A Child-Loss Mother Writes ~
The Past 10 Years of Grief...
~Rebecca R. Carney
A Few Things I've Learned in the 10 Years Since Jason Died
by © 2012 Rebecca R. Carney
Posted on February 23, 2012
from Rebecca R. Carney's *blog: Grief: One Woman's Perspective
- You can survive the death of a child.
- I will never “get over” the death of my child. The death of a child tears the very fabric of a parent’s life. It alters everything – hopes, dreams, future, present, faith, reality, relationships…the list could go on and on. I have had to learn how to live without Jason and integrate his loss into the very fabric of my being, and I will continue that process by varying degrees for the rest of my life.
- Integrating the death of a child into the fabric of one’s life takes much longer than anyone would think. Have you ever seen photos of people wandering around neighborhoods after a huge tornado or hurricane? They look lost, dazed, and in shock. They talk about not being able to locate any familiar landmarks; the landscape looks foreign. Everything they once possessed and knew as familiar is scattered to who-knows-where. That’s sort of what it’s like to lose a child. Jason’s death changed the entire landscape of my life and altered my whole world forever. I felt lost, dazed, and in shock. It’s not logical to think that the time frame for integrating such a huge loss into our lives will be short. It’s not logical to think that a bereaved parent can march through the "five step" grief process on a schedule. If someone wants to look at a loose (and I mean very loose) time frame, I would say the following: There are no words to describe the pain of the first year; it’s like a limb has been torn off with no anesthetic. It’s excruciating, raw agony. Don’t expect the bereaved parent to be “over” the death of a child in the first year. The second year may be worse than the first as the bereaved parent grapples with the permanent reality of his/her child’s death. Any numbness has worn off – all that’s left is stark reality of having to live a life without his/her child. The years 2-5 involve the process and hard work of integrating the loss into the fabric of one’s daily life, of finding and becoming familiar with a “new normal,” of becoming familiar with the life that is now yours and the person you now are. It’s never a straight path; it’s windy, up and down, backward and forward. The years 6-10 are a continued integration of the loss and building on the foundation of the first five years. It’s a process that keeps continuing on and on. Perhaps if we – the bereaved parent and those around them – look at the grieving process in terms of years instead of days, weeks, or months, we would be able to remove unreasonable expectations and the pressure of a time limit, and be allowed to simply grieve the loss of our precious child in a more natural manner.
- Some bereaved parents struggle with their faith. I really struggled with my faith after Jason died; I didn’t understand why God didn’t protect Jason. I didn’t understand why “God’s people” were not there for us when we needed them so badly. I still don’t really understand. I prayed and prayed for our kids, for their protection, for their friends. There are just some things that we can only see through a glass darkly now and to which we will only know the answers once we get to heaven. The roots of my faith are deep and well-established. I know that, although my faith is alive, it does not look the same as it once did.
- People don’t know what to do or say to a bereaved parent. Sometimes people say or do nothing; they just back away or disappear. Sometimes they say things that, while meaning to be helpful, actually cause additional pain. When a bereaved parent’s heart is so raw, these secondary wounds tend to hurt much more than they would ordinarily and add additional layers of pain on top of an already terribly grieving heart. I found myself hypersensitive in many ways and deeply hurt by the actions/inactions of others. It hurt horrendously to be left so alone by people we counted on for support. It hurt even more to see my family so alone and hurting. It hurt to reach out for help, only to feel like my hand was slapped away. But I have learned over the years that I need to extend grace to people and let it go. I have to admit it took me a while to reach that point of being able and willing to extend grace because I was so hurt, raw and wounded. I continue to remind myself that it’s not an easy thing to be around a bereaved parent – or to know what to do or say. I feel like I have a lot of scar tissue on my heart from those experiences. I still tend to hunker down behind the walls I built as I tried to protect my broken heart from further wounds. I don’t believe in the same concept of friendship as I used to. But I will continue to try to extend grace to the best of my ability. I am far from perfect and don’t always succeed, but I will continue to try.
