This is still the question that comes up most often in bereaved parent groups: ‘How do I DO this?’
No one is prepared for the devastation of child loss. There are no manuals issued as you walk away from your son or daughter’s earthly shell.
And what makes it worse is that because child loss is every parent’s worst nightmare, no one wants to talk about what happens after everyone else goes back to their lives and families are left alone with grief, isolation, devastation and desperate pain.
After the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral, our house was so, so quiet.
Even with the five of us still here, it felt empty.
Because Dominic was gone, gone, gone and he was not coming back.
And the silence pounded into my head and heart until it became a scream:
There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.
In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”
It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group. After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.
But, oh, when I did! What relief! What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!
One of the most devastating aspects of child loss is the overwhelming feeling that NOTHING makes sense anymore and that I have absolutely NO control.
Choosing helpful habits and actions gives me a way to regain dominion over a tiny corner of my world.
And that little bit of action strengthens my spirit and helps my heart hold on.
My hardest grief season begins in November and runs to the end of May. Thanksgiving through Dominic’s birthday on (or near) Memorial Day are days full of triggers, memories and stark reminders that one of us is missing.
If I could fall asleep November first and wake up in June I’d do it.
But I can’t so I have to employ all the tricks I’ve learned in the over eight years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven to survive those particularly challenging months.
Recently I was challenged by someone close to me to examine the impact on my heart of spending so much time in community with those whose loss was fresher and more raw than my own.
They were being neither judgmental nor argumentative.
They were coming from a genuine place of concern, grace and love.
So I took the opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate whether or not I need to continue writing in this space, spend time reading and responding to posts in bereaved parents’ groups and ruminating on how grief has changed over time (now seven plus years!).
I’ll be the first to admit I’m sassy and sometimes salty.
Popping off a quick one-liner (sometimes at the expense of another) was a dinner table past time when our family included four teens.
But it’s one thing to have inside jokes with those I know well and quite another to blast a stranger or a social media only “friend” because they *dare* to post something that goes against my pet opinion or viewpoint.
One of the things I adore about the online bereaved parent community is how individuals overwhelmingly respond with grace, kindness, thoughtfulness and space for different experiences and opinions.
I wish the rest of the world operated the same way! Maybe we need to revive that old saying: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
There may be some mamas that don’t drill this into their children but if there are, they don’t live south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Every time there was back and forth in the back seat or on the front porch and Mama overheard, we were told, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”