents are the tree, then our children blossom and thrive like the fruit we bear and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing them grow, flourish and develop. The cycle of the fruit tree through the seasons represents a comforting and familiar sequence when it is unbroken.
When James died, in amongst the sense of despair that he had figuratively only just begun to ripen into adulthood, another small seed was sown in my mind. It was this: rather than James being on the cusp of his adult life and at the beginning of everything new and wonderful that manhood can represent, he had perhaps in fact completed his circle of life in the nineteen, almost twenty years that were his allotted time. Only by having real faith that his all too short life was not a waste, does it become bearable to live with the traumatic reality of his passing.
In the supermarket recently, I was struck by the number of varieties of apples that I saw and their worldwide countries of origin – Royal Gala and Braeburn from New Zealand, American Golden Delicious, Opal apples from Estonia and Pink Lady from Australia, alongside Gala apples from France and sturdy UK varieties such as Kentish russets and Cox’s orange pippin. If James was an apple, I like to think he would be a ‘Jazz’ – a pear-drop flavoured apple, brightly coloured, fresh and crisp, with a bit of fizz.
I was reminded of a school project years ago, when I had to take the children to the supermarket to look on the shelves for items from different countries. I am sure we ended up with a few tins, tomatoes from Italy and salmon from Canada. A scant thirty years later, our expectations have broadened to the extent that we take for granted the worldwide freight traffic that enables us to have such an amazing variety of fresh items at our fingertips.
This international traffic, whether physical or virtual, always gives me a pang of regret that James was not able to fully embrace social media as it was only just in its infancy when he died – he would have loved its global flavour.
To return to the Apple (Inc) theme, the late Steve Jobs said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”. When you lose a child your own life is thrown into sharp relief and it is exceedingly difficult at first to decide how you are going to carry on living it with any degree of meaning. There is a temptation to take the route of constantly wondering what your child would be doing if he or she were still here, and placing restrictions on how you behave, where you go, even your own enjoyment, because you feel you shouldn’t be able to enjoy yourself (guilt free) after your child died. Thankfully this effect lessens with time and when I feel happy now I do not need to qualify it with how I think James would react – indeed, I believe that he would be far happier to know I am enjoying life, than not.
Living vicariously is fun as an exercise but it is not realistic to sustain; Steve Jobs’ advice is sound.