I am approaching the anniversary of my son’s death. It will 16 years since we heard the news from the county chaplain on duty that night that it was indeed our son, Adam, and his flight student, Jason, who had landed the plane on a city street and died in the fiery aftermath. Sixteen years since we had to plan a funeral, watched his body be laid to rest at the cemetery, and live in a grief so heavy that I thought it would cause my heart to stop with the weight of it all.
A few months after his death, we started hearing the standard comments. “Adam would want you to move on and not be sad.” “It has been long enough; it is time to start living again.” “Adam is in a much better place, don’t be sad for him, but be happy!” It is hard to believe that we heard these words and many more that would make us think, “did I just really hear that, or is my crazed, grief soaked mind hearing it wrong?”
Then a year came and went. One year without hearing Adam’s voice. One year without feeling his hug, or seeing that beautiful gentle smile. We were told and believed that NOW it would get easier. And of course we heard the word “closure” over and over.
But what we found was that it became harder. We had been thinking like the ones that haven’t been through it , that after we experienced the “firsts”, we would have gone through the worst. What we found was that now that we had experienced the “firsts” and our grief didn’t lessen, we knew we would have to go through it all again. Nothing got better. There was no closure and never would be. I began to wonder how I would survive a lifetime of the holidays, anniversaries, birthdays without Adam.
But survive I did; one minute, one hour, one day at a time. It was a journey that I would not wish on my worst enemy. I came out stronger, found joy where we didn’t know there was any, appreciated our loved ones more, and started smiling and loving again. Some days were harder and some were easier, and eventually I started having more “good” days than bad.
Unfortunately, because I did start to smile again, few understood and assumed everything was OK in my life again. So each anniversary, birthday, holiday I have less and less that understand this grief journey. After all, it had been 5 years, 7 years, 10 years, 15 years…..
I have often wondered how I would ever be able live another day with any joy when my son was not here. What I learned as the years went by was that I have adapted to my life as it is now. I heard an analogy that fits the life of a bereaved parent. After the death of our child, it is like an amputation, a part of us is taken away. If an arm or leg is amputated, we still remember how our life was before that loss. We still long to have that life, whole and in one piece. We appreciate that life more than ever after it is gone. We never forget what it was like to be with it, but we eventually learn to adapt to our life without it. That doesn’t mean we will ever forget or not be grateful for what we had, but we can be grateful for what we have now too.
So what should I expect as I prepare to go through another anniversary of our son’s death? I don’t expect anything at all. I don’t expect anyone else to know what we go through every year. Years ago it made me angry. Now I understand. They don’t get it. They never would without experiencing this.
Think back to what it was like BDYC (before the death of your child), and you heard of someone that was a newly grieving parent. I can remember it clearly. My heart broke. I cried and cried. I went to the funeral. I took meals over. Within a month or so, my life went back to what it was. The parents were just coming out of shock and beginning the devastating journey of grieving the death of their child. I don’t remember sending a card at the one year anniversary, or just sitting and letting them talk about their child. It wasn’t because I was heartless or didn’t care, but because I didn’t understand. As hard as it was to imagine, it wasn’t even close to what actual grief is because I had nothing to compare it with.
If I could do one thing in this life it would be to educate people on how to help someone they know that is grieving. In other countries it isn’t rare to allow a family to grieve for years. It is accepted. Their grieving is respected. I am not sure how we came to get where we are in this country, but it is a disgrace the way society has taught us to be.
My husband worked for a national company. He was told to “grieve after 5:00 PM because people were uncomfortable with his sadness.” As shocking as that sounds, even more shocking is that this was less than two months after the death of Adam. His boss also told him that he “understood” what he was going through because his grandma had died and that made him very sad. So, we can’t really blame anyone can we with this kind of thinking being the norm.
I decided early on that I would voice my feelings, that I would respond…..in love…to the comments made, and I would educate others on the grief journey I was traveling. It was OK to say that they weren’t making me cry because they mentioned Adam’s name, or that yes, it was OK to say his name and talk about him.
I am living with a big hole in my heart, a part that went away when Adam did. I will always have that part missing, but I found out I can live without it until I see him again. Then my heart will be whole and the journey I have been traveling will be over.