The most horrific thing that could ever happen has happened to you. Your child has died. No doubt, the birth and death of your child has and will change your life forever. Things will never be the same again. Living a life after your child has died is next to impossible but you can survive and you will endure. You are right now.
- Healing from this loss will be a long and slow journey that will have no defined ending or set destination. It will always hurt and it will hurt very much for a very long time. The pain of the grief you have over the loss of your child is an expression of your love, a love that will always be part of your every day experiences. As you go through the days, months and years without your child, you will learn how to include your loss into your life in a meaningful way.
- Unpleasant and unwanted feelings such as anger, guilt and fear may be part of your experience. You might find yourself angry at God, doctors, the other parent or just at the world in general. Feelings of guilt and anger towards yourself may surface repeatedly as you try to make sense of your loss. You may be fearful to trust the world again as you ask constantly, “Why?” None of these emotions are bad or wrong. Not acknowledging if these feelings are part of your experience is actually what’s “bad” or “wrong” for you. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, all of them.
- No one understands how you feel. Only other parents who have lost a child can truly understand what you’re going through. Find them. They will be looking for you, too. Lean on each other, cry with each other, cry for each other. Being with others who know how you feel can help you carry the weight of this grief.
- Your grief will still be unique to you and you will become familiar with your particular grief reactions and expressions as the years pass. Though the sorrow of losing your child will always be there to some degree or another, the fear associated with going through a grieving process will lessen. You will start to recognize your grief and learn how to cope with the different yet predictable triggers and emotions along the way.
Healing from your child’s death is not going to be easy. Why would it be? You will be a different person because of this loss. How could you not be? Adjusting to one of life’s most traumatic events will take time, patience and support. Give yourself these things and take it day by day, hour by hour and if necessary, minute by minute. You are surviving it right now.
Bad news: you will never get over your grief. It’s the truth. You will never get over it. We don’t get over grief. We get over the flu or a cold. We don’t get over grief. We go through grief. And we learn to live with it.
There is no one final destination to reach at the “end” of your grief. No finish line to cross. Going through a grieving process is a long, slow journey with ups and downs, twists and turns, and an often foggy path ahead. Your job is to learn how to ride on this road of life with loss.
- You won’t get over your loss but you will get better at grieving. You will start to learn what triggers your grief and develop a way to brace yourself for those unpredictable ones. You’ll find a way to survive the hard moments and dare to let your guard down when you’re coasting. In a way, you are practicing how to grieve. The path will never be smooth; you’ll just learn how to drive.
- You will obviously never forget your loved one. Why would you want to? No matter how many years pass, you will always be reminded of them. Because of this happening, you will get used to being struck by these memories. The good news is that over time, you will be better able to endure the sorrow of feeling their absence while you enjoy a pleasant feeling reliving a memory.
- When you do become consumed and overwhelmed with paralyzing grief emotions, and yes – you will still have those moments, they won’t be accompanied with the fear and worry of wondering what’s wrong with you or what’s happening. You will be able to give yourself fully to feeling your emotions about your loss without any self-consciousness or judgment. This is because you’ve felt this before. You’re used to this. You recognize this as your grief. You know what to do. Grief has forced you to practice.
Throw the map away, buckle up and pump the brakes while on this journey. Pay attention to the road and note the terrain. Some of this path will become familiar over time. The road may change at times too, but you will simply become more skilled at driving it.
We’ve all heard them. You know the clichés. Time Heals All Wounds. Give it a year, you’ll feel better.
The truth is, there is no magic healing that occurs just because time passes while you are grieving. It is what you do with that time that helps you to heal.
Understand that there may be an initial period of shock or numbness when your loved one dies. This could last anywhere from weeks to months to years, depending on your life circumstances and your experience with the death. Shock and numbness is a defense mechanism that serves to protect you from what may be too overwhelming to consider all at once. This is a common part of the grief process.
When we come out of a phase of shock, numbness or disbelief, it can very much seem like your grief is intensifying. Most people fear this is a sign that their grief is getting worse, that they are somehow doing this grief thing incorrectly. Remember that there is no wrong way to grieve and that this is your unique grief process for this specific loss.
As scary as it is when it does happen, you must allow yourself to feel the pain of your loss. Suppressing or ignoring your feelings will simply prolong the grief process. You do not have to do anything to force yourself to feel the pain, but when it does hit, try giving into it and finding healthy ways to express your thoughts and feelings. Calling a friend, keeping a journal or simply allowing yourself to cry can be helpful.
Grief isn’t something you get over. Grief is something you go through. There is no one final place or destination to attain. Taking the necessary time to learn how to live with your loss is the surest path towards healthy healing.
What’s wrong with you? Do you long for a good cry but can’t seem to tear up? Are you feeling the pain and sorrow of a loss but without the same response as those around you? Do you fear you’ll appear cold or robot-like for not crying? Think about this:
- Crying is not a required reaction we must have after someone we love dies. There are no required reactions. Applying labels or stereotypes to our own grief experience, i.e. grieving = tears, could prolong the process. There is no one right or wrong way to be when you are grieving.
- Understand that everyone may show grief differently, at different times, over different losses, over the varying course of their lives. We can feel the emotional pain of losing a loved one more or less intensely. Symptoms of grief and the way we express our feelings can change over time too. Focus on your own feelings, the ones you are experiencing right now, and try not to worry about whether or not you’re crying enough or at all.
- Some people may not outwardly show feelings of emotional pain because they could be in a phase of shock or numbness. This can happen initially upon learning the death of your loved one and perhaps at other times throughout the healing process of grief. Certain realizations about your loss, your current circumstances or your future may trigger intermittent periods of shock or numbness as you journey through grief. If this happens, remind yourself it is just a part of the process.
- For those who haven’t been able to cry but long to have a good release, you can always try provoking or triggering a good crying session. Looking at pictures of your loved one, listening to music that reminds you of them or going to places you once enjoyed together might bring on the tears. When all else fails, watching a sappy movie like Lassie, a real tear-jerker, might give you the permission you need to release painful emotions.
- One thing is for certain: if you feel like crying but are purposely suppressing it, stop doing this now. One of the worst things you can do during grief is to prevent yourself from crying. If it is something you feel you can only do in private, so be it. You are not required to have a witness to your tears (remember, no requirements!) But suppressing any of our grief thoughts or feelings can only contribute to a prolonged and possibly more painful journey.
Going through grief is difficult enough. Don’t make it any harder on yourself by trying to force your experience into a tear-filled, cookie-cutter, keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s Kleenex box.
(Note: There could be a medical reason why you are not crying. If you truly believe this is the case, seek the advice of an Ophthalmologist.)