So many times, people have asked me what I have needed as I have moved through the wilderness of grief. The funny thing is…I don’t know what to tell them. Most of the time, I don’t know what I need myself…until I need it. That’s what so difficult about all this grief work. From day to day, your needs may change and they could change in the blink of the eye. Just the other day, I just needed to tell a few people about the little boy that I saw that reminded me of Aaron. So, I just texted a few or sent Facebook messages to a few…I just needed to get it out…I just needed to tell someone. It’s like that book I read that said, “Tell your story over, and over, and over, and over…until you just can’t tell it anymore.” That night, I just needed to tell someone about how seeing that little boy affected my entire evening. Something so completely unexpected, and I had no knowledge that I would need that listening ear until I needed it.
As I’m coming up on the 2nd year after losing Aaron, I’ve been thinking a lot about what that day is going to feel like and what I might need that day. My counselor asked me last week what I might need on that day…and I simply said…I don’t know…because I really didn’t know. As that anniversary ominously approaches, I’ve thought about some things that we bereaved parents need when we can’t express those needs. Here are a few of the things I’ve thought of:
- Mention their name – A bereaved parent’s worst fear is that people will forget that our child was once a part of this world. If you knew our son or daughter, share a funny story with us…share anything you can remember about them. We like to know that others remember that our child was once on this earth. If you didn’t know our child…ask about them. Asking us helps us to remember those precious stories stored in the file cabinet of our mind.
- If we cry….cry with us…or just sit in silence. Tears are not the enemy and it is what we need to do to move through our pain and through the wilderness of grief. Grief is so complex with a swirling mass of emotions…you never know when we might cry. So, if we do…just go with it. Listen, sympathize, give us a hug, just hold us…or one of the most important things you can do is listen. Listening gives us validation that someone cares about how we feel and validation that our feelings matter.
- One of the best things you can do as a friend of a bereaving parent is to remember the anniversary of our child’s death. It means the world to us when someone sends us a note or a message simply saying, “I’m here if you need me.”, “I know today must be very difficult. I’m sorry that you are feeling this pain.” Just send us something that lets us know you care about the pain of our child’s death. You may not be able to understand it…but acknowledging that day means that you are acknowledging that our child lived.
- Give us time…time to grieve and time to get ourselves back into the “normal” functioning of the world. While the world continued to move when our child died, we did not. Our world stopped in its tracks. The only thing that will help us to move through our grief is time…time to feel the pain…time to cry….time to remember….time to question…time to be angry….time to redefine our world without our child….time to adjust to the new normal of life as we now know it. This isn’t a quick process….it takes time.When I say give us time, I don’t meant that time heals all wounds, because time will never heal this wound. What time will do for me is to help me find ways to cope with the loss….that’s what time does in this situation. It takes a long time to process all that has happened and it may not happen in 1 year, 2 years, or even 3 years. It brings me back to the cliché “There’s no timeline on grief”. That cliché is very true, but society unconsciously places a limit on our timeline, because they grow weary of talking about our loss after a few months. But if the loss occurred years ago, the tolerance for grief dwindles with each passing year and sometimes each passing month. And even though society thinks, “Well, it has been 2 years.”….to us 2 years is just like yesterday. Each year of grieving brings with it a new unknown. And the unknown is a scary place to be, because you can’t prepare for what you don’t know.
- Give us grace. I am not the same person I was 2 years ago. I don’t have the same desires that I once did and I don’t have the motivation to go out into public, to go to gatherings, or to even be around large groups of people. I told my friend today….there are only 2 places that I make myself go: 1. To work; 2. To counseling. Beyond that, I cannot commit to anything. I know that we bereaved parents often back out on plans we made a few weeks ago or even a few months ago. I would say that I’m sorry, but I would be lying if I said that. We just, oftentimes, don’t have it in us to make it to those social gatherings or even to dinner with just one friend. Even at the two year mark, I make plans and I still back out on them…because for me, it’s still day by day and sometimes moment by moment. Believe that or not, but it’s true. If we have never taken you up on your offer to get together, it’s not you…it’s just where we are at the moment. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care for you…it just means that we are not ready to do somewhat seemingly normal everyday actions. Why? We are exhausted. Do you know how heavy it is to carry that mask of grief around every single day of your life? And yes, even after two years, I still wear a mask. I wear a pretty good mask at work…people ask, “How are you doing?” and most of the time I say, “I’m good. or I’m ok. or I’m fine.” And somedays that’s true…and somedays it isn’t. So, going out with others, means we have to put that mask back on after we have worn it all day long. See, for me, my home has become my sanctuary. It’s the one place I can go and I can be who I am in the moment. I can feel what I feel and I don’t have to hide it from anyone. Wearing that mask is completely and totally exhausting. And most of the time, I just want to go straight home after work so that I can sit down and let the heaviness of the day slide off of me. So, if we say no to plans that were made in the past…remember, it’s not you…it’s just where we are.
- Let us feel our anger….without judgment. Our anger may not align with your beliefs or your thoughts, but my anger doesn’t align with my own beliefs and what I’ve always known. Anger is one of the least discussed emotions in dealing with loss, but it os often one of the strongest emotions felt. This anger cannot be ignored….just like crying, it must be helped. Again, anger isn’t the enemy…not expressing it is the enemy, because it keeps all of those toxic thoughts inside. I’m not suggesting that you let us yell at you…I would never suggest that. But, what I am suggesting is to listen to what we are angry about…without judgment and without advice. Just listen to us….that’s the best thing you could do.
I feel like I have expected others to know what to do and what to say to me. But in reality, no one knows what to do or what to say….even we, the bereaved parents, often don’t know what to say or how to react to the greatest loss in our lives. It’s unknown territory…and we’re all just figuring it out together. My daughter once told me, “They don’t teach you how do deal with grief in school.” And she’s right. As a matter of fact, NO ONE ever taught me about how to process this type of grief. It’s a trial and error process and our emotions and actions are often all over the place. I hope this blog helps you understand a little more about why we do the things we do and why we act or react the way we do.
I want to thank several people that have already reached out to me this week.
Ginger, at work, came into my office today and just gave me a hug. Thank you, Ginger. Your kindness means the world to me.
Summer, in my neighborhood, sent me a picture of an A in the sky the other day…she said that it made her feel like Aaron was near. Thank you, Summer for thinking of us.
Tammy, a former colleague, continues to reach out to me periodically to check up on me. She’s even been sending me some sweet messages about Aaron. Thank you, Tammy.
Sherry, a fellow grieving parent, checked in on me the other day…said she knew that this was a hard time for me…and that she was here if I needed anything. Thank you, Sherry.
Leslie, a friend from high school, sent me a text tonight that read, “I know this is a hard week for you, and I’m here if you need anything.” Thank you, Leslie.
So many friends have responded to my post on FB about this Saturday…and so many are praying for me….thank you to all of those friends.
God bless you as you support the families that have lost a child.