I’m the kind of person who thinks a lot about what makes people tick.
I always assume the person in front of me is the sum of his or her experiences.
We all are, really.
No one wakes up one day and just “is”. We become, over time, as our innate nature interacts with the world around us. First our parents and siblings influence us and then school, friends, life experience either gently molds us or pounds us into shape.
Often we get so used to our own way of doing and being we never give it much thought. It’s just “how we are”. We work around our faults and try to use our strengths to our advantage.
Most of us are pretty good at it.
Then something earth shattering comes along and suddenly the cracks are exposed and we haven’t the energy to cover them over.
Grieving hearts can be overwhelmed by all the seemingly unrelated issues that crop up after child loss. They lament that the pain and sorrow they bear missing their child is more than enough of a burden. Why, oh why are all these other things demanding attention at the same time?
How we grieve is informed by so many things!
Not only by our relationship with the one we miss but also our relationship with previous losses, ourselves and others.
Here are some often overlooked things that affect our grief:
- Relationship with the one we miss. I think most of us realize this intuitively but we might be afraid to look deeper than the most recent memories and feelings. Dominic was almost 24 when he was killed in a single-vehicle motorcycle accident. At first my reaction to his death was mostly about losing him as a young adult. Over time I mourned losing him as a younger middle child who came along when I wasn’t taking as many photos of babies and toddlers (I have far fewer of him than his older siblings!). I mourned not making as much of his high school graduation and being not long out of major surgery for his college graduation. I mourned not making videos of his amazing drum playing because, you know, there’s always next time. My relationship with Dominic was complicated as all relationships are. I’m still discovering sore spots, having to think about, feel them and forgive myself or him for that specific pain. It takes time and willingness to explore my heart even when it hurts.
- Relationship to previous losses. We’ve all suffered loss in our lifetimes. It might not have been due to death, but something or someone was taken from us, left us or is missing. And we’ve observed how others in our family have dealt (or not dealt) with loss. How we processed previous loss-what we learned or didn’t learn-in the course of living through it impacts how we approach child loss. I suffered numerous smaller losses before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. One of the most profound was the decade prior to his leaving when my health declined in ways I could neither control nor anticipate. Over and over I was forced to accept that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t MAKE something happen (or not happen). I had already surrendered, for the most part, to the worldview that I was not in control. It didn’t stop my heart from crying out nor stop my mind from trying to find a reason for this awful tragedy, but it helped me get past the initial disbelief that it could happen at all.
- Relationship to ourselves. Some of us are masters of ignoring inner voices and prodding. Some folks never have a conversation with themselves, question their own motives or examine their own behavior. They walk through life and experience it moment by moment, day by day without looking too far ahead or looking over their shoulder at what they might leave in their wake. I’d love to have a day like that. Because I’m precisely the opposite. I will replay a conversation a dozen times trying to figure out where it went wrong or what I could have said differently. I am never free of a long list of self-imposed “Do’s and Don’t’s”. Even while grieving, I had expectations regarding what was allowed and what was out of bounds. It took time for me to give my heart permission to do whatever was necessary as long as it didn’t harm me or others. The less introspective may need help setting boundaries around their words and behavior so they don’t damage other hearts and relationships in unbridled grief.
- Relationship to others. One of the most shocking realizations in child loss is that although others are in your immediate grief circle (spouse, other children, grandparents) no one has precisely the same relationship with the missing child. And every relationship within a family is impacted by the space left behind. Families are reshaped as much by the subtraction of a member as by the addition of a new baby or spouse. It changes everything. So even in this intimate setting, misunderstandings happen. Each person is working through their own grief. As they do, they will change. And the cycle begins anew. The husband I knew and the children I knew BEFORE Dom left have been reshaped as much by this experience as I have. I tend to want to relate to the people they were before and not to the people they are NOW. The gap between the two can be difficult to navigate. We continue to learn to live together in our new reality-changing and (hopefully) growing together. We talk more about important things, hide less behind false fronts and work harder at keeping short accounts.
Child loss shook me to the core.
It rattled every loose thought and feeling so hard they fell out and I was forced to deal with them. It ripped away any facade I’d managed to construct around poor coping techniques and suddenly I had to find new ones. Excuses that served to kick relationship problems down the road weren’t enough anymore.
There was a lot of work to do.