By Kristan Rojas
You will survive this loss, but you will be changed. You are forever altered. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if you will be an improved version of yourself – over time.
The shock and disbelief will take a long time to fade. Your entire being has experienced a life-altering trauma. Your emotions, physical well-being and mental capabilities have been extensively wounded.
Losing your child takes away your confidence and all of your dreams for them and for yourself. Even if the death has nothing to do with you or your parenting, your child died, and you didn't do your job to its completion. Your entire self-worth and purpose are rocked. “Perfect” will never happen again. You have lost their physical presence and their “place” in your life. That vacancy will never be filled, and you will have to reinvent yourself, so you can function while carrying this loss.
You may be blindsided by the people who cannot be there for you. For whatever reason, they are unable or unwilling to remain close to you. These people may include family members or close friends. Peacefully let them go. This may not feel “natural” at first, but you deserve every moment of peace you can find. Don’t feel guilty for distancing yourself from them, especially if they are only focusing on how your loss is affecting THEM.
You will be humbled by the distant acquaintances that step up and check in with you. Many people became close friends following our son’s death. They just seemed to “get it” more than others. These people may include fellow bereaved parents or just kind strangers who allow you to grieve without judgement. However, it is your right to ask for privacy if you need it. Don’t feel guilty for needing privacy.
It is not your responsibility to make your grief easier for others to witness (except with your surviving children at home with you). Many people will turn from you in the store because we are their greatest fear come to life. Let them turn away. View it as one less challenging interaction to endure. Speak your child’s name freely and openly. If they are uncomfortable, they will either adapt or move on.
Eventually, you will learn to compartmentalize your grief. You will function when you need to, but you will break down when you can. It will be almost like a release valve that allows you to go on again tomorrow.
You will be grieving independently from your partner/spouse. He or she will be grieving at their own pace and in their own way. You will have good days when they are having a bad day. You will feel frustrated with each other and not understand some of each other’s rituals or needs. However, over time, you will learn to be gentle with each other. The truth is, only they know how truly broken you are. We find comfort just being in proximity to each other, but we find moments of peace in different ways. Respect those differences and try your best not to judge too harshly.
One of us was fully immersed in our own grief - unable to look up and see what was still around us. Our daughter stood up and said, “I am here. I am standing right here.” A cousin visited us a while after losing Josh. He said, “Your surviving daughter will someday move away and have her own life. Do you want her to look back on her childhood and remember a parent who picked themselves up and was there for her, or a parent who wallowed in their grief and stopped living?” This was a turning point.
One of us grieved for everyone else – forgetting to grieve for ourselves. One day, our daughter said, “You worry about me not having Josh when I graduate or get married or have a family. You worry about each of us missing him and being sad. You need to grieve for yourself. You need to focus on right now and try not to think of how sad we all are and how things will be in the future.” Another turning point.
By now, you realize that our surviving child witnessed our grief. We openly cried in front of her and she definitely witnessed our “fog” for weeks, if not months. We felt disingenuous trying to totally shelter her from our pain. However, one day she said, “Seeing you and Dad this sad and angry really scares me.” Following her remarks, we tried our best to delve into the dark agonizing moments while she was at school or when we were alone. You know, the moments when you allow yourself to wallow in the darkness before pulling yourself back from the edge. Simply realizing that she was coming home soon or that she had an event/activity, was something to focus on so we could climb back out of the darkness.
Remember, your surviving children are grieving for their sibling. This grief does not model your grief. They are children with a long life ahead of them. Though they too are devastated, it is not the grief of a parent. They do not fully understand your loss, nor do you really want them to. Their actions will seem selfish, narcissistic and confrontational at times. Remember, they are children lashing out to those closest to them. This will hurt your already weary heart. Keep consistent expectations and rules in the house even though you are exhausted and want to treat them softly. They need the structure more now than ever. They need to know that your expectations and interest in them has not wavered. Though you really don’t feel the energy to address it, you must. They are worth it. It is what your deceased child would want you to do.
Be gentle and forgiving to yourself. You will not be able to do everything you once did easily. A visit to the grocery store will blindside you. Their favorite Pop-Tart or their favorite cereal will bring you to tears. For me, going to fireworks was something I just couldn’t do for years because Josh loved them. Yet, I could go to my daughter’s soccer games (even though Josh passed away at soccer). Things do not make sense, and that’s okay. I forgot that my daughter loved fireworks too. Hopefully, she has forgiven me for that, though it is still brought up occasionally even now. I used to beat myself up about things that I did wrong or things I couldn’t do. But, I have realized that I did the best I could at the time.
Now for the envy. If you haven’t experienced this yet, you will. You will be envious. You have this right. You really don’t begrudge anyone from experiencing the joy of being a parent, but damn it, you deserve those joys too. Certain times of the year or certain events (like Mother/son dances at weddings) seem especially difficult for me. I realize this, so I take a walk away or choose not to go to some events.
Now for the flip side of the same coin, we would not trade being our child’s parents for anything! He or she belongs solely to us and we belong to them. It is our agonizing honor to be their parents and we honor them every day just by getting out of bed and loving the people in our lives.
People are curious and often, cruel, without meaning to be. Their questions and comments seem to come from a place of “helping” yet we continue to be stunned by some of their comments (see “Comments That Can Hurt” section). We now tend to feel sorry for these individuals who are so clueless and simply ignore their comments and walk away. This, however, is very difficult to do if the person involved is a close friend or family member. Those times are especially disheartening and may cause a subtle distancing to occur to ensure peace.
We have now been grieving for Joshua much longer than we were blessed to have him. Yet, in so many ways, he continues to feel close to us somehow. Eventually, at your own pace and time, you will realize that, ultimately, it is your choice how you carry on in their memory… on your way back to them. Hugs to you.