If you are reading this because you have lost a child, I am so very sorry. I know the pain you feel, because I have felt it too. I know the depth of suffering that comes from losing a child. I wish no one had to experience this, but sadly there are too many of us.
My purpose in writing this letter is to outline a few of the things I have learned in my grief. Maybe in doing so, your journey will seem a little less scary. It’s so easy to feel alone and grief is so unscripted you may think you are going crazy. I want you to know you are not alone and what you are experiencing is normal, for the circumstances you find yourself in.
There is No Order
Shortly after losing my 2 boys in a car accident someone said something to me that I have always appreciated. I have no idea who it was, or exactly the words they used, but their comment helped me navigate that first year. This person told me there are no stages to grief. You may have heard about the “Stages of Grief” but, after 6 years, I am here to tell you there is no such thing. Stages imply order. Once you complete the first stage you move onto the next and so on. As you get through all the steps, viola, you are done grieving. Oh, how I wish it were that easy!
Grief is unpredictable and it can take you by surprise. It’s more like a rollercoaster where you can’t see the dips and turns. I’ve also described grief like ocean waves that sneak up on you when you’re not ready. You may take weeks to go through the different emotions, or you my go through them all in a 30 second whirlwind. Grief cycles and turns so much you may feel like you are going crazy.
You Are Not Going Crazy
I believe child loss is the most agonizing emotional pain there is. Our bodies simply don’t know how to handle the intensity. One minute you may be fine and even able to smile. The next you collapse into tears. Or maybe you are laughing at something and your laughter dissolves into sobs. The smallest or strangest things can set off the tears. I’ve been triggered by an aisle full of kitchen mixers at the store, an innocuous comment by a friend and even a Taylor Swift song (the reason behind this one seems so silly).
As exhausting as the mood swings are, they are normal. I’ve melted down in the grocery store, the bathroom at work, my car, in front of family, and even in the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and other equally embarrassing places. Sometimes your emotions will make sense and be easier to control. Other times the power of your grief will be so overwhelming you will break down despite your best intentions. Both are ok. Both are good. It’s normal you are not crazy.
The Intensity of the Pain will subside
I was astonished at the intensity of the emotional pain I was in. It was so painful I could feel it physically. My heart hurt, I couldn’t breathe, and any movement I made took an enormous amount of effort.
Writing this letter 6 years later, the pain is now a dull sadness. Every now and then the intensity returns, but it’s not an everyday occurrence anymore. Thankfully so, I’m not sure I could have survived 6 years of that kind of intensity. I’m not sure when it started to subside, but it did. It was a slow and gradual process over the course of time.
You’ve probably heard the expression “Time heals all wounds”. (I hope no one has said this to you in the face of your loss). I disagree with this statement. I think there are some wounds that the passage of time can heal, but not all. Time itself doesn’t heal anything just by continuing to march forward. All time really does is put distance between us, and the day of our loss. It’s what we do with that time that determines if we “heal” or remain stuck.
The only way to “heal” from grief is to go through it. I know it hurts and I know it’s hard, but you have to feel it. You have to let it in, because that is the only way through. It may seem easier to run from or hide from your grief. But remember this, GRIEF WILL NOT BE DENIED. It will always come out. The more you run from it, the more likely it will come out in a way you have no control over. Facing your grief head on is the hardest and easiest way through this journey.
There is Hope
I still remember the first Compassionate Friends meting I went to. (CF is a national support group for bereaved parents/siblings/and grandparents.) It was only a few weeks after the accident and I couldn’t imagine life without the intense pain that had become my constant companion. The leader of the group was 10 years into her child loss journey. I remember listening to her talk and realizing there was hope. She was able to function and live a life. I listened to her story and knew I wouldn’t always be in this place of powerful pain. Attending the local Compassionate Friends chapters has helped me in many ways. I realize I’m not alone on this journey. And in seeing others farther along in their journey, I knew what to expect as the weeks, months and years marched past. I knew there was hope.
Hope can also come from faith. I don’t know what your spiritual beliefs are and I know in the face of losing a child talk about God can feel trite. I hope you will continue reading what I have to say. I’m not going to tell you things like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” or “God needed another angel”. (Please excuse me while I throw up over those statements). No, what I want you to know is God is here for you, if you’ll let him in. He can offer you comfort and peace. I know there are a lot of hard questions about God and painful circumstances like ours. But that is a conversation for another day.
I found when the pain hurt the most and the tears wouldn’t stop, God was there for me when I cried out for help. He gave me peace and surrounded me with support. He makes this burden we carry lighter. I know he will do the same for you; all you have to do is ask.
There is so much more I want to say, but I’ve already written more than I planned. If you have any questions or would like prayer, feel free to comment, send me an email or message me on Facebook.
I am so sorry you’ve joined this awful club, but know you are not alone.
8 thoughts to “An Open Letter to Newly Bereaved Parents”
I’m entering the fifth year of loosing my Daughter, Carly. My only child. She was 22 1/2. I appreciate what you shared. Thank you…and I am deeply sorry for the loss of your children…God bless you.
Thank you Jill. I am sorry for the loss of your daughter. It’s a terrible club we belong to.
Teresa, this is beautifully written. I truly wish that I had a map of this journey when I started it. The greatest gift my TCF family gave me was letting me know if I am crazy then I have lots of friends and a good support system.
Grief will not be denied is a very true statement. Running from it does catch up to you. I want to repeat the words my best friend constantly says to me “be kind and patient with yourself”.
Again, thank you for your words!
Aundrea, I’m so glad you have a good support system. They can make so much difference in this journey. I too wish there was a road map for grief. And you are right being “patient and kind” to yourself is so important in grief. I had many people tell me that. I wish I’d thought to put that in the post . . . I’d forgotten how hard I was on myself in the beginning.
Thank you! My only son died 16 1/2 months ago. I pray for the day not to hurt !
Bill, I’m so sorry for your loss. You are still early in this horrible journey. The pain will eventually ease and be easier to deal with, but it never really goes away.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I found it spot on correct….It will be 6 years this Valentine’s day we lost our only son and the road has been horrid, but as you described gets different the wider the time gap. I have been in the psych business a long time and know full well, from BOTH sides of the fence, the tremendous benefits that come from embracing one’s feelings honestly despite the pain. I still weep, just not everyday….. I still rage and question, just not everyday …..but I still hurt and miss my son, with every cell in my body, every single day!……I am sorry we all are on this road, may we find comfort on our journey.
John, I am sorry for your loss. Sunday will be exactly 6 years for me. It’s so hard to believe it’s been that long, yet it feels like a lifetime. I love the way you expressed what this journey has been like. It’s a horrible road we are on but like you say “may we find comfort on our journey”.
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