In the first years following the death of my son, I would talk about surviving the death of my child. I was learning to cope with daily life following the catastrophic loss and the use of the word ‘survive’ pretty much summed up my grey, anguished existence.
I’d somehow managed — through agonizing pain and suffering — to slowly patch together a shattered self.
As the months turned to years, I felt stronger and more resilient. I’d been on my knees, and now this new me could also stand up. I’d comfort myself with the thought that even though I wasn’t sure who this new self was, at least she was functioning.
In coping with daily challenges, I grew a grief muscle that helped me carry the weight of my loss. By saying I’d ‘survived’ I was acknowledging that I was now ‘living’ what tentatively resembled a normal life.
But this ‘normal’ life was a far cry from what I’d known as life before my son was killed. The sadness was indescribable; the hurt ran so deep that it dragged me down no matter the time of day. Hope had no space in my grief.
From the outside, my life looked OK but inside my heart, my life was reduced to a monochrome existence.
At times I wondered whether this post-loss life could be experienced as more than just survival. It seemed an impossibility. I couldn’t imagine a future where light warmed my days and laughter was received with an open heart.
Was it even possible to do anything other than exist when your child had died?
Add to that, I was so lost and hurt that I wasn’t even sure I wanted the hope of a future. It felt like a betrayal of my boy, my grief and my love.
I also needed my grief space around me — real life in the real world was too brash and unkind to face without my ‘survival’ shield. I truly believed I was too broken to do anything else other than continue trudging through life in hard-earned survival mode.
The idea that healing was possible struck me as illusionary and at times, when in the troughs of despair, utterly bewildering and even wrong.
Yet I knew that what I was doing was little more than putting one foot in front of the other. And that, I understood, was not a life.
But how do we, the catastrophically broken, carry the weight of grief in a way that doesn’t make us buckle and yet allows for joy as we tentatively open our hearts again?
How do we move from surviving to mindful living?
There’s no road map for this. We’re all so different that what one person finds helpful may not be true for another. Add to that, our stories of loss are unique. But I do believe there are pointers on the horizon that we can look towards if we manage to lift up our weary heads.
Through our tears, we may be able to keep these pointers in view. And if we can do that, it probably means that we’re open to moving beyond our constant state of survival and on to a mindful life in grief.
I don’t know if my horizon pointers will help other loss parents to look beyond their today. I share them in the hope that perhaps you too may discern a future where the pain of loss can reside in the same space as love, joy, and compassion.
MY HORIZON POINTERS
Believe Healing Is Possible:
When we’re surviving we cannot imagine a future where we experience peace and connection. Our grief is imbued with constant, grating sorrow and it’s all we can do to keep going. It’s as if grief negates the possibility of these positive feelings. Yet these emotions can and do co-exist when we allow our hearts to heal. I have learned that it IS possible to feel love and joy even as I hold space for my sadness and practice self-compassion. To believe healing is possible is key because it’s the first mindful step we take when purposefully integrating our grief into our future.
Let Go Of Your Old Self:
Allow yourself to become a new you. Putting together the old, pre-loss you is not going to work in the long term. Too many pieces are missing. Something else is going to have to fill the spaces where the old you died. And that something is going to grow out of the love that’s held inside your grief. It’s the grief that’s going to show you how to re-imagine yourself and allow for growth and transformation. Grief is love, and it’s our greatest teacher.
There Are No Time Limits:
When my son Alex was killed, the part of me that was not immediately eradicated in that first, violent blow was quite soon crushed by the weight of my grief in the weeks thereafter. My body became a husk, my mind crazed like a computer reboot gone frighteningly wrong.
Learning to survive took A LONG TIME.
Equally, learning to let go of my survival mode, TOOK EVEN LONGER. Try not to measure your journey in grief within a linear time frame. Emotions don’t work like that and neither does healing. Leave the stop-watch at the door, and step over your fear of the unknown with no expectations as to how long this is going to take.
A lifetime is a pretty good guess, so time is irrelevant. No one traveling this road needs the added stress of other people’s expectations regarding time limits, and you certainly don’t need to put pressure on yourself.
Ignore those who tell you that you should be ‘over it by now’ — your journey, your loss, your healing.
Published on Still Standing Magazine 08.11.2019