I remember someone telling me, that after a year it would be easier to face the loss of my son. I remember their words icing my wound with a mixture of acid and salt. “Easier” was impossible. Everything was impossible.
The truth is, the only valuable advice I received for the first few months after the accident came from the lips of an old man approaching his 89th birthday.
“The way you feel right now, won’t last forever.”
This was not regarding my son, or my love for him, this was a general blanket statement for life, that I spent years turning over in my head. I examined it and studied its sharp edges. I hated it, as I learned to hate all change at that time in my life. It was the ultimate change that left my life dangling in the grips of grief and suffering. I challenged it, and I lost.
I ultimately decided that this truth was self-evident. The way I loved my mother as a child, is no longer the same love. Love still the same, but with a different understanding and connotation. I’m no longer a 4-year-old child that requires my hair to be tamed before being seen in public, I’m now a 30-year-old woman that (apparently) requires the subtle reminder to tame my hair before going into public.
My experience with grieving the loss of a child is that of evolution. I still feel pain, sometimes in sharp bursts like explosions in my soul that leave me kneeling at the scene of the accident as if I had never left that spot. But the impact of the pain is different now, and the way I handle it is profoundly changed. I found that in those moments of excruciating pain, reminding myself that it wouldn’t last forever helped me to seize the next opportunity to feel something different.
The pain will never stop. But it will change.
There’s a profound moment when you realize there is a difference between grief and suffering.
Grief is a physiological response, and emotional stronghold, an unavoidable reality of true loss.
Suffering is an evolving scale that supersedes grief in all aspects, it is also a weapon that is used against oneself and those around them.
Both are unavoidable in the initial phases of losing a child. You will both suffer, and grieve.
Grief are the unexplained absences from the present. They are the moments your mind strips you of your joy and leaves a glaring black hole. They are the moments you are overcome with sorrow when you see something that reminds you of once was. Grief plays a part in the anger, the vacancy, the denial, the fear, and eventually the acceptance and healing.
Suffering on the other hand is keeping an old pair of dirty socks, stored in a drawer untouched and sacred. It is the lashing out towards anyone who even thinks about touching them, throwing them out, or washing them. It is the propensity to hold onto everything that reminds you of your pain, and your guilt. Suffering is drinking yourself into an early grave, or finding the nearest bullet to kiss after writing a letter to everyone you love.
Initially, they are both unavoidable……but there comes a time when suffering conflicts with grief and healing and becomes a choice.
Many parents who lose a child will choose to self-destruct through the open doors to suffering. No one would dare to suggest otherwise because they themselves could not survive such a devastating blow, and wouldn’t blame you for opting into suffering for the rest of your life. Many believe they deserve to suffer, as if the injustice of the death of their child should be translated into a life sentence for them.
But suffering is a choice. The decision to not suffer, but rather to grieve is not a differentiator of devotion to a child, or a lack of love. Rather it is the courage to choose between breathing reality and suffocation.
Losing a child is everyone’s greatest fear. It also opens the eyes of those who have undergone such a loss to the true risk in loving anything.
If you are reading this, and have lost a child……..you have already survived everyone’s worst nightmare. There is no darker place, there is no lower feeling, and there is no despair that can compare. You are now, a soldier of an army that has no fear. Once you have faced this circumstance you are armed with the truth of this life, the ultimate sacrifice, and the blessing of grief.
Someday, you will carry your grief like a symbolic trophy of the love you had, have, and always will have for your child. The way you choose to portray that, or not portray that is part of your journey, and for no one to judge.
It is my hope that you find the courage to face the pain, and recognize the amount of power you can harness in doing so. The lives you will touch, and the people you will impact. It’s my hope that the legacy you were robbed of, becomes intertwined with your own and you carry on with this life as if you are living for two. It’s my prayer that you find the faith it takes to sleep at night, the courage it takes to love anything again, and the strength it takes to get up off your knees.
The sun will rise tomorrow, and the way you feel right now will not last forever.