Recently I saw a provoking post in one of the grieving mother groups I follow on Face Book. It said something to the effect of, Stop trying to find the beauty in grief. We can learn to live with our grief but it will always hurt. The latter part is true. The former part, however, is what plagues me.
The author’s words resounded with some of the readers. There were a number of replies asserting that others feel this way too. It’s wonderful that they have found someone who shares their grieving style and perceptions.
It is important to accept the reality of grief. It’s great to be realistic about the fact that it will always be there, but please don’t judge what I do with my grief on my journey.
My agitation lies in the belief that no one should be telling us how to perceive our own emotions or journey. If we choose to find some parts beautiful, so be it. If we choose to focus on the depths of pain, alongside the joy, and not attribute anything positive to our grieving journey, that’s fine too. If we use humor as a relief and are able to find morbid laughter to help us in our journey, it’s our prerogative. If our grieving style encompasses a combination of these, awesome. Grief is so individual, as is our healing process. The important part is to find what works for you.
Claiming that grief should be done in a certain way is “grief shaming”. It results in us questioning ourselves about whether we are doing it right. How about we all just share our journey and whoever relates to a given way finds comfort in that?
We all have enough to focus on. Let’s not grief shame others. We are in it together. Let’s share and support each other. There is no right way to grieve. Find the style and tribe that works for you. Love to Heaven…
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…
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.
Sometimes the ruler we use to measure just how bad things are is the same one we need to use to measure just how good things are. Let me explain. A friend of mine likes to tease me about something I said after losing Christian. In effect, it was this, “You know things are bad when (insert any number of people’s names who I hadn’t spoken to in about 20 years) is sending me food, a donation and/or condolence cards.
After losing our firstborn, Christian, my husband and I received many a card, gift and/or meal from people who we had not be in touch with for many years or never even met. That is the mark of an extreme tragedy.
As I have said many times before, we all go through our own trials and tribulations. The sign of extreme trials and tribulations is when you begin to receive support from people you have not been in touch with recently and/or people you never met. In effect, they are saying no amount of time would come in between my support of someone who has been devastated to this measure. The hardship is so severe that it is hard to avert.
My husband and I are high school sweethearts. Our high school years were filled with mutual friends. We attended a small school in upstate New York, with a graduating class of 200 students. We all knew each other. My husband and I chose to live in the same town because we appreciated that sense of community. Never did we imagine just how much we would need to rely on it. Our community has gone above and beyond. Last year I published a thank you to all who continue to support us.
We have an amazing, tight knit group of friends who, like us, decided to raise their families here because at least one of them grew up in our town. They, too, appreciated the sense of community. There were plenty of people from our town, however, who decided that kind of environment was not fitting for them. After losing Christian, one of the most astounding aspects of the tragedy was just how many of them reached out to us, providing their support in so many ways. It was a true testament to the way we all grew up together.
Many years had passed since we had seen some of our classmates, yet they went so far as to write us and let us know the ways in which our tragedy affected their own lives. It was, and still is, quite touching. Even today when we are in contact with many of our classmates on social media, they let us know that they are always thinking of us.
The depth of our tragedy is so deep and dark that those who didn’t know us or never knew us as parents, provided support. Almost five years later I have come to realize that the depth of darkness is equal to our height of blessings. These people can never take the pain away. They know that. We know that. Their support, love and generosity stays with us today. It helps to lift us.
There is no recollection of the exact support we received from who. There is a strong recollection of who showed their support in any way. Big, small, grand, minute – it truly doesn’t matter how you showed you were there for us. It matters that you did.
So, yes, the depth of our tragedy is deep, dark and awful. The height of blessings and support we receive from others truly help buoy us out of the dark. Do we still fall in to that deep darkness of grief? Yes, we do, but the height of everyone’s support and blessings still helps to lift us out when we do. Love to Heaven….
Sometimes the weight of grief is unknown until a moment, day or event passes. This is how it was for me this past weekend when my middle child made his First Communion.
In the weeks leading up to the event, daily life had me running to baseball practices and games, working the book fair, submitting my writing to different sites, gaining some new opportunities (stay tuned for more about that!) and even a trip for myself to Urgent Care. It left me little time to mull over the latest milestone that was about to be reached. This was probably a blessing.
Lately I have been referring to the “beginning” or “early days” in my writing. As I wrote in last week’s post, my journey is forever changing and evolving. When I look back to the early days, immediately after losing Christian, and even the years that followed, and compare it to now I can see true evolution. In the past if I had been preoccupied leading up to a big event, the aftermath would have left me completely depleted. Over time, however, I have processed and experienced the pain that goes along with my living sons experiencing things their brother never got to.
Anthony’s Communion was beautiful and we are so very proud of him. It was also the quintessential depiction of joy and pain existing together in the moment. Our family was seated in the very first pew. As I watched my eight year old enter the church, hands folded dutifully as prayer hands should be, pride rushed through me. Love poured out of me and a smile graced my face.
As the mass continued on and mention was made of those who are deceased, the weight of grief fell. It fell hard. The storm of sadness moved in and instantly fat tears began to drop. For a little while it made the sunshine of joy invisible. The sun remained there, it just became clouded over by the storm that came rolling through. And such is life.
