I would like to share some things that have helped me with my grief. This list is not in any particular order - grief changes and your needs will change. What works today may not work tomorrow. And not everything is for everyone; please use what works for you and leave the rest. Know that there is help and support and you can live after the loss of a child. The best way to honor them is to go on, live well, and help others. Take their best qualities and become those qualities, keep your child(ren) alive by being your best plus them!
I don’t think that there is any pain like that of losing a child; it is so visceral. Having said that, I am not going to debate who has the worst loss- child, parent, spouse, sibling, friend. . Let us also not debate which was worst way they died; they all hurt, and at the end of the day they are gone, and we are not, and it is best to band together and comfort each other that stand apart.
This is the first step: agree with me to live. My first thought after hearing the news, after getting that phone call, was to go with him, as in suicide. It was such a reflexive thought- go after the child who is hurt, save them. And if you can't save them, be with them. Hold their hand in death as you did in life. It was an intuitive, wild, primal thought that I am eternally glad that I did not act on. I was not alone when I got the news and I know that I would have been protected from myself, from the immediate, overpowering grief I that I felt, had I tried a destructive action. I don't know much about the Bible but I know there is a story about how Jesus, as shepherd, left 99 sheep to find the one sheep who was lost. I get that now, on a gut level. I wanted to go after my one.
So: agree with me stay alive. And once decided, we must live well. It my is a disservice to stay only partially alive, to close the door on life, to say, "I will not go on," and refuse to move past the moment they died. My son died in an instant but lived 27 full, wonderful years and those are what I chose to reflect on.
Ok, we have decided to live and we've greed to live well, now what? I would like to offer some tips. First, know that the five stages of death apply to someone who is dying, not someone who is grieving. We will grieve in different stages until our last breath, and they change daily. Hourly. We are not going to "complete" our grieving, we learn to live with it. If someone asks, because they have not sat in the front pew of a church or funeral service yet, "are you still grieving?! Hasn't it been (2 months, 3 years, 15 years," it is perfectly acceptable to gently say, "Yes. Something reminded me of them today. How long to do you think you would miss your child if they died? What do you think would be a reasonable amount of time?" This has led to some very interesting conversations. Another good one to the classic, "well, you have other children," is, "Which of your children is expendable to you?"
The poet Khalil Gibran says, "Our children come through us and not from us." For me this means, we just got to borrow our children for awhile. I got the pleasure of getting pregnant- not everyone gets that. I got to carry a child to term, not everyone gets that. I was able to see my son graduate high school and college, live on his own, travel the world, fall in love. I wish that I could have seen him get married, have children , grow old, but that was not to be. We all have our own path, our own god, God, gods, and it is none of my business- I just got to be a part of my son's journey , and for that I am forever grateful. I do not know all of my path, and I accept that. I do not have knowledge of god but I have experience of him/her/it- I cannot reduce god to a pronoun, it makes it too small- in the people around me, the glimpses through the thin veil to the other side that I have been privileged to see. I believe that my son lived the life he was supposed to live. I believe that we agreed to do this life together, and that we will see each again. I believe.
I chose to go back to work after two weeks off. The funeral was over, my other children had gone back to their homes, and the immediate busyness was over. The thought of staying home with the enormity of the loss of my son was too much for me I think, although I was not consciously aware of that in those moments. I was single at the time so supporting myself was an issue. I know people that have taken a leave of absence from work for differing periods of time. I know people who have cashed in their stocks or IRA’s in order to stay home for a year or more. In retrospect I think that I was afraid of my grief and working was my way of keeping it at bay, and letting it in slowly. You just have to do whatever works for you - not what others want for you, but what you want.
I kept a journal for the first year and a half that Devon died, and I’m glad that I did. Two and a half years later, I don’t remember much from that first year - I think it is nature or God’s way of protecting me. If I ever need to revisit that year I know where to look, but for now, I am not able to remember much about those first awful months, and I’m okay with that.
