Grieving, With Love

In the early days of my grief journey I was certain that there was no possibility of living the rest of my life without my child. I was only 35 years old when he died. Assuming, which of course no one knows, that I would live until at least 75 I had no less than 40 years of my life to live with the pain.

Unknowingly I was doing one of the worst things possible. My vision stretched 40 years out. Quite ironic considering it was difficult to get through one hour at a time in my journey. Sometimes I had to break my day into 5 minute intervals. I would think to myself, “Okay, I made it through those 5 minutes, I can make it through the next 5 minutes”. My therapist would always say, “Just concentrate on doing the next right thing”. It sounded simple but there were moments when I didn’t even know what that was!

If you are a newly bereaved person this means; breathe, get a glass of water, eat something, take a shower, take a nap. We are thinking basic here. You are in survival mode. It is all you can expect of yourself to be hydrated, fed, rested and clean. If you accomplish all of those in one day, good for you! To expect anything more is too much after your life has just been shattered.

This brings me to my next point of self expectations and judgment. It is so easy to be hard on oneself and judge “progress”. It is also extremely detrimental to any sort of positive mindset. I am going to take the pressure off right now. There is almost nothing you can do within the first six months of child loss that will make any difference in your mood for an extended period of time. This, at least, was what I experienced. In no way does this mean you should just give up and accept depression and hopelessness. When you have moments of relief, be grateful. Talk to your angel and tell them how much those moments mean to you or merely do your best to recognize them for yourself.

As a society we are always thinking back to “what worked”. Well grief, and emotions in general, don’t know that they are supposed to follow a script. They aren’t aware of the “do this and get that result” phenomenon. Accept that early on, and just keep trying different things that offer any sort of relief. I tried anything and everything because I was so desperate for a few minutes away from the harsh reality of my life.

Journal about what brings comfort or a sense of escape, and even what doesn’t. This will help you create what I call a Toolbox of Hope. The purpose of collecting all these ideas in one place is not to judge or assess your experiences, but to remember. Grief brain is a real thing.

As a grieving mom I was anxious to have moments of relief, but also scared. If I allowed myself relief did I love and miss Christian any less? Quickly it became evident that nothing would change the amount I love and miss Christian. Yet, it took time for that fear to fade and for me to assimilate to this new life. Like a baby learning to walk, I knew walking meant falling down and sometimes pain, but not trying to walk would mean I could never get to any other place. Slowly a balance was learned. It was much slower than a baby learns to walk!

Time is a large factor in grieving. It won’t wipe out the pain of losing your child, but it will change your relationship to it. While attending a virtual Compassionate Friends seminar last night, one of the speakers said something that resounded with me. He said,

“You can grieve in time with more love than pain” – David Kessler

This is a perfect vision of what my grief has transformed into. I am six years living on this Earth without my firstborn child and I will never stop grieving him. Even after 36, 46, however many years longer I live, I will always grieve him. These days though I am able to feel more love than pain. It is a balancing scale of sorts. Most days my scale tips toward grieving with love, but some days it switches to pain. This is a vast difference from my early grieving days, when it seemed like it was permanently tipped towards pain.

This sounds completely impossible if you are new to grief. I know that. You don’t have to accept it or even believe it right now, but try to keep it in the back of your head as a possibility. Let it shine as a ray of hope.

Wherever you are in your grief journey, know you are not alone. It is okay to feel sad. We are, in fact, on a sad journey. Just know that one day joy will begin to appear again. Sadness and joy will coexist. You will be able to move toward grieving more with love than pain. Love to Heaven…

Anger Rooted In Grief

A vine of sadness climbs up from the pit of my stomach. Rooted in the soil of grief, the offshoots extend through my limbs, each with numerous thorns protruding from them. Gripping sadness pierces my insides.

My memories of you are so difficult to feel. I can see them. When I allow myself to watch videos, I can hear them. I can’t feel them.

