Ever since I came across Clara Hinton’s list of what she wished everyone understood about child loss and posted it, it’s been needling at my thoughts starting with the first thing on her list: wishing others understood the magnitude of the loss.
After wishing this for the past twenty two months, I’m beginning to realize the wish that others understood the magnitude of the loss will always remain on a ‘wish list’. As much as I’d like others to understand, I honestly don’t think it’s possible unless they’re thrust into it – with no escape – and I don’t wish that on anyone! I remember once hearing about a mom in our community who lost two young sons in a car accident and I tried to put myself in her shoes. I lasted less than a minute. Just the mere thought of losing Paul and Joseph, who at the time were about nine and seven, was more than I could bare. Less than a minute! I tried again later. Again I didn’t last a minute. It was impossible. Just to brush up against the possibility of such pain shut my imagination down and I bolted back to my reality – because I could. Now I have no happy reality to bolt back to. I have no choice but to stand in this crucible of suffering every day. And yet I can honestly say that I still don’t understand the magnitude of the loss for another parent because I’m not that parent. I have a far better understanding of their pain and isolation but losing a six-year-old is completely different than losing a twenty-six year old or a two month old or a forty year old. There are aspects we can share like the similarities of the Grand Canyon size fracture that has ripped through our hearts and how hard it is to live with it, but the magnitude of that fracture is not something anyone else will understand no matter how much we wish they could – except Jesus of course.
There are a few things I’d like to add to Clara’s list on a very personal level.
I wish everyone knew, understood and were comfortable with the fact that grieving parents can’t and don’t need to be fixed! Unfortunately I think it goes against our very natures. I’ve heard Marc share a number of times now that losing Bernadette is extremely hard but watching me suffer is even harder. He said he felt like a failure as a husband because he couldn’t fix me. I’ve heard other parents share about that sense that everyone around them wants to fix them and it puts enormous pressure on them to forgo the necessary grieving process and just be their old selves again. Well meaning people try to fix with a word of wisdom or a kind gesture. But it doesn’t fix anything. Again it comes back to wishing people understood the magnitude of the loss. A kind word, any comment starting with ‘if you look at it this way…’, ‘if you only tried……’, or ‘at least…..’ etc. is like throwing a pebble into that Grand Canyon expecting it to magically become a solid staircase so we could easily climb out. It’s more like throwing a spool of thread down to the bottom and expecting the grieving parent to hang onto the thread and the well-meaning friend/family member/acquaintance is going to pull them out! It doesn’t work! We can’t be fixed by anything anyone says or does. It’s a lifelong healing process.
And we can’t be fixed by time. Time, YEARS OF TIME, can lessen the intensity of the pain, like a pain killer, but it doesn’t take the pain away. Over time we become accustomed to the pain, that’s all. We learn ways to deal with it and even hide it from others, but like Clara said, “The. Pain. Never. Goes. Away.”
Another thing that is connected to people’s need to do something to fix our pain is their fear that they’ll say something that will hurt us even more so they either avoid us all together or try to pretend our lost child never existed. Marc and I were talking to other grieving parents recently and we were laughing at ourselves because we wished people understood that we’re deeply wounded and totally unpredictable even to ourselves! A comment or gesture that could bring a moment of consolation one day could cause tears if it was said the day before or the day after, or even later the same day! We really don’t know how we’re going to react until we react. We surprise even ourselves. And for those who are terrified to say or do anything out of fear of hurting us, my thought is always: there really is nothing anyone can say that could possibly hurt us more than we’ve already been hurt. It’s like fearing we’ll be hurt with the poke of a needle after we’ve had a limb severed.
I also wish people understood that there is far more to child loss than the loss of the child. I read an article once where a grief counsellor suggested the exercise of writing out your ‘losses within the loss’. Within minutes and without stopping to take a breath, I had eighteen right off the top of my head ranging from loss of faith, security, joy, freedom, the ability to relax, concentration, peace, and purpose to friendships, relationships, excitement, and even myself . That to say that there is so much more going on inside me than just missing Bernadette.
Lastly for now, I’m not sure how much of it is the effect of grief or a new awareness of a huge defect in character compounded by grief, but I’ve found that too many times to count, I’ve dropped the ball regarding normal social skills and showing a genuine concern for others! I just don’t respond as I once would have to people who have shared with me. For instance, Candice told me last Wednesday that she was almost attacked by a dog while out for a walk. At three in the morning it dawned on me that I didn’t even ask her if she was okay! Pat told me she’d taken home the potted plant on Bernadette’s grave to see if she can keep it alive over the winter. The next day I realized I didn’t express any gratitude even though at the time I was grateful. I forget to return phone calls, remember birthdays, or do things people ask me to do.
My point being, that my mind is still so full dealing with: the loss of Bernadette, all the other losses within that loss, the grief, the guilt, trying to hold it together, taking care of a grieving family and an active two-year-old, trying to fulfill expectations, and questioning and struggling spiritually; that everything else that use to come quite naturally now works about as fast and efficiently as a government program. And much is dropped due to lack of ‘resources’. It’s like when a computer’s RAM is so full that it can’t work efficiently. At least with a computer we can hit the reset button and clear the RAM or we can install a bigger RAM chip. All I know for certain is that it causes a lot of stress worrying about what I’m forgetting, finding out what I’ve forgotten, and realizing, fearing, or discovering that I hurt people unintentionally.
These are just a few things I wish I could share with people so they understood that my acting, reacting, over-reacting, forgetting, ignoring, withdrawing, hiding, and general social absent-mindedness is not intentional or to be taken personally.