Losing a child can leave a parent virtually numb and paralyzed regardless of the cause. You will wake up living in a different world and wonder if you can begin to live again. You will wonder if you’ll be able to survive another holiday, the child’s birthday, or if you’ll ever be able to rid yourself of the overwhelming grief. The good news is that yes you can. I speak from personal experience and will show you ways that helped me with my grief.
When my four-year old son, Jonathan, passed away, I thought there would never be an end to my grief. Initially the first night he passed, of course, I was in denial and thought, “This cannot be happening to me and my family.” I wondered how in the world I could find the strength to walk out of the hospital that night with an empty wheelchair, teddy bears that would never be shared again, and a gut bashing feeling that I in no way shape or form could find joy in life from that moment on.
I went through different phases of grief–shock, anger, denial, depression, withdrawn, and finally acceptance. There are many phases of grief. For months, I couldn’t stop crying every time I thought of him, saw a child who looked like him, or if someone brought up his name. Even worse, when other people didn’t want to talk about him anymore for fear they would hurt me, angered me. I thought, “Why won’t you talk about Jonathan? He was a part of my life that I can never toss out like a pair of ripped up jeans.” I later learned that people were afraid to say anything for fear they’d upset me.
After the shock wore off and the big realization set in that he was never coming back to my arms to be held again, depression set in. I didn’t want to go on living. I didn’t know how. I have two other sons and a husband. Climbing out of the bed to do for them wasn’t exciting anymore. I was so lost in the grief that I thought I would never see the light at the end of a tunnel. I felt as if I had been thrown into a big black pit and that there was no ladder for me to climb out. I found cooking for my other two sons and husband to be a chore. Gazing at my family was hard because every time I looked at one of them I saw a resemblance of the son I lost. I ignored family and friends. To be honest, I didn’t want to go on living. I wished that someone would put me out of my misery and even prayed for death to come and take me.
I found myself constantly at his grave, talking to his laminated picture on the tombstone and beating the ground until the backside of my fist throbbed. I thought if another part of my body hurt that surely my heart would stop hurting. I wondered how God could take a heart that was broken into a million pieces and suture it back together. What I didn’t realize at the time was that every emotion I was feeling was normal.
The turning point for me began shortly after he died, and I would not recommend that anyone do this on purpose. That particular weekend, the cemetery he is buried in had been vandalized. When I went to visit him a few days prior, the ground was solid and so I put different items into the ground around his tombstone–a nautical flag, a hummingbird, and other decorative items. When I arrived, after I heard of the vandalism, these items were all knocked over. I thought that his grave had been vandalized too. I climbed out of my truck in a huff and marched right over to his grave in attempts to pick up the items I was sure that someone took pleasure in vandalizing. Remember the old saying, “Never step on a fresh grave?” Okay, I have to admit I had never heard that before. I no sooner stepped onto his freshly dug grave and went straight down into it, like quick sand pulling me in with a force. Luckily, I was able to hold tight to the ground surrounding it and managed to pull my weighted body out. This was in January, late January so I was freezing. This man drove by in his car and didn’t bother to stop and offer me any help and I was thankful. I thought, “You crazy woman, you missed your son so bad you jumped into his grave.” This thought made me laugh. I realized I hadn’t had that emotion for some time.
I pulled my floor rugs out of my vehicle and began to wipe the mud off of myself. Then I sat on one rug the whole way home. I prayed not to get pulled over by the police for fear they may ask me what happened. I later called the cemetery and explained what had happened. The woman who answered laughed and said, “You’re not the first one to ever experience this.” That made me feel a ton better. I say this was my turning point because I realized that if I would’ve died that day, my husband and other boys would have more turmoil to deal with. I had been caught up in my own grief and didn’t realize they too were suffering. After this day, I will not say the change came all of a sudden. I took measures to make it happen. I logged onto the internet and joined a grief support network for grieving parents. These parents had been through issues such as myself so they could relate. I started a “Happy Journal” and put it at the foot of my bed onto my grandmother’s trunk. In this book, my family was encouraged to write happy memories about Jonathan. I ordered a book called “Roses in December” and read how this mother survived her losses. I started a journal about his life and his after life. For the after life part, I wrote poems about what Jonathan might be doing now and found comfort in what I thought it was he was doing. I wrote letters to him. Every time I wrote a poem about him, I passed out copies to everyone I knew.
