I did not post what I wrote yesterday. It was more suitable for use as an anchor. It was one of those break-down days. Today, in light of that I decided to provide a list of what I have learned thus far. I sincerely hope no one needs it.
Books on Grieving
There are a number of books out there that list some of the things a grieving parent might experience. These lists are taken by grieving parents and added to bit by bit from their own personal experience. If your child died in a hospital sometimes the chaplain will bring a small leaflet. The books are never very big. No one wants to talk about all this for very long, and there is really not much to say. You also will not have the attention span to read for long. There was no way to equip ourselves before this happened, and now we don’t necessarily feel like picking up the tools we need. Some books are written by women, some by men, some by counselors. There is one a friend gave me I found particularly simple and helpful called “Tear Soup.” Written in a format that looks like a children’s book, it covers all the basics very well. If you have surviving children they might appreciate this book also. I have picked up a book on loosing a sibling to read for the sake of my daughter because I do not know what she is going through and in my journey have yet to take the time I probably should to figure that all out. If you have some sort of digital reading device downloading a sample of the book is a good idea before you buy. You may find that the tone or particular slant of an author may not suit you. I have one printed book that I tore some pages out of because they infuriated me.
The most helpful things that have been said to me by those trying to help have been:
a. I am so sorry concerning the death of your son. I do not know how you feel, but I am so sorry.
b. (from a parent who has lot a child) Take your time, you are on no schedule, you don’t think so now but the edges will soften with time. You will cry less eventually, but it is going to take lots of time.
There is no hurry to sort through their things. Take your time putting together memorials.
To the best of your ability postpone big decisions. You probably feel like you would prefer to move to the other side of the earth. That may indeed be a good decision. You do not , however, have to make that decision right this minute.
You are going to loose friends that you thought were some of your best friends. They will allocate a certain amount of time and energy for you. If you do not fall within the guidelines they have set (though they do not realize they have set them) they will have to move on for their own self-preservation. Your grief is painful for them. The don’t like how you have been altered. It is scary to think this could happen to them.
Choose your mask carefully. You will wear it a lot. If your public mask is overly cheerful and upbeat you will find yourself retreating to safety more often to break down. Better to be as honest as you can. People will ask you “how are you?” If you choose to answer with brutal honestly – prepare for quickly retreating figures, or you can say things like, “I am doing as well as possible.”
You might want to practice this.
There will be other questions that you might want to prepare answers for in advance “do you have children?” will be one that makes you squirm if you don’t have something in mind beforehand.
The mask becomes a part of daily life, even perhaps with your spouse and children. We become fearful that we will cause those we need the most to run away if we reveal how we are feeling.
Beware the fixers. They arrive with ideas on how to help you “get over this.” (you and I know there is no “getting over this) They are well meaning and lovely people, but they are clueless. They will offer to help you “get away” or they will try to engage you in activities that were once joyful for you but now seem as dull as wallpaper paste. Ask for a raincheck. Pencil them in on your calendar for a future date. These are the ones who will also say, “call me if you need anything”. Perhaps they are secretly hoping you will never call, which you won’t, because you don’t have a clue for what you need. If you do participate you may experience extreme rebound the day after the event. If you had a good time you may feel like you are being punished the next day because you feel so extremely bad.
When you do choose to get away, make sure you have a backup plan. You may want to drive yourself so that you have a car available to escape if you need to. Or you may enlist the help of a friend to provide that for you should you need to get out. You will probably choose to do something on a day when you are feeling pretty good only to find that you are in over your head. That is the reason for the backup plan. Try not to panic, use your plan.
If people offer to perform practical things to help, let them. Mowing your grass, cleaning your house, cooking meals. Allow them the blessing of giving. You do not have to talk to them. Allow them to minister to you with their gifts.
You will come to recognize safe people again. You will find new friends. You will never travel anywhere without tissues. You will count days, then weeks, then months, then years since your child die. You make dread holidays or certain days of the week. You will relapse at any given moment. You will experience triggers that make no sense to anyone but you. Depending on how your child died, you may feel compelled to visit the site of the accident. You may want to join groups that raise money for awareness concerning the disease that brought about your child’s death. You may want to reach out to other grieving parents. All these things will come with time.
You will feel anger, guilt, frustration,emptiness and always there will be that question – why? Beware those who want to try and answer that question for you. Guard yourself closely, perhaps they mean well, but they do not have the answer.
This is the question we all on this earth live with to degrees great and small. Our lot is part of the “great”. Sometimes I shout that question in my empty house. If you can find a place where you are alone and can let it out, you might scare yourself a bit by the sound of grief as it escapes. It is probably a sound you have never heard yourself make. Our culture is not given to the type of grief we see exhibited in other countries with people wailing publicly surround and supported by their family and friends. Perhaps their custom is healthier.
People will say stupid things. They will say that you need to get “over it.” They will ask you painful questions about the death. They will make stupid analogies trying to understand how you feel. They will talk about how they will use your circumstance to make a point with their own children concerning the dangers of life. You may explode in their face, you may quietly walk away leaving them with their face hanging out. You will not have to worry about seeing them again because they will probably avoid you in the future. If they are so moved, they apologize. Be kind if that happens.
Nothing is ever going to be like it was again. You are in new territory here. Take your time as you navigate your way. There are land mines everywhere that look innocuous to everyone else. It is frustrating that for every moment when you feel “better” there will be two or three that plunge you back into the pit.
A few simple things that smooth out some rough edges for me.
Simple exercise – take a walk. If you have a Wii or other game console pick up a walking game. On the Wii they have one called “Walk-it-out” with funky music and a little cartoon icon. Even 20 minutes a day will help you think more clearly.
Do something with your hands
Work in your garden pulling weeds.
If you knit or crochet – pick up your needles.
Draw, paint, work in clay – move those hands, even if the mind does not engage.
Whittle a stick.
Replace the batteries in your remote so you can turn quickly from any scene on TV that might upset you. Better yet, watch as little TV as possible.
You may find yourself scouring the newspapers and TV concerning stories of other deaths – almost everyone I have talked to has done this and does so intermittently. It seems to be a way of reassuring ourselves that we have not been singled out for what seems like punishment, we vicariously experience the grief ourselves, who knows – we just do it.
You may or may not want to put away some of the photos for a while, all the time keeping them close at hand and accessible. You may spend time with them anytime you need, but it may cut down on trigger response.
Find a support group when you feel like you can.
Compassionatefriends.org is a good place to start. You can interact online until you feel comfortable going to a meeting if you choose to.
Choose a counselor carefully. I have not sought out a professional counselor yet. I think I would prefer one who has lost a child. The grief I have experienced does not compare to anything I have ever experienced before though I have lost friends and both my parents.
You do have a life to live. If our children could speak to us, they might tell us to be patient, we will be with them soon enough, there is no hurry because when we do see them again we will be with them forever. I think my son would be so annoyed if I did not give the living of my life my best effort. I encourage you to hold on. There are people still here that need you. You will not be as you were before but time leaves nothing unaltered. We are among the few who are witness to the forces of change up close and personal, who understand that control is an illusion and that no day should be taken for granted.
None of this is meant as professional advice. It is simply what I have learned thus far, from my own personal experience and the generous sharing of other friends who are on this same path.
If you have a suggestion that you think might help someone on this journey please feel free to share it as a comment.