Bernard Cenney Guest Post
The worst experience to suffer is the death of your child.
The hypertrophic cardiomyopathy death of my fourteen-year-old son, James Cenney, was a tragedy that nothing in this present world can ever make right. James was young, innocent, and just starting life. One day he was playing his guitar; the next day he was not. One day he was playing football and exercising; the next day he was not. One day he was going to school, laughing, and joking; the next day he was not. One day he was here … the next day he was gone. No father should outlive his child.
James’ unexpected death shattered my wife, my daughters, and me. Parents who lose their child never bounce back. Speaking for myself, his death eroded my spirit, my resiliency, my resolve, my fortitude, my joy, my hope, and my self-worth. It became impossible to feel any sort of happiness for years.
The sheer madness and incomprehensible horror of his death destroyed my understanding of a loving God. Suffering became a daily companion. I convulsed at the clichés of “all things happen for a reason,” or “God never gives us any burden we can’t handle.” I avoided those who declared they were “blessed by God.” It made me feel as if my life was surely cursed by him.
I had seen death before, privately and in my military career. But this was intensely more personal, more visceral, more agonizing. I started to have vivid dreams and visions of James. I documented and kept a record of them all. I could never (and still can’t) control the mental image of my son James passing away. I have always (and still do) blame myself for not being able to somehow save him. It became an unimaginable situation. It began replaying itself, over and over, every day of my life. I was in a very dark place.
Group and individual therapy was helpful at first, but soon was not enough for me. Depression developed into apathy to even want to wake up. A terrible schism evolved between wishing for nonexistence, and a father’s obligations to the rest of his family.
After he died, I thought the world would end. In my mind, I waited for the end to come. But it didn’t. My mind tore to pieces over whether to stop moving or to keep pushing onward. I knew that I had to control my grief and move forever onward. These were the thoughts constantly pounding through my mind.
James’ death started me to think deeply, perhaps for the first time in my life, and to read incessantly. I read The Upanishads, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and The Bible. I studied the Greek historians and philosophers: Aeschylus, Aristotle, Epictetus, Herodotus, Plato, and Sophocles. I devoured just about any book that dealt with the subject of reincarnation and life after death.
Pain and suffering must be understood and fully absorbed. You cannot deaden the feelings. You cannot even attempt to understand life without suffering. What I understood for myself was disconcerting. Tragedy strikes everyone. Those who think they are immune, only have but to wait. It will come. More tragedy is lingering around the corner. Life is the great equalizer. You cannot barter for a better life. You must push on through tragedy with all the strength you have inside. Despite unanswered prayers, you must forever move forward and do what’s right. To be alive is to have constant pain and struggle.
You must push yourself forward. You must master discipline. You must keep focus. You must practice compassion. You must hone understanding. You must think. Learn to speak less, and listen more. Put others first and yourself second. Try to help as many people as you can in your life, and if you can’t help them at least don’t hurt them. The best possible life you can have is one of helping others, and constantly striving to do what is right, regardless of the outcome.
How do you know what is right? Search your heart. Buddha is about compassion; Jesus is about love. Put those together and it’s pretty powerful. Treat everyone with dignity, respect, love, and compassion. The reward you receive is the knowledge and peace of mind that you did what was right.
I spent a career in the U.S. Army continually taking and giving orders, and telling soldiers what to do. I came to an understanding that I could not control events. All I could do was try to lead a good life, help others, and set a positive example. I have failed over and over again. My joy comes from helping others when I can, and watching my children excel and lead good lives.
Now to the subject of my novels.
Writing the books Sparrow’s Tears, Close Your Eyes and See, Timeless Terror, and Timeless Soldier became therapy for me — the best therapy. When I think of my son James, I see him always helping others — those who could not help themselves — whether at home or in school. He made me realize that nothing is without purpose; that there is a majestic plan which unfolds itself across the vastness of time equally embracing each life, no more or less important than another. Writing the novels became my way of honoring and paying tribute to James. It allowed me to envision him as an adult, giving him the type of life I would have wished for him. Writing the books allowed me to dream my son a life which I felt had ended too quickly. James Cenney is alive in the pages of my novels. He encourages my readers and me to move forever forward in life. The hero of my novels — Captain James Ross — is patterned after my son. They both have the same looks, style, loves, and ambience. They are heroes. But even more than that, as my son James Cenney would say, they “… are intelligent human beings.”