Our little family visited Mitchell's place of rest on his birthday last year. The flower vases next to his headstone had birthday balloons in celebration of the life he lived ... and was symbolic of what he continues to mean to us. It wasn't a sad time, but it was a time of reflection.
As I sat with my family, I began to think about some of the things I have learned over the last few years. Here are 4 things, among others, I discovered after the loss of my child.
ONE: THE LOSS OF A CHILD HURT MORE THAN I IMAGINED
When Mitch was home on hospice, I thought I was prepared for the passing of my son, but I wasn’t. The reality of death (the finality of it all) was infinitely more difficult than the idea of it. I also discovered the death of a child is different from the passing of a parent. I’ve experienced both and at least for me, they are not the same. Not even close. I simply cannot conjure up the words to describe the depths of such grief. The death of my son broke me. It was then, and remains today, the most traumatic experience of my life.
TWO: IT GETS HARDER BEFORE IT GETS BETTER
The mistake observers often make is believing the hardest part is death and the few months following the funeral. That’s the easy part, by comparison. The truth is, grief is a long, winding journey of peaks and valleys, deep shadows, dark woods, and terrifying nights. There are times you’ll wonder if the darkness will ever end. Then suddenly, often unexpectedly, you’ll find yourself in a place you never imagined … a place of peace and acceptance. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt – but you won’t always hurt in darkness. I am here to say the darkness does end and the sun will rise again – but it takes time.
The nature and timing of healing are different for everyone, but the sun will rise again. This I know. The weight of grief will always be heavy, but your back will grow stronger, making your sorrow seem light.
THREE: STUCK IN GRIEF vs STUCK WITH GRIEF
I often hear people say that “he/she is stuck in grief.” It's a label sometimes carelessly handed out by those who often know very little of grief themselves. Yet, I have thought a great deal about what that means – at least to me. When I think of the word stuck, I think of something that is immovable. When it comes to the loss of a child, grief is a chronic, life-long condition. Grief isn’t something you experience, like the flu, and move on. Grief alters every part of you. You become a spiritual amputee and you must learn to live without a once vital part of your heart and soul. Everyone who has lost a loved one is stuck with that reality.
So, in a manner of speaking, I suppose I am stuck WITH grief – but that doesn’t mean I am stuck IN grief. I cannot restore the loss of my son any more than an amputee can regenerate a missing limb. But I can learn and adapt to my new reality and grow – and therein lies the difference, I believe. To be stuck with grief is to carry our sorrows as we move forward in life. It is to have our backs made stronger as we climb to new heights, while we shoulder the weight of sorrow. To be stuck in grief is to be tethered, as though we were chained to a boulder … circling our pain again, and again, and again.
I am not circling, I am climbing - and when I write of grief, I speak of that which I’m carrying … not that which I’m circling.
FOUR: TALKING HELPS
When a bereaved parent chooses to talk about their lost child, most often they’re not seeking attention or pity … they’re just remembering someone close to their heart. After all, their memories are all they have left. We don’t talk about our child because they died, we talk about them because they lived and they still mean so very much to us.