- Most people will never understand deep grief…until it happens to them. No matter how often I have tried to explain or promote understanding, some people will never understand. Some have no interest. Some think they have it figured out…for me. Some relate it to the death of their relative, dog, or divorce. They don’t understand that the death of a child is singularly and profoundly the most difficult crisis a parent could face. Some try to understand or try to imagine what losing a child would be like, but unless someone has actually “been there,” it’s just imagination.
- Kindness, support, caring, hugs, love – all of these matter. Taking time to remember Jason matters. Writing down memories or sending us pictures of Jason for us matters. Letting us know you haven’t forgotten Jason matters. Not feeling forgotten matters. I remember the kindnesses….
- Your address book changes. People may disappear – sometimes right away, sometimes down the line. Sometimes people couldn’t understand why I had changed; they were waiting for me to “get over” my grief and come back as I once was. People got “tired of our troubles” or thought I should be able to move on sooner than I was able. If I didn’t or couldn’t move at their timetable or respond adequately to their efforts to move me on, they moved on without me. One friend who had a decent amount of support following the death of a child said to me, “Now that I’m ready to do things, there’s no one left to do anything with.”
- I am not the person I once was. The death of a child changes a parent forever. My life is divided into the “before” and “after.” The person I was “before” is not the same one who now is in the “after.” Neither I nor those around me should expect me to return to that person or to respond as I once did. Part of the grief process involves getting to know and becoming comfortable with the person I now am.
- Wherever I go, my grief goes with me. We sold our house and moved across the country, but the grief of Jason’s death and having his loss be a part of my life was not something I left behind. Running away from grief doesn’t work. Even if one is able to push it down or set it aside for a while, at some point it will rise to the surface and demand its due attention.
- Siblings pay a huge price. Not only do siblings lose a precious brother or sister, they may lose their support system. Parents, as they grieve the loss of a child, may no longer be able to be the strong support system on which the sibling could rely. The surviving sibling may feel the need to be strong in order to support his/her parents. Friends may avoid, act awkward, or disappear. At 17, although she did nothing wrong, our daughter paid a huge price for Jason’s death. As Patricia Hung (a police officer whose 14-year old daughter was murdered) commented in response to a previous post, “…our other children were shunned, too, as if they had anything to do with their sister’s murder. It was very difficult when people stopped letting their children play with ours – like being punished AGAIN for something they weren’t responsible for.”
- Bereaved parents have to teach others how to help. As crazy as it may seem, even though we were dealing the huge loss created by Jason’s death, I found myself in the position of having to teach other people how to help us. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, especially when we didn’t know what we needed or how to help ourselves many times. I didn’t have any resources concerning being a parent whose child had died. I had no answers. I’m glad to see that there is much more valuable information now – both in print form and online – concerning how to help bereaved parents and those who suffer deep losses. It’s important for bereaved parents to shine a light on the topic of grief.
- Take your time in going through and getting rid of your child’s things. I felt pushed to go through Jason’s room and “get rid of” stuff before I was ready. This is one thing I wish I had done differently – on my own time schedule, when I was ready. Suggestion: Unless there is an urgent need, don’t hurry or allow yourself to be pushed to get rid of your child’s things. Once you get rid of them, you usually can never get them back. If you rush, you may regret your decisions later. When you feel you are ready, purchase a bunch of Rubbermaid-type tubs that seal well and some Ziploc bags. As you sort, put things you want to keep or things you are unsure about into the bags and tubs. Then store the tubs in a garage or safe place. You can then go back later – perhaps even many years later – and make more objective decisions (decisions you won’t regret) on what to do with your child’s belongings.
- Exercise helps. Joe and I would take our dog, Brandy, and head out for a walk every so often. It got us out of the house and really helped us to get some exercise and fresh air. I am also so grateful for my friend Mary who, even though we didn’t really know each other well at the time, kept asking me if I wanted to walk regularly with her. I finally took her up on her offer six months after Jason died. Over time, we became good friends. She saved my life in more ways than one. Not only did our walks give me something to look forward to and a precious friendship, but (because I had developed the habit of taking very shallow breaths in order to deal with the pain and grief) it forced me to concentrate on my health and to force more air into my lungs.