Anthony’s big moment approached and he was excited to receive his First Communion. In his eyes the warmth of the sun reached me. The storm had passed. The day continued and all had a good time.
The weight of the grief I had been carrying around, presumably for the weeks leading up to the event. was only truly felt on the day after it. I awoke with a surprising amount of relief. This was a revelation for me. The physical, emotional and mental relief so evident that I could not ignore it.
It brought me back to just a year ago. Last June Christian’s friends moved up from Elementary School to Middle School. In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, he was remembered and honored in different ways. At the actual moving up ceremony a single red balloon was attached to an empty chair in memory of my beautiful child. This is a gift that all grieving mothers wish to be given.
Again we see the juxtaposition of joy and pain existing together. My gratitude is greater than words for all of these thoughtful gestures. They also were a painful reminder of the fact that Christian is not moving up to Middle School. With or without him being honored the deep sadness would have been present. It warms my heart that his classmates, their parents and the school, made remembering him a priority.
Life is not easy. We tell our children that when they are young. There is no easy fix and we are all due some pain in our lives. We cannot avoid these storms. We must learn how to get through them. The weight of grief has lifted for now. It will be back. I am sure of it. I will get through it again. I am also sure of that. Love to Heaven…
“It sounds like you are entering the acceptance phase”, my therapist says. “Acceptance doesn’t mean you like it, just that you are beginning to accept the reality that he is gone”. I flinch. Acceptance hadn’t occurred to me.
Am I really there? Isn’t it too soon? I must be a terrible mother. What kind of person loses her son and can accept it?
Oh, hello paradox of truth. We meet again. Every life is filled with joy and pain existing alongside of each other. In my life, joyful moments usher in happiness, smiles and laughter. This NEVER happens without pain. It doesn’t mean I feel the pain at the same time. It just means the shadow of pain is lurking in the darkness. We all live this.
Grieving a child truly makes us examine the marbling of joy and pain. Early in the grieving journey the felt guilt is immense at the smallest inkling of joy. Feeling a smile on my face caused stabbing emotions of remorse to pierce my heart. The judgmental inner voice would scream, “How can you be smiling? Your son is in Heaven!!”
The first time going to dinner with friends after losing Christian was a night filled with wine, good food and laughter. It felt like a violation as a grieving mother.
The first girls’ weekend away from my living children began with an incident that produced such raucous laughter tears were streaming down my face. How could I feel that much freedom and happiness?
The first belly laugh my husband and I shared around friends felt liberating and constricting all at the same time. Laughing was a part of who I was, and who we were, before we experienced the traumatic cleaver of tragedy. We couldn’t possibly be grieving correctly.
Positive emotions did not feel acceptable for a long time. No one ever verbalized that they thought I was “grieving wrong”, but I imagined that was how some people were looking at me.
Then the fog of grief lifted just the tiniest bit, and I mean the tiniest bit. When I looked around it seemed the more joy that infiltrated my life, the more signs I was able to recognize from Christian. Those who know us best and love us most seemed to take tiny breaths of relief. No one ever questioned whether we were still broken, that was a given. It just brought them joy to see us experience slivers of happiness.
Anne Lamott, author of Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, says, “But all truth really is a paradox, and this turns out to be a reason for hope. If you arrive at a place in life that is miserable, it will change, and something else about it will also be true.” The truth is I did lose my son and it continues to be the worst pain I have ever felt, but that intense pain did not last forever. Residual pain remains and sometimes the intense pain returns, inhabiting my heart and body. It never lasts forever. Grieving parents can only learn this truth over time.
Each time the intense pain returns and recedes, it grows hope. It is this hope that helps us to move through our lives until we see our children again. Hope is alive and tangible. In my life I have found hope through my children, husband, family (especially my nieces), friends, life lessons, signs from my angel, meetings with people I know he put on my path and many other things. Hope is not always there, but it is ever present.
Trusting in hope helps me to move forward. In the beginning I frequently asked “Why did this happen?” That is an answer I’m not sure I will ever have. Time and experience has taught me that this question robs me of my hope. Lamott says, “‘Why?” is rarely a useful question in the hope business.” I agree with her on this. It won’t bring Christian back. It will only bring on self judgment.
Reflecting on acceptance after my therapist used this word in our session has been enlightening for me. Though I have not made peace with it yet, I can understand that my way of acceptance includes an and. I accept that Christian is no longer a living, breathing being and I don’t like it. On any given day the words that follow the and in the sentence may change. As I am writing today it changes to, “I am angry about it”.
Acceptance is walking in the footsteps of hope. As much I want to, I cannot go back and change the past. If I fight the present, or the movement toward acceptance, it threatens my connection to Christian. Living in the “why?” and “should have been” mindsets only make room for pain. So for now I will continue to grieve as I do. Sometimes this will include questioning my ability to do it correctly. When fear of being healed of my grief surfaces I am always made humble by my tears. Moving toward acceptance is just another recognition of joy existing alongside pain. Love to Heaven…