Why is Anxiety Part of Child Loss?

It surprised me when I felt anxious after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

Not that the doorbell startled me, or that passing the place of the accident was hard nor that hearing motorcycles made my skin crawl.

But that every single day for many, many months anxiety crept up my backbone and made a knot in my neck.

It surprised me that I felt like I was literally going to explode.  I would walk and walk and walk just to push the negative energy out of my body.

I was also surprised by what seemed to be random triggers-smells, sights, foods, voices, places-that could send me into a tailspin of rapid heartbeat, hurried breathing, sweaty palms and a feeling of abject terror.

I didn’t know it then, but my experience is common.

It shouldn’t be surprising, really.

We all operate in the world as if it is predictable, as if it follows rules.  It’s how we stay sane.

If our minds perceived that most of what we experience has at least a small element of the random, we would sit frozen, terrified to move.

Who can live in a world where you never know what to expect?

When Dominic left this life suddenly, unexpectedly and without warning, my sense of safety and order was violated.

The illusion of control was stripped away.  The grid through which I viewed the world was ripped to shreds.  What I thought I knew about how things worked was proven unreliable.

Truth is, I never really had all that much control, but burying Dominic made that undeniably obvious.

This brutal disruption in worldview created a kind of internal panic.

I wasn’t conciously aware of it at the time because I was overwhelmed with sorrow and the pain of loss.  But my mind was trying to wrap itself around a new understanding of how the world works.

I needed to learn to live in a world where I couldn’t predict outcomes, I couldn’t guarantee safety (even if I did everything “right”) and I couldn’t REALLY plan for tomorrow because tomorrow might very well never come.

I had to figure out how to get out of bed instead of cower under the covers. To get in the car instead of stay at home.  To continue to love the people God gave me even though they may be taken any time.

Anxiety is an outward expression of the inward reality of this disruptive process. My body was screaming what my mind was silently sorting out.

As I have worked on incorporating my experience of losing a child into my worldview, the anxiety has decreased.

I don’t expect to ever live free of anxiety again-how can I when I know by experience what most people only imagine?

But I’m learning ways to deal with it when it rears its ugly head.

grounding-exercise

And I’m learning that every time I triumph over it, I’m stronger and better able to do it the next time.  

courage-dear-heart

 

 

 

Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

22 thoughts on “Why is Anxiety Part of Child Loss?”

  1. It is so good to be able to read an article which describes the terror we experience when we lose a child – adrenal fatigue – walking and walking to try to flee it – your experience expressed so well helps us all know we are not alone in this journey. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Melanie,
    I shouldn’t be surprised by how God speaks to me and my husband through your posts. Just an hour before reading this I was talking with my husband about how weird these anxious thoughts are and how I wasn’t like this before we lost our son. Thank you for sharing this and so many other helpful strategies that are centered on God’s love and grace as we navigate the last 3 years and 8 months since we last saw our son. I pray God’s blessing on you.
    Your sister in Christ and in the sudden loss of a son,
    Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Linda,

      I am so thankful that the post came at just the right time. For so many of us, anxiety is not something we ever really knew or experienced until we lost a child. That makes it even scarier and less manageable. And for Christians, we are bombarded with verses that make it seem like anxiety is a sin. But the kind of anxiety we are feeling is not “worry”-although we can feed it with worry-it is a physical, emotional and psychological response to a very real change and ongoing threat that life is NOT as it should be. May the Lord continue to strengthen you and your family for each new day and fill your hearts with His love, grace and mercy. ❤

      Like

  3. And it’s so unbelievably frustrating when other believers who sit in judgement of how I handle my loss say things to me like, “The bible says, ‘rejoice, again I say rejoice!'”, “It is a sin to worry or have fear.” “Turn to God, pray, and he will take all of your cares away.” Really???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Karie,

      I wish other believers who have yet to have their faith challenged deeply would just close their mouths. But sadly, they feel compelled to spit out Bible verses like aspirin for headaches. I try to extend grace because as another bereaved mom always says, “They don’t know what they don’t know”.

      I’ve thought a lot and studied a lot since Dom ran ahead to heaven and most of the verses that are used to shout down people in pain are not given in full context and/or they are not interpreted correctly.

      It is NOT a sin to be anxious-we are made to feel and when our child dies, fundamental changes happen in our bodies that we have no control over. I would argue that worry as a habit IS sin-that is, for me to dwell constantly on what “might happen” and not lean into God for His strength is a choice not to trust Him. But even then, for us who have experienced a moment that now stretches for our entire lives where God chose NOT to intervene-well, we have reason to worry. It could happen again.

