I will admit this title is misleading. There is no “survived” in child loss, there is only enduring it. But survived sounds more socially acceptable, doesn’t it?
Early on I made a decision to let the grief in. I’m generally a pretty emotionally controlled person, more of a thinker than a feeler if you will. Somehow I knew this journey would require me to feel the pain. I was terrified of the road that now stood in front of me.
The fear started after my extended family left. The chaos of my mom’s side of the family had kept me going that first week. As soon as the last one left for the airport, I felt empty. Then is settled on me . . . Fear. I looked at my future and all I saw was a long, dark road filled with pain. I was scared of the coming days because I knew they would be filled with the most intense and painful feelings I have ever felt. I curled up on my mom’s couch and cried. I was too exhausted to go home, too scared to be completely alone, so I spent the night at my parent’s house. How was I supposed to move forward?
I knew a mom who’d lost her son 5 years prior. From the way she talked, it seemed like it had just happened. She was stuck in her grief, and I did not want that to be me. I didn’t want to have to start over 5 years from now because I didn’t deal with it first. Somehow I knew the only way through this would be to let the pain in. So I decided to face the pain and grief head on.
It is the hardest thing I have ever done . . . .
When the searing pain would hit, instead of pushing it down, I would let it wash over me. I’d let the tears fall until there were no more.
I went deep into my grief, I allowed myself to feel the crushing pain. I would wander into the boy’s room and sit on their beds. I would go through their things, trying to connect with them. The sadness would start first, and then the full impact of the consuming pain would hit me and flood through me. I couldn’t breathe. I’d collapse on the floor in paralyzing tears. It hurt so bad, my legs would not support my weight. I cried out to God asking, “Why couldn’t I keep them?” or just pleading, “help me”.
It hurt. It was hard.
I’ve had “meltdowns” in the bathroom at work and other public places. I’ve cried so hard I can’t see while driving. I’ve cried at church, in museums, while watching movies, and my favorite place the privacy of my bedroom.
Grief comes is waves. Sometimes the waves completely overwhelm you and others are smaller, more tolerable. I rode the waves of grief today, so tomorrow the wave would be smaller. Sometimes there is no warning, it just hits you like a sneaker wave at the beach. The kind of wave that’s stronger than you realize and rips your feet out from under you. Other times you can see the waves coming and you dread the moment they hit. Those times it’s really tempting to run and hide from the coming wave.
It was late July, a few years ago, when I learned how trying to hold your grief in will backfire.
I was having a bad day. The kind of day where the grief sneaks up on you, and before you know it you are in tears. I’d already cried through much of the church service while struggling to maintain control because I was in a public place. I tried, really hard to keep myself under control.
It was my sister’s birthday and I didn’t want to make the day about me.
After the service, driving to my parent’s house, I allowed myself a few tears. The drive to mom and dad’s was not long enough. I needed more time to let my grief out. I was expected to be there, so I sucked in my pain and put on the best happy face I could muster.
It took so much of my energy to hold myself together, I couldn’t fake the happy attitude I needed to keep everyone from knowing I was having a bad day. There were questions I tried to deflect but wasn’t able to do so successfully. Thankfully they quit asking what was wrong. I was doing fairly well. It was obvious I wasn’t in a good mood, but at least I wasn’t crying.
After the birthday lunch and presents we all gathered in the family room. My sister said something that started me laughing. I was laughing so hard, really harder than was necessary for the comment. I quickly lost control. The dam burst and next thing I knew my control crumbled, I was in tears. I flew to the bathroom so I could break down in private. I locked the door behind me and my legs gave out. I sunk to my knees and cried. The tears were falling from my eyes to the floor. It’s hard to sob without making noise, but I didn’t want people at the door asking if I was ok.
After the crying subsided, I still wasn’t ready to face anyone. I stayed in the bathroom for a while and played a game on my phone until my mom started texting me. After a couple more minutes I used a cold washcloth to try and reduce the effects crying had on my face. Once I felt I would be able to maintain control and deal with any looks or questions from my family, I left the bathroom.
I tried so hard to push my grief aside, to be ok for my sister. I ended up making everything worse. That day I needed to give myself the time and space I needed to grieve. But I denied it and it pushed it’s way forward anyway.
Grief will always push its way out.
Grief is exhausting. But it’s more exhausting to not let it out. Trying to constantly maintain control takes and exorbitant amount of effort. Grief is hard, but it’s harder not to grieve.
So I learned to let it out, scream, cry, do whatever I needed to do to release that emotion. For me its crying fits. I’d cry so hard I couldn’t breathe. I’d try to stop crying just so I could breathe. I’d gasp for air only to start crying all over again.
It sucks, it’s hard and it hurts. Oh boy, does it hurt! But when the crying is over, the pain has subsided. I feel empty, poured out in tears. But with the emptiness comes a lightness I didn’t feel before. The weight of the grief has lifted temporarily and I can go on. Until the cycle repeats itself, I am free.
Because I faced my pain when I did, today I can breathe. The waves are smaller and come less frequently. Sitting here 6 years later, I know I did the hardest work of processing my grief early on. I know that’s why I can function and teach others about grief.
At work, I help run a grief group. I talk to them about how they have to face their grief and let the pain in because that is the only way through this.
In the group, we talk about how grief will always come out. It doesn’t matter how much you hide or run from it, grief will not be denied. If you don’t face it, you only make the process harder. Anxiety, physical issues, chronic pain, depression can all come from unprocessed grief. When grief is not dealt with it will come out in the most inconvenient and uncontrollable ways. The only way to have any amount of control with grief is to face it, feel it and ride the waves.
I’m here because I let the pain in.
I’m enduring. I’m surviving.
Are you having trouble letting the pain in? Are you running or hiding from grief? Feel free to comment, send me an email or message me on Facebook. Do you know someone who is grieving and could be helped by this post? Feel free to share.