Sockless heels grazing my mid shins. I can feel that. It’s the only memory I can feel. It’s from your last day on Earth. You sat on my lap at my parent’s kitchen table just hours before your physical presence would be forever gone.

No longer can I feel your arms around my neck. I can’t feel your small body crashing into me or jumping on me. No more of your hair tickling my face. All of your physicality is gone from my life and my memories.

It’s been six years and I can only feel those bare heels on my shins. It’s not enough. I am angry, furious. Why doesn’t my body remember more of your physical presence? Why can’t I recall those nights when you would sidle up next to me in bed after a nightmare?

You are connected to so many beautiful days and memories in my mind but I want to FEEL them. All I have now is this vine of sadness, growing in me. I will make space for it and acknowledge it because the work I have done has taught me that it’s essential. I must feel to heal.

My work has also taught me that this is a wave. This is part of the grief cycle and I will come back around to the positive part of the cycle, but right now I am angry. Angry that my firstborn has been gone for six years. Angry that I only got to feel him with me, physically, for six years. Angry that that time in my life is over. Angry about these gnarly vines that are thick and twisted. Angry about the thorns that are piercing and painful. Angry that this vine will always exist inside of me. Angry that you no longer live outside of me.

Our spiritual connection will never fade, but I am angry that the feeling of our memories have.

Journaling For Reflection

It’s the end of January and the new year is almost one month underway. The uncertainty of the world is definitely affecting my mindset.

I am no stranger to uncertainty. I experienced grave periods of deep, dark uncertainty after losing Christian. Grief teaches us that nothing is forever. That includes the good and bad.

When uncertainty strikes in my external world, it helps me to turn inwards and examine what changes I want to make. Since March 2020 I have been wearing more hats than usual, like most of us. In 2021 I aim to streamline my life as much as possible. To begin, I am organizing every area in my daily space.

Yesterday I began clearing off my desk. As I did, my vision board came into full view. It’s always somewhere on my desk but not always in full view. Not exactly how a vision board should be displayed, I know. Anyhow, I looked at it, examined it. I was curious to take in what all of those words and images meant to me a year ago. As I studied the large display, the words and images no longer spoke to me. This was a surprise.

My aspirations haven’t changed. They continue to revolve around the central idea of becoming a more spiritual person and helping others. The means in which I aim to go about it have shifted. With my focus pinned on the same outcome, it was interesting to see how my path, or my desired path, had changed.

In my urgency to get to where I am going I rarely look back at the journey I travelled. This is not necessarily the best practice. I am one of those people that looks at the “finished product” without always recognizing the blood, sweat and tears that go into it.

At the start of my grief journey, I remember a friend passing on some advice from a family member who lost a child. She said I should journal often, and not forget to reflect. Her reasoning was because it helps to see how the journey unfolds. There is so much wisdom in this advice. Oftentimes when we are stuck in the doldrums of grief we cannot recognize how much our outlook, emotions and thoughts have changed.

Change is scary in the grieving process. If we move toward healing, are we moving away from our loved one? Are we failing to remember or honor or properly grieve him or her? Such a scary thought! Through journaling we can see how our thoughts and emotions change and shift, but never at the expense of love. Healing doesn’t mean we forget or we move on. It means we learn how to live with our loved one in our life a different way.

One of the most amazing discoveries I have made since Christian ran ahead to Heaven is that we still have a relationship! It is not a figment of my imagination or generated simply from my hoping. It is a true relationship. Through my journaling and even quick note taking in this book I am able to see the development of my relationship with Christian. It illustrates his love for me and our everlasting connection. The continuing connection and relationship offers me hope. On days when our connection is not as strong, I am able to look back and see that he is always with me.

Whether you document your change, growth and healing in writing, art or any other way you feel drawn to, you will reap the benefits. It is hard to feel like we are making progress sometimes. That, alone, can contribute to feeling devoid of hope. When we look back and see how we have changed, a breath of fresh air fills us with the hope we have been missing.