I know that when I first stumbled onto a bereaved parent group, it was one of the things I was looking for: evidence that the overwhelming pain of child loss would not last forever.
Some days I was encouraged as those who had traveled farther down this path posted comments affirming that they could feel something other than sorrow.
Some days I was devastated to read comments from parents who buried a child decades ago asserting that “it never gets better”.
Who is right?
What’s the difference?
Do I have any control over whether or not this burden gets lighter?
It will be five years in April since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve learned a few things since then.
Time, by itself, heals nothing. But time, plus the work grief requires, brings a measure of healing.
If I cling with both hands to my loss, I can’t take hold of the good things life still has in store for me.
Longing for the past all the time only brings sorrow. I cannot turn back time. Days, weeks, years will keep coming whether or not I choose to participate in them. I will rob my heart of potential joy by focusing exclusively on the sorrow I can’t undo.
Daily choices add up. When I lean into the small things required each day, I build confidence that I can do the bigger things that might still frighten me. Making phone calls eventually helps me show up to a meeting or to church. I strengthen my “can do” muscle every time I use it.
Doubt doesn’t disappear. Facing my doubt forces me to explore the edges of my faith. It does no good for me to stuff questions in a drawer and hope they go away. They won’t. I have to drag them into the light and examine them. Doubt is not denial. If God is God (and I believe that He is!) then my puny queries don’t diminish His glory. He knows I’m made of dust and He invites me to bring my heart to Him-questions and all.
My mental diet matters more than I might think. I have to be very careful what I feed my mind. If I focus on sadness, tragic stories, hateful speech and media that feeds my fears and despair then those feelings grow stronger. If instead I focus on hopeful stories, good conversation with faithful friends and inspiring quotes, verses and articles I feed the part of my heart that helps me hold onto hope.
I need a space where I can be completely honest about what this journey is like. Bereaved parents’ groups have been that space for me and have been an important component of my healing. But even there I must be cautious about how much time I spend reading other parents’ stories if I notice that I’m absorbing too much pain and not enough encouragement.
Grief is hard.
And that work is made up of dozens of daily choices that are also often difficult.
I don’t expect to be healed and whole this side of eternity. But I do know that if I consistently do the work grief requires I will be stronger, more whole and better able to lean into the life I have left than if I don’t.
I want to live.
I want to honor my son by living a life that’s more than just limping along, barely making it, struggling for each step.
So I do the work grief asks of me.
Even when it’s hard.