      I’m sorry that others are not making room for you to experience all the emotions that are part of child loss. That makes this journey doubly hard.

      Praying the Father wraps His loving arms around you and fills your hurting heart with His grace and mercy. ❤

      Like

  4. I am now reading your blog as a support to my friend who lost her son…she reads you daily and I know that there are connectors that are helping her…though I have not lost a child my sadness stems from empathy and the pain she feels…I cry with her, I listen, I am patient…she is still so lost and uncertain of her future plans…thank you for writing and sharing your grief…I believe it is helping her…I miss her son and know this was not the choice he had planned…we both struggle with the cliches about God needing him…hoping my friend reconnects with faith. For now I am just a support…and wanted to thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are giving your friend an inestimable gift! I had two friends who were not child loss survivors do the same for me and it made all the difference. I’m thankful the blog helps her and I hope it helps you gain insight into what she might be feeling or thinking but unable to put into words. It is a huge struggle out of the devastation and back to trust in God. I never quit believing, but like C.S. Lewis was trying to decide “what kind of God I believed in”. I cannot tell you strongly enough that your love, companionship and faithful friendship may be the very thread she can cling to in this journey. Thank you for being a real friend. May the Lord strengthen you both and may He fill your hearts with His love, grace and mercy.

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      1. Thank you…as I say to her she is on a path of a new normal. Her life will never be the same. My love and concern for her are deep and everyday I pray that she will have the strength to try something again…it is just so tragic and senseless when one loses a child especially an accident that was not the child’s fault…I pray for you and for all parents who have this happen to them.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. You have accurately described the anatomy of the anxiety experienced after child loss. Yes, it surprised me as well, this constant tension, a vague uneasiness all the time. I am normally a very “whatever” kind of person. In the first months after our son was killed, I nearly had my very first, chest-clutching, hyperventilating anxiety attack. Previously, I thought anxiety was for sissies who didn’t have their act together. It didn’t take long to realize that the chronic anxiety I was feeling, while quite normal under the circumstances, was nevertheless not healthy for me in the long term. After twelve months of this, I still experience this low grade anxiousness (like a sad and quiet fear), but I have found a few things that have helped: For me, a good quality B vitamin and magnesium supplements are a must for sleep and general nervous tension. Eating well and time with the Lord and His Word, of course. Herbal extracts and teas that are calming, like chamomile and passion flower. If you research adrenal fatigue, you will recognize many of the symptoms we experience. Grief is hard, stressful work and tough on the adrenal (fight or flight) system.
    Take care of yourself everyone.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This is exactly how I’ve felt since losing my firstborn son Cody 13 months ago. He was 16 when he was hit and killed instantly by a train. I’ve read your blog for many months and it’s a great help to me. I’ve never know anxiety and terror before like I know it now.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Right on the mark. CS Lewis wrote of his sorrowful loss of his wife: “I never knew grief was so much like fear.” The turning upside down of our world will do that. I, too, am navigating that journey of trying to stay grounded to my Earthly life, while being almost constantly aware of the eternal spiritual realm…. Paul reached that place of being able to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Is that our goal, our destiny, if we fully seek the place of surrender to Jesus? Does our great loss carry us into a more intimate relationship with our Lord? Is the awareness of life’s unpredictability set us free to be used by God in expanded, more divinely led ways, ultimately living by FAITH and not by sight? Surely God can redeem our excruciatingly painful experiences and bring his glory to this world and beyond.❤ I so appreciate you sharing your similar experiences. We’re missing our 21 year old Claire…a vibrant, sparkling eyed daughter who left much too soon.💜

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Yes! This is exactly what I’ve felt since losing my 14-year-old daughter 12.5 months ago. I’ve not been able to explain this feeling of constant anxiety; I will be sharing this post because it so perfectly puts into words that which has been my new reality. It’s like my nervous system is in continuous overdrive – like I’m stuck in the flight/fight/freeze response. It is slowly getting better as my mind processes this new world where bad things really do happen to good people.

    I just want you to know, I read your blog/emails every day, and they have been so helpful to me as I’ve navigated this first year of child loss. Thank you for what you do.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am so very sorry that you share my experience of losing a child. It is a hard, hard journey. I’m thankful the blog helps a little. I pray that as you continue this path, you feel the loving arms of your Father wrapped around you and that He fills your heart with His grace and mercy.
      Love to you dear mama.

      Liked by 1 person

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