Eventually, I had to swallow my pride and go to counseling. My therapist told me that I was doing all the right things and that I must go through each step of the grief process and embrace each emotion. This was important to the healing phase. You must embrace each emotion as if it were your child you would embrace. You have to go through that emotion. There will be phases that you will think you won’t recover from, and there will be times you will say, “I already experienced that phase, so why am I back there?” And you will believe that acceptance will never come, but it will.
Let’s talk about the grief emotions you must embrace.
First is shock–I can’t believe this happened.
Denial–I can’t believe this happened to me, no it didn’t happen. I refuse to believe it.
Anger–This is my fault, it’s the doctors fault, or you might have someone else who you feel caused the death.
The next phase is withdrawn and depression, I might add. You will feel blue. You won’t want to get out of bed. You’ll wish people would go away and leave you alone and let you drown in a sea of self pity. Things you found pleasure in, will no longer be appealing.
The last stage is Acceptance: When you realize that you will never forget your child, but you also accept the fact that you can go on living without them. Most times, this causes guilt. You’ll think if I go on living and find happiness again then this must mean that I have forgot my child. No. This is not the case and it will never be the case. I can assure you that you will never forget your bundle of joy. You will eventually realize that just because you go on living doesn’t mean that you have forgotten your child. Keep in mind that everyone experiences these phases in different ways. No two people are alike. You might even find yourself regressing back to a stage you thought you’d overcome. That is normal, but you must embrace each phase and go through it in order to heal.
Other ways to help you cope:
Talk openly with all the family members. Set aside one day a week or even a month to where each person talks about the deceased child and shares with other family members what is bothering them and what they remember that makes them laugh, or what is helping them to cope. Write a book about your child and how you survived. Write poetry. Make a scrapbook of the child and sit it on the living room coffee table to share with others. Find a craft or a hobby that you enjoy. Start a blog about grief and encourage other parents to post their thoughts. Talk about your child as often as you want.
If depression is an issue, go to a professional counselor and get an objective view. If the grief is so severe you feel like you can’t go on, seek out a doctor who will help you and he/she may prescribe short term medication to help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. Dedicate a garden in your back yard to the deceased child and pick out plants that remind you of when the child took his first steps, crawled, took a leap of faith, the possibilities are endless. During the first few holidays, take a vacation if feasible, somewhere that is relaxing and has a lot of sun. On his/her next birthday, bake them cake and buy them a present for their grave. At the party by the graveside, have another brother or sister blow out the candles. We have done this for years now and it is very heart felt by all of us. It reassures us that even though we have gone on living that we didn’t stop caring.
Most important don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. In the months to follow the death of a child, allow yourself to keep a dirty house, or ask someone else to clean it for you. Don’t add more unnecessary grief. Always talk to your spouse or partner about the loss. Don’t blame each other or get angry at each other if one feels the other one reached the acceptance stage sooner. Acceptance will come if you allow yourself to feel the pain. Try to picture a wound that is deep. First comes pain, then you cleanse it, then you treat it, and then it heals. You can’t just put a bandaid over it without all the other steps or the wound could get infected, or might not heal properly if there is a disease process such as diabetes involved.
And if you believe in God, talk to him as much as possible about your loss. Remember he too, suffered the loss of his son, and he feels our pain. He loves us and said he would never leave or forsake us. For some reason, I found myself angry at him at first. I thought “Why! Why did you give me a child with a disability and have me fall in love with him and take him away?” What I came to realize is that God is a loving God. He wants us to share our pain with him. You are not alone was what everyone kept telling me and eventually I learned that I wasn’t. I hope this article has been a help to you. You can go to your library and check out books on grieving the loss of a child. “Roses in December” I would definitely recommend.
Pamela Klopfenstein, a nurse by profession of nineteen years, is currently in the process of writing her first full length novel that she dedicated to Jonathan. She has been a foster/adoptive mother for fourteen years, and has adopted one girl, and within the month will have adopted her son. She has three biological children of her own. She teaches a class for foster parents titled “Handle with Care,” and received an Inspiration Award from the Epilepsy Foundation in December of 2005. You can join her blog on “How to Survive the Death of a Child” by logging into myspace.com and typing in her name under “find friends.” She resides in Ohio with her husband, Kurt, her two sons, Jeremy and Matthew, her daughter, Da’oshia, and her foster son, soon to be adopted, Da’laquan.
Photo. Dhivakaran S