You cannot possibly know that scented soap takes me back to my son’s apartment in an instant.
You weren’t there when I cleaned it for the last time, boxed up the contents under the sink and wiped the beautiful, greasy hand prints off the shower wall. He had worked on a friend’s car that night, jumped in to clean up and was off.
He never made it home.
So when I come out of the room red-eyed, teary and quiet, please don’t look at me like I’m a freak.
Please don’t corner me and ask, “What’s wrong?” Or worse-please, please, please don’t suggest I should be “over it by now”.
If you were reading a novel or watching a movie, you’d show more grace.
You would nod in understanding as the main character made choices that reflected the pain of his past. You would find his behavior perfectly predictable in the context of a life lived with a broken heart.
I can’t control what makes me cry. I can’t stop the memories flooding my mind or the pain seizing my heart.
I might be OK one minute and the next a blubbering mess. Grief doesn’t mind a schedule.
But there are some things you can do to help:
- If you are aware of the circumstances around my child’s death, be thoughtful when highlighting similar situations in conversation, in movie choice, in recommending books or news stories. I bump into reminders all the time, I don’t need to have them forced upon me.
- It can be particularly hard to celebrate milestones in another child’s life when that child is about the same age as the one I buried. Feel free to invite me, but give grace if I choose not to attend a birthday, graduation or wedding. I’m doing the best I can and I don’t want to detract from the celebration so sometimes I bow out.
- Ask me if, or how, I would like my missing child included in family gatherings. Sometimes I want his memory highlighted and sometimes I want to hold it close like a personal treasure. It might be different one year to the next. Just ask.
- Be sensitive to the calendar. Make a note of my child’s birthday, heaven day, date of the funeral or memorial service-these are important dates for me and they will be as long as I live. In the first months, maybe for years, each month is a reminder that I am that much further from the last time I heard his voice, hugged his neck or saw his living face. Those days are especially hard.
- Don’t pressure me to move faster in my grief journey. And don’t interpret a single encounter as the measure of how I’m doing. Be aware that it is often a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of experience. It is MY experience and will go as fast or as slow as it does. I can’t even hurry it along even though sometimes I am desperate to do so.
- Understand that the things I may share don’t paint a total picture. There are pains too deep, thoughts too tortuous, experiences surrounding my son’s death and burial too hurtful for me to speak aloud.
I admit that I never thought of any of these things until it was MY son missing.
But now I think about them all the time–not only for my sake, but for the sake of others like me. I try to walk gently and kindly, extending grace and love.
And honestly, that’s really all I want from anyone else-grace, abundant grace.
I will be weepy when it’s inconvenient. I will react when you can’t fathom why. I will stay away when you want me to come near. I will make choices you don’t understand.
I am truly sorry.
But child loss is not something I chose for myself, it was thrust upon me.
I am walking this path the best I know how.
When you extend grace and love me through the roughest places it makes all the difference.