Exactly five years ago today, our daughter, Becca, left this earth.
I have been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting, trying to put so many abstract thoughts and feelings into something concrete, like words on a page.
How is my life different now, besides the obvious? What is good, what is bad, and what is still just plain ugly? What have I learned that might help those who are on this path behind me?
So here are five things I have discovered over the last five years.
There are no rules or timelines for grief!
My husband, Dave, and I are blessed to still have both of our parents on this earth. Neither of us has experienced the death of a sibling. So it rocked us to the core to have the first death of someone in our immediate families be our daughter.
I had no grid, nothing to “compare” my grief to, based on past experience. But I soon found out from other bereaved parents that it didn’t really matter. There is no other grief like it.
That also means there is no right or wrong way to grieve. We hear people tell us that; we tell others the same thing; and yet, when it comes to our spouse, we seem to make exceptions to that rule. If he or she is not dealing with it like we are, they must not be doing it right. (I want to look at pictures, he wants nothing to do with them. I want to stay away from the cemetery, and she is there crying her eyes out every single day.)
Grief is very personal. There is no timeline and there are no “rules.” This means grief takes lots and lots of grace, both in receiving and in giving.
When the grief waves come, they are not as suffocating as they used to be.
If you are within the first year, I cringe to tell you chances are pretty good that it will get worse before it gets better.
I encourage people not to compare their grief with others, as that can be damaging. And you just read how I shared that grief has no timeline. However, there is a certain pattern (for lack of a better word) that most of us seem to follow, which is actually helpful to be aware of, in case you find yourself in this “pattern.”
The first year is very painful, but there is also a fog and confusion that comes with it. You think the second year will get better, but for many of us, the numbness is lifting, and the full weight of our loss hits us full force.
If or when that happens, keep breathing. Keep taking one day, one moment at a time. And make sure you connect with other bereaved parents who have been where you are; those who can walk with you, cry with you and assure you that you will get past this.
The third year often becomes when we start to learn how to function again. I would like to say it is uphill from there, but grief is not an event, it is a process. In the beginning, there will be many moments (or days) when grief hits like a tsunami. But as you go along, they become grief waves, which don’t suck you under as deeply or as long…usually…
Forgiveness plays a huge part in the healing process.
There are so many people we need to forgive with the death of our child.
- Anyone who had anything to do with it, directly or indirectly
- Friends and family who say or do hurtful things
- Ourselves, for not being able to prevent it
- Our child for leaving us
- For some of us, God, for not stepping in and preventing it
Holding on to unforgiveness causes us to be angry and bitter. Some people say it is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness is actually a choice we make, not based on our feelings or on what the other person has or hasn’t done. And it is a process we often have to choose over and over again until it takes hold and becomes part of us. (I address this more fully in my book When Tragedy Strikes).
I am not getting farther away from my child, I am getting closer to her.
This was a huge weight lifted from me when I realized this. At the beginning, I almost couldn’t breathe thinking about being five, ten, or twenty five years away from Becca.
In my praying about this, God spoke to my heart that I am not getting further away from Becca, but closer to her. Every day I am here on this earth is one day closer to my own departure and being with her again.
Talk about a change in perspective! That takes me from stabbing pain to soaring hope!
There will be laughter and joy again.
The guilt of laughing and being happy after the death of our child can be horrible. “I must be a terrible person.” This is an area in which I still unconsciously self-sabotage myself.
Here is a question that has helped many parents get past this. “Would my child want me to stay in this place of so much darkness and pain, or would he or she want to see me happy again?” I think if we are willing to admit it, our child would feel terrible if they knew they were the cause of our never smiling, laughing, or having joy again.
It’s okay to smile. It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to be happy and have joy in our lives again. It does not mean we have “moved on” or left our child behind as nothing but a faint memory. That is just plain impossible. What it does mean is that you have gotten to the place where you can live again beyond the death of your child.
Our daughter, Becca, had bone cancer at age three. Part of her treatment was the amputation of her left leg. This gave us twenty six years of a front row seat to someone who had a very part of her cut off, but learning how to live a full life without that leg.
Each of us has had our child cut off from us like an amputation. But each of us can eventually learn how to live a full life with that child no longer here on this earth. There will be daily reminders. Some events will be more difficult than others. But not only is it possible, it will happen, if and when you are ready to allow yourself to be happy again and live a full life with that part of you missing.
And finally, this is the first year our perspective has changed from thinking about today being the day she died, to being the day of her heavenly birthday.
So with that, I will end by saying, “Happy fifth birthday in heaven, Becca!”