I went to a few different grief counselors. They were very nice, and kind, and they meant well, but they didn’t help. None of them had lost a child, and for me that seemed to make a difference. In my case, what I found most effective was ART, or accelerated resolution therapy. This therapy is good for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). I was able to reconcile many issues after just a few sessions, which facilitated my healing. I could not find a counselor near me that specialized in ART, so I called my insurance company and asked for a letter of agreement with the counselor I hoped to go to, and they granted me several sessions. I feel very fortunate for that. I do not hesitate to make an appointment as needed - I cannot live in the anxiety and stress that grief invokes, it’s just too painful. EFT (emotional freedom tappiing) and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) work the same way. I recommend finding counselors that offer any of these therapies. I did not need to just talk about my grief, I could do that with friends. I wanted something that would help me heal, which I found through ART.
Grief support groups can be found in most areas: many churches have them, and Compassionate Friends is worldwide.
Helping Parents Heal is the parents/grandparents/sibling support group that I attend, and now facilitate a group. Their emphasis is that there is life after death; that no one really dies, and that life and love are eternal. Here is the link to Helping Parents Heal (they also have an online group if there isn’t a group close to you): https://www.helpingparentsheal.org.
There are also many FB support groups: Mom’s of Angels Gone Too Soon, TCF-Sudden Death, and many more. You don’t have to, and you shouldn’t, do this alone.
Disclaimer: I do not like yoga. I do not understand yoga. I find the postures difficult if not painful to do, and I am not in the space to do something that I feel awful about at this time. Restorative yoga is different, though. The music is gentle, the room comfortable, the lights are low - I find that alone very healing. The instructors speak quietly and encouragingly and I am not expected to contort myself into awkward positions. They use pillows and props that we support, and we stretch out on the floor and the instructor says things like, “We are opening our hearts. We are resetting our nervous systems. We are caressing our bodies internally and allowing them to heal. We are realigning our inner selves to allow the light to come in. We are creating space for healing and growth.” For the first six months that I attended class, I cried quietly; but I think that it was helpful and healing. If you aren’t near a studio or can’t afford to go you can find classes for free on YouTube. Light some candles (“illuminate me!”) and treat yourself.
Exercise is the least utilized antidepressant known to science. In the early months all I could do was sit. Thank god my husband motivated me to move and to go out. A friend of mine intensified her running regimen, but just try walking, if nothing else. The endorphins released really do help.
YouTube and TED Talks (on YouTube)
I looked up near death experiences, grief, help with sleep, spirit guides, God….all kinds of topics, and received all kinds of help. It’s all free.
There are many more books. Please look on the “Helping Parents Heal” website for more recommendations.
I know some parents who leave their children's rooms untouched for years, and some have to clean out their have not touched their children’s rooms in years, some who cleaned them out right away, and everything in between. Some of us didn’t have a choice. Devon rented a house with three roommates and we had to move his things out. At first even the lint on the carpet is sacred, and we don't want to remove anything but over time it gets easier.
Devon had many suits, shoes, ties, dress shoes that we donated to his university- there are many students who cannot afford dress clothing. The letters we received were amazing: “I could not afford to buy a suit but now I can go on interviews with confidence.” “In my country we do not wear suits but now I know what to wear, thank you so much.” “My parents could never afford a suit, thank you.” It was very gratifying.
My daughter lived with her brother, so she inherited most of his furniture. We gave away a lot, too.Everyone is different, do what is right for you. We all accumulate so much- remember, we do not need "things" to remember our loved ones. I have my son's favorite cologne in a baggie in a drawer; I smell it occasionally. I have some books and pictures of him. It is enough.
This is my list so far. If you have anything to add that has helped you, please message me, I would like to hear about it. Let’s live our lives to the best that we can to honor our children, until we see them again. Let me leave you with this thought from Rumi:
“Death has nothing to do with going away. The sun sets and the moon sets but they are not gone.”