I previously talked about my daughter's death and the fact that I wasn't able to properly grieve for her. I want to take a moment now and talk about the emotions and initial shocks that come with losing a child.
As we have said before, losing a child is never easy. It's a very emotional and shocking moment. When you lose a child you become a passenger on a rollercoaster of emotions that you have no way off. There is no set right emotion or wrong emotion. It's inevitably such a vast myriad of emotions that you bounce around like a ping pong ball in a box.
We all know that the first emotion is usually shock. The shock factor is what "numbs" you. It is the numbing agent that encompasses you completely. It is what pushes you through the days and nights like a robot, a zombie. That shock never leaves completely. Not in the days or years that follow. There will always be a remnant of that initial shock. One that is burned into your memory for the rest of your life. It's a thread that will be touched ever so often as time wears on. One of my first thoughts was "This isn't happening. It's not real. It's a dream, a nightmare. I'll wake up and it will all just go away." I think that's the most common thought hits us first when we are faced with the death of someone we love. It's normal. It's natural. It's our brain's way of protecting us without shutting down the body. If it wasn't for the shock, I probably would have ended it all right there. But that shock is what kept me thinking somewhat rationally, if you can even say I was rational at that point. The initial shock gives way to a longer lasting shock that is more mild. It settles into the back of the mind and is what throws up that first wall that we all put up when something like that happens (in my opinion anyhow). We tend to hold onto the shock with a death grip, even though we don't realize that's what we are doing at the time.
Generally the second emotion that follows is denial. It furthers the effects of the initial shock. The whole "This isn't happening", "It's a dream/nightmare" carries over from the initial shock emotion. There will be times that we refuse to believe it. We struggle in the fight between our mind and our heart. It took me months before I finally surrendered to the battle with denial and realized it wasn't a dream. That it wasn't something that was happening to someone else. It was happening to me. Denial like shock, is a normal part of the emotions we face when faced with a death. Like shock, it serves as a way of trying to protect our psyche, our heart, our sanity. Sometimes the denial can be so overwhelming that a person gives in to the denial and can no longer see reality. There is a healthy amount of denial and then there is the dangerous level of denial. It is important that those around us know to step in when they see the denial reaching a level that will cause one to lose their connection with reality.
I'd have to say that the third emotion is (for me that is) sadness and uncontrollable crying. I became so depressed that I cried over simple things. Things like a piece of lint on the floor. Or my cat sitting in the window. I never knew what would trigger hours of crying. It's different for each person so there is no set way to deal with it. Each person experiences things differently. What I may experience is different than what another mother may experience. It's similar to PTSD and PPD in my opinion. In the years since Elizabethe-Ane's death I have comforted many mothers who have lost a child. And each situation was different. But the one thing I have never changed is the fact that I always hold the mother and let them cry. I make sure that they know I can relate to their emotions. That I have been right where they are. I try to let them know that i know exactly what they are feeling because I have felt it. The downside is that it reopens the wound for me. But I do it anyway. It helps me as much as it does them. It's a never ending recovery to be honest. You will never recover from the blow that is dealt when your child dies.
The rest of the emotions that follow the initial ones, just tend to ebb and flow on their own. There are no magic words that can be said to ease the pain that they cause. By the time one gets to the point of "accepting" the loss, the guilt comes back and you then feel guilty that you are starting to accept the child's death. It's called survivors guilt. You feel so afraid that you will forget. There will never be a moment after the loss where you don't think about your child. Don't be afraid that you will forget her/him or that you will stop thinking about them on a day to day basis. Please believe me when I say that you won't forget, that you won't stop thinking about her/him. You are her/his mother/father. You will never forget them. You will always think about them. It's natural. Don't allow that fear in. That fear has no place in your mind nor your life. It wants to do nothing but break you down.
One of the ways I cope to this day is I plant roses every year. I release balloons with Elizabethe-Ane's name, birth date, death date and a simple I love you and miss you. You will always be my daughter. And I write. And write. And write...I have found that writing helps me manage the emotions that I have even now, 17 years later. Everyone told me that time heals all. That the pain lessens with time. I said then and I say now, that's a lie. The pain doesn't lessen. We just find ways to manage it. Time doesn't heal all. We learn to live with it. Time is a endless ocean. An ocean that we follow the ebb and flow of. Swimming against that current tires us out. In terms of loss anyhow.
What not to say to a grieving parent:
- Don't tell them that time lessens the pain. It doesn't
- Don't tell them it happened for a reason. We don't want a reason.
- Don't tell them they will be back to their old self. They will never be who they were prior to the loss.
- Don't tell them it was meant to be. All they want is their child back.
- Don't tell them there will be other children to love. Another child will never replace the one they lost.
- Don't tell them that at least they had time with the child for a small time. They want another moment in time.
- Don't tell them to get over it. They will never be over it.
What to say to a grieving parent:
- I am sorry for your loss. They will appreciate it.
- I am here to comfort you the best I can. They need to know you are there.
- I may not understand the depth of your pain but I understand you are hurting. They need to hear it.
- I can not say I understand what it's like to lose a child but I can try to understand. They want that attempt.
- I know what it's like to lose a child, I have been there. I promise to hold you when you can no longer hold yourself. Those words, that understanding...it's a bond they desperately need. (This is for ones who have lost a child and understand exactly what the pain is like)
What you can DO for a grieving parent:
- Let them talk about the child.
- Let them cry and scream until they feel it's enough.
- Let them lean on you when they need to.
- Help them with daily tasks. They won't be up to it for the first week or so.
- Be there for them. Be a friend. Be a source of comfort and solace. Be a place they can go when they need to.
You don't ever get past the pain that losing a child causes. You just learn to live with it. There will always be little things that will trigger the pain to come bubbling to the surface again. It's inevitable. Don't try to bury the pain. That just makes it hurt more than it has to. Develop a support system. Surround the grieving parents with the love and support they need. In 2005 there was a dedication to Elizabethe-Ane's memory. My sis Nicole (she's a contributor to Inside an Insane Mind btw) gave birth to her 3rd child, my niece Megan. Nicole gave Megan, Elizabethe- Ane's first name as her middle name. She named my niece Megan Elizabeth. I can not tell you how that impacted me. It was overwhelming. Megan, who I affectionately call Nutmeg and Monkey, was born with the same birthmark Elizabethe-Ane had. Sis and I both like to think Elizabethe-Ane kissed Monkey during her birth journey. It helps me cope with Elizabethe-ane's death in a good way. Amazing how small things like that happen isn't it?