Taming the Grief Monster
Having been a bereaved mother for over ten years years, I am now able look back and see how I was able to get from, “I don’t think I can survive this all-consuming pain” to “I will always love and miss my son, but the memories and joy of having him for 24 years now outweigh the pain of losing him.” Trust me, you too can tame the grief monster.
Traversing through profound grief after losing a child will undoubtedly be the most difficult thing you will ever have to do. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes; how could there be?
A parent’s love for their child is total and unconditional. This is unlike any other kind of love. Even if we didn’t always like our child’s actions or choices, our love for them never diminished.
Simple Things to Tame the Grief Monster
Each of us are unique individuals, and so was our relationship with our child. There can be no one “cookie cutter” way to grieve or heal. That being said, there are many simple things you can do to help tame the grief monster.
Here are some suggestions that have helped me and other parents make our journey through grief a little easier and less traumatic. Be prepared though: At times they can make you feel better, and then suddenly somethings knocks you over, like an enormous wave. Just know this is “normal” and you are neither alone, nor going crazy!
First and foremost you need to take care of yourself. Be as compassionate with yourself as you would with a dear friend going through a tragedy. Never feel guilty about taking time for yourself or asking for help. What each person might need varies greatly. Some are helped by staying busy, while others need solitude; some benefit by a bubble bath or massage, others prefer exercise while still others need to talk and/or cry with a good friend.
Good Health is Needed
No matter how you find respites from the agony of grief, there is one important constant – taking care of your health. One very important point is to to stay hydrated. Dehydration puts an additional and unnecessary strain on your body. Water and juices are best, try to avoid excessive caffeine.
Alcohol is tempting and one glass of wine probably won’t hurt. However, alcohol is a depressant and will not take the grief away. Excessive drinking could also create additional problems and stresses on the rest of the family.
Regarding food; avoid under-eating or over-eating (especially with junk food.) Make yourself eat well balanced and healthy meals.
Sleep and Tears Can Help
Sleep is frequently a major problem, as it was for me. I needed prescription medication nightly for the first three years. Some people are helped by learning meditation techniques or even getting regular exercise. Talk to your doctor or psychiatrist if this is an issue for you. Sleep deprivation takes a major toll on both your mind and body.
Never underestimate the healing power of tears! They are the body’s way to release toxins and the mind’s way to express strong emotions. Allow yourself as much crying as you need. If it makes others uncomfortable, so be it. Obviously there are going to be times when it is inappropriate, like at work. Try to put the tears “on hold” until you can be alone, like in the car or at home. I feel lucky in that I cried easily, and excessively! After a good cry I would feel some relief from the pain and anxiety; I’d feel “spent.”
Some people aren’t able to cry, or can only cry minimally. If this is the case you can use a prompt to bring on the tears, for instance a song or holding an item related to your child. Otherwise, try vigorous physical exercise to release some of those heavy emotions.
Using Your Anger
We can’t deny our anger, it is almost always present, no matter the circumstances of the death. A parent is never supposed to lose a child, it is completely wrong! We want to lash out at someone or at God. How could He take our beautiful child from us?
No matter how irrational, we are often angry at ourselves, thinking that somehow we should have been able to prevent it. Usually this is not the case, but as a parent we have this irrational thought that we should always be responsible for keeping our children safe – no matter their age.
Most of us parents play the old “coulda, shoulda, woulda” game with ourselves. We obsess over thoughts like, “If only I would have…or wouldn’t have… Although we all do it, it is not helpful, nor does it change the outcome. Try to let go of these kind of thoughts.
God and the Grief Monster
For those who believe in God (or a higher power), faith is almost always questioned in a life-altering tragedy. I remember screaming, “Why did Kevin have to die when bad people get to live? Eventually, as my anger subsided, I thought of a famous book by Rabbi Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. His theory was that God didn’t cause the tragedy but he can be a source of strength and healing afterward. When I was finally able to pray again, I was rewarded with the comfort and strength I needed then, and still do.
Eventually, as I let go of the anger, I came to some realizations that helped me put things into a better perspective. These included: I appreciate all the many blessings and people who still exist in my life; the depth of the pain is not as great as the depth of the love; and, most especially, I will see Kevin again when it’s my time to cross over.
Linda Zelik is a retired occupational therapist, living in Southern California. The above was adapted from her recently published book entitled, From Despair to Hope, Survival Guide for Bereaved Parents. It can be found at www.amazon.com or www.barnes&noble.com
Read more from Linda Zelik at Healing a Broken Heart After A Child-Loss – Open to Hope.