I had the pleasure of speaking with someone recently who said that as a bereaved parent, nothing’s changed throughout their grief experience of many years. These sentiments echo my own. I’ve been bereaved since 2005 after losing my daughter to suicide.
I’ve written before about my frustration as a bereaved parent, in that we really don’t talk about grief. Which makes the recovery process that much harder. But whenever I have it mirrored back to me through someone else’s experience, especially long-time grievers, I think it’s important to talk about again. And again. Because nobody knows when their world is going to be rocked by a loss or something else that can feel almost as devastating. Read on to discover the 5 ways to change this.
There are SO many things we don’t get about grief whether we are the ones in it or have not yet been touched by loss. The most interesting thing about grief is that anyone can be grieving any type of loss, without understanding that the pain that they are in is the result of their grief.
What is grief?
Grief is described as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss, sharp sorrow and painful regret. It causes us to be in a state of mental, emotional and physical suffering that can arise from a variety of situations. Many that we don’t ascribe to grief. For example, losses that are not physical, illness, calamity or persecution. Which ranges from minor to catastrophic mistreatment and injustices experienced as an individual or by a community.
Sadly, I had a reminder recently of just how much our grief culture today remains unchanged from sixteen years ago, when I lost my daughter (and decades before). One of my family members shared with me the difficulty they had in knowing what to say to an acquaintance, who has a family member who is critically ill with COVID 19.
Given our own bereavement and the isolation we all felt as a result of it, I was somewhat taken aback to learn that this encounter for my family member still felt extremely awkward, despite everything we’ve gone through after the suicide of my daughter. It turns out that the bereaved can be just as tongue-tied when having an unexpected and/or unpleasant conversation with someone going through stress, worry or trauma. In this case, someone coping with the serious illness of a loved one that could potentially lead to their death.
After experiencing earth-shattering death or any other harrowing experience that for many, can represent losing something of great value and life-long devastation, can we really find the Divine in loss? The Divine, as defined by many as something of or from God, or Supreme Being of another name. Which hails from the celestial realm and in its sacred power, guides us to develop our personal form of worship. Where in our faith we believe that all good comes from or through the Divine. We trust that there are no mistakes. Not even when the worst of our experiences occur.
In fact, we may not even question why bad things happen to us. Instead, we become willing to let go of our tragedy. To replace our sorrow with peace so that we can move on with our life. Maybe even find happiness again.
I’ve been dealing for years with this issue of people not knowing how to talk to me once they find out I’m a bereaved mom. Given it’s been over fifteen years now, it’s getting a bit monotonous. And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. There are plenty of other bereaved parents who struggle with the same reactions I get once people find out I’ve lost a child. In fact, I’m certain many bereaved people routinely experience the discomfort of those with whom they have shared their loss, no matter who has died. People in general, just don’t know how to talk to the bereaved.
While it’s rare for me to talk about my daughter with just anyone, it isn’t because I don’t want to. It’s because I learned early in my bereavement that I had to take extreme care in choosing who to share my loss with simply because of the overwhelmingly reactions I got when people found out I’d lost a child. (Usually this was in response to them asking me how many children I had). All of them wanted to know how she had died, which only made their discomfort even worse because it was a suicide.
I just said good-bye to my last ever fur baby. While the positive side of this otherwise sad life event marks a forever change in my life, given that I do not intend to have any more animals that tie me to added responsibility, in addition to saying goodbye to a beloved companion, it has also been a somewhat sad release of a part of my life I’ve known for over four decades. I’ve always had an animal by my side.
With respect to losing this last little guy and as my 27-year-old son so poignantly put it: “there goes the last of my childhood” (we got this kitty when he was 11 years old), I was a little taken aback when I realized just how many years had gone by with this beautiful cat dutifully by our side. I had never really thought about his aging too much. He was always just there.
It is interesting that we are commonly known to survive
loss. We are thought of in our grief as surviving loved ones. We are called suicide
survivors after losing a loved one to suicide. But what it means to truly survive
loss is not well understood or even talked about at all. It’s just a word
that’s been assigned to the bereaved.
The literal meaning of the word “survive” is to remain aliveafter the death of someone or the cessation of something under adverse
or unusual circumstances. And remaining alive versus living are two very
different things. I’m sure everyone would agree that losing a child is the
least favourable circumstance to be in and is unusual and adverse in every way
imaginable. For most if not all bereaved parents, surviving their child’s death
is about the only thing they can do. But it’s also true that many grievers in
general simply remain alive without much or any feeling at all after losing a love
of their life. Without hope and loss of direction, some people may never feel
The other day I came across this interview with Jeff Olsen speaking about his out of body experiences twenty years ago (and maybe near death though he didn’t specify), and his painful recovery after a car accident in which his wife and infant son both died. He was behind the wheel, therefore at fault (his words). He suffered numerous physical injuries including a leg amputation, and the same or more emotional ones trying to cope with his losses. His firstborn son, then aged 7, survived with barely a scratch. Miracle? Yes. Motivation for Jeff to stay in his body? Definitely yes. Again, his words.
As a bereaved parent, I’m still on my quest, but getting considerably closer to finding that place of total inner peace I’ve been wanting for so long. The kind of peace that I want, money can’t buy. No one can give it to me. The peace that I want, I know can only come through my ability to accept all things in my life as they have happened. And in all things, I can do this. All but one: accepting the loss of my daughter.
While it’s been an incredible journey of self-discovery to this point and there is no denying it’s doubtful I would have learned all that I have without the death of my child (I do believe in contracts between souls), this doesn’t mean that I like what has happened in any way. Nor has her death been easy to accept. Not her part in it or all the struggle I’ve been left with. From a purely spiritual perspective, it’s the easiest thing in the world to see how we agreed the contract between us to learn our respective lessons and fulfil our life obligations. From the physical (excuse my language) it’s been more like: “WTF? What just happened? What was I thinking????” (my ongoing inner voice battle.)
After loss, life changes dramatically for everyone grieving the death. Whether it’s a parent or spouse, sibling or child you have lost, you will be feeling the impact of your loved one’s death in some way, as will every one of your family members. The more complicated or unexpected the death, the greater this impact will be. And it’s tough to support each other in grief, because everybody is going through something different at every stage. It can be a confusing time with everyone’s needs rapidly changing.
For some, grief will last a long time. For others, they will seemingly return to normal a lot sooner, which represents a struggle for anyone trying to understand a griever’s unique experience. It stands to reason that many relationships and sometimes even entire family units break down, especially after certain types of loss.