Lately, the question I have been getting the most is, “How do I get the people around me to understand why I am still grieving the death of my child so deeply?”
We already feel like we are going crazy, and having family and friends tell us we “should be past this by now” may have us locked in a world of deep anger, or wondering if maybe we are losing it and need to see someone for help or to be locked up.
Here are some things you may not be aware of. As a parent who has faced the death of their child:
- The death of one’s child is considered by most professionals to be one of the most (if not the most) traumatic event a person can deal with in life.
- The death of our child causes deep grief. Deep grief causes physical changes in our bodies, such as our immune system is compromised (we get run down and pick up illnesses easily) chemicals in our brain change (causing things like fogginess and confusion) and there are changes within the heart itself (which can even cause heart-attack like symptoms which need to be checked out). Some of these changes last for years, and we may need help from a doctor or natural health practioner to get our bodies back in order.
- Studies have shown that for those who have lost a child, anything under five years is considered fresh grief!
Those three things right there can be shared with those who may be wondering why we are still having problems when it has been a year, or two, or three, or four or five.
How about offering them some comparisons that might help as well?
- If someone has an amputation, first they have to heal, both physically and emotionally, from having that body part cut off. (And the emotional healing often takes much longer than the physical.)
Then they have to learn how to function and do everything differently with that part of them missing. Even when that happens, they are reminded multiple times a day that that body part has been cut off, because of how they are forced to live differently in a way that helps them adapt to the loss.
Some days it is easy, some days it is a struggle to stay positive and “not care”, and other days it hits them full force (almost like a it just happened), no matter how long ago the amputation happened.
We have had our child amputated from us, and everything that an amputee has to go through, we do as well, only multiplied and much more intensely.
- Someone who has gone through a traumatic experience can often find themselves with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
I don’t think anyone can deny that it is a traumatic experience to walk behind your child’s casket and bury them, or to bring your child home as ashes in an urn. And for those parents who found their child’s body, or many other possible scenarios, the PTSD can be even worse.
Just like anyone who has faced a deep trauma, it takes a long time to be able to function again, and there are triggers that will have to be dealt with for the rest of their lives.
- If we go on a trip for the weekend, (or several days on a business trip or get-away of some kind) do we usually check on our kids to see how they are doing because we miss them and want to know they are doing okay? When our child goes somewhere for the week (like summer camp) do we miss them and can hardly wait for them to come home so we can hug them tight and hear their stories? Is it considered normal to miss a child deeply if they are gone for a month (maybe a mission’s trip or off to college)? Within that long separation, isn’t there usually communicate in some way? Texting, Facetime, Skype, or at least emails with them?
How would you feel if you couldn’t do any of that? How would you feel if your child left the country, for two years? It would be hard, but you would be okay, knowing at the end of those two years he or she would be back, right? How about if they were leaving for ten years and you absolutely knew there would be no way to communicate with them? Would you be a bit of a mess for at least part of that time?
What if that were for the rest of your child’s life? You knew for sure that you would never ever talk to them, never see them, never ever again hear them laugh, never hear them say, “I love you”, never know what they look like as they age, and you would never ever again be able to hug them or give them your love?
Welcome to our world. Only yours is just imagining it. Ours is reality. For the rest of our lives. Period.
- Have you had one of your parents die? Maybe a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or a good friend that you were really close to? Have you quit missing them? At certain times of the year, or when something triggers a memory, does your heart ache, and do you maybe cry a few tears? That is how we feel every day because every day there are triggers, reminding us that our child is no longer here with us.
For instance, when we see their favorite cereal that we will never buy for them again, when we hear a song they used to dance silly or sing loudly to, on the first day of school every year, every holiday (especially Mother’s Day/Father’s Day), on their birthday, on their anniversary death date when they left this earth forever, when we see a certain car, or during a thunderstorm because they loved (or were scared of) storms, when our favorite team plays and we no longer hear him or her cheering with us or ranting with us, when we think of something funny and want to tell our child and then remember we can’t, when we want to show them something we bought that they would get a kick out of… and the list never ends.
I know we desperately want those around us to extend grace to us in our horrible loss, allowing us to grieve deeply the way that we need to and is normal for someone who has lost a child. Unfortunately, way too often that just doesn’t happen. The people around us want us to get back to normal and go on with life as though it’s no big deal our child has died.
And how could someone who has not had their child die possibly know what it is like? Plain and simple, they can’t. Which is why it is so important to connect with those who can.
At Open to Hope, we are here for you, along with other groups (such as Grieving Parents Sharing Hope/GPS Hope, Bereaved Parents USA, Umbrella Ministries, and others). Make sure you look until you find those who you feel you feel comfortable with and easily connect with, based on the hope and encouragement they give.
The death of our child was an event, but grieving their death is a process, a very long process that will affect us deeply for the rest of our lives. Friends and family may not understand, but we do. You are not alone.