Since Jake’s death less than eight weeks ago, we have become members of a very exclusive group. It is part of a society that everyone joins sooner or later, but no one really thinks about it much. The Grief Community. The only prerequisite for membership is that you have lost someone or something that is precious to you. It can be a loved one, family member, relationship, home, a precious memento; there are so many things to lose. And of course the degree of grief varies with the type of loss. The worst is when someone you love dies. It is so final. With a home, you can rebuild. With a relationship, you can forge a new one. You can find another job, pocket watch or iPhone. Death, on the other hand is irreversible.
This community doesn’t get much publicity. It isn’t a secret society, per se, but it doesn’t exactly advertise for members. There are organizations, web sites, discussion groups, chat rooms, blogs, and books, all for the purpose of providing support and whatever comfort there may be in ‘company’. After all, aren’t we told that misery loves company? Well, there is plenty of company out there for us. Within that larger community, there are groups of every description for every type of loss. People who have lost spouses, parents, siblings, children, friends, all have a different experience shaded by whatever relationship they had with the departed. The 50-year-old adult who loses a parent has a very different outlook than an expectant mother who loses an unborn child, or a brother who loses a sister to a hit and run driver.
But everyone in this community, anyone who has ever worked with grieving people, anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, agrees that the loss of a child is unique. Our children are a part of us, literally. They carry our DNA, our heritage; we created them. When we lose a child, a piece of us dies with them, leaving an empty space in our being that can never be filled. There are many groups for parents who have lost children, and within those are sub-groups: Parents who have lost infants, toddlers, 6-12 year olds, teenagers, young adult children, and so on. Groups for different causes of death: illness, accident, suicide, drugs. The permutations are myriad. Again, each group has a different perspective, but the overarching theme that unites us all is the anguish, the heart-wrenching sense of loss, the pain, both physical and emotional of our children being cheated out of their future, us out of ours. It is such a tragic waste. Every parent thinks about it, tries to imagine what it would be like. The reality is like nothing you can ever imagine.
There is no other human experience with which to compare it. People are born, they live, they die. That is the way of life. But when a child dies before his or her parents, it is a disruption of the natural order. An abomination. The world suddenly turns topsy-turvy, and nothing is ever the same. Nothing. Ever. The. Same … Ever. It is as if you wouldn’t be surprised to see the sun rise in the West, or birds fly North for the winter, or Summer follow Autumn. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. They just aren’t. Parents are not supposed to inherit their children’s belongings, it is the other way ’round. Parents aren’t supposed to spend their golden years pining for their dead children, wondering ‘what if’ …
My life is divided into two parts. The Before and the After. There is no going back. I struggle every day to make sense of the After. There is no sense to be made. It really is a moment by moment affair now. There are occasions where I feel slightly sane, can function on a basic level, go shopping, out for a dinner, visit with friends. But suddenly, without warning, it can get ugly. The emotional ambush strikes at any instant, transforming a pleasant experience into a cauldron of anguish and longing. If only I could brew up a magic spell to bring him back. And there are times when I just feel shitty. No two ways about it. Don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to leave the house. Don’t want to speak to anyone, go anywhere, do anything. That passes eventually, but I don’t have to apologize to anyone for feeling that way. Our friends and family understand. But only insofar as they can.
In the past few days I have spoken, via internet messages and emails, with many parents who are grieving for their lost children. Of all ages, from all causes, from just a few months ago to ten years on. It is an amazingly diverse and compassionate group. And the benefit, if you can call it that, is that these people know what you are feeling, no matter how old their child was when he or she died, no matter from what cause. There are subtleties of perception, differing perspectives, ways of dealing with it, but at the core, the degree of pain is identical for everyone; it is an unbearable agony that has to be borne. These people have been through it, are going it through with you. We all have insights to offer each other from wherever on the road we happen to be. It is a constantly changing and evolving landscape. There are many similarities in what we all write, those of us who have chosen to chronicle the ‘After’ lives we now lead. The experience manifests itself in so many different ways, yet all so alike.
Honestly, it may not help, having someone who ‘gets it’ to talk to. Sometimes I think nothing can make any difference one way or the other. That I will just have to figure it out on my own, and that is true for each of us on this journey. But it doesn’t hurt either. There are only two kinds of people in this world: those who have lost children and those who have not. We now belong to that horrific club no one wants to join; the price of initiation is far too high. There is some comfort in knowing we are not alone, that what I am feeling isn’t crazy, or that I am not expected to behave in some specific way at pre-determined intervals. That I can just do and feel whatever the hell I do or feel, whenever the hell I feel like it, and that’s okay. It may not sit well with some people who have no idea of what we are going through, which is everyone in the “haven’t lost children” group, who might expect us to follow some idealized grief timetable. But with my people, those of us in the “have lost children” fellowship, whatever, whenever is just fine with them.
You’ve have captured the essence of what it’s like to be a bereaved parent.
Nothing can help in the sense that nothing we do will bring back our children. Yet having a community of grievers is very important. We all want and need to feel understood and it is unfortunately true that the only people who can comprehend the devastation of losing a child are people who have experienced it.
I have experienced much loss in my life, but losing a child is earth shattering and alienating unlike any other loss. Although everyone will eventually experience loss (except our children who died first), most people will be fortunate enough NOT to lose their children. I am grateful to all the bereaved parents who willingly share their thoughts, feelings, and journeys. I am grateful to you for your poignant insights and honest heartfelt observations.
Thank you for your kind words. Unfortunately, as you observe everyone will experience loss, sometimes including our children. Jake lost his very best friend a little more than a year before he died. This boy, a year younger, was like a brother to our son, they had a very close and unique bond. Jake was devastated by his death, and went through all that we now go through. The questioning, could I have done something to prevent it, why did it have to be him, on and on. Sadly, we may have not done enough to help him through his grief, but we didn’t know what we know now. Easy to say if we had done something different things would have turned out differently. Who knows?
I am humbled and gratified that you find some bit of solace in my writing. This is one of the reasons I do it. I wish you whatever peace you can now find.
Ed, re the loss of Jake’s friend and its aftermath: there is nothing you could have done or changed. Don’t carry that weight in addition to your own burden of grief.
I think ALL bereaved parents question what we did, what we could have done, what we should have done and on and on. Everything is now viewed in a different light and it’s as if we’re watching a movie which we want to rewrite because we know and need to change the ending. I still torture myself with all the “if only”s, even though I know that this only makes me feel worse and accomplishes nothing.
I’m sorry that Jake had to experience that terrible pain in his much-too-short life.
Oh, Anne, there are so many ‘what if’s’, so many things we could have done differently, this is just one of a million, all wrapped up together. We did what we did, and no amount of ‘what if’s’ can change that, or bring him back. There are no do-overs here. We just have to live with our decisions. Would have things have transpired differently if we had done things differently? That is just one of a million unanswerable questions.
I can only salute your grace and fortitude. In truth, I don’t know if I could do it.
I read this with tears running down my face,
I don’t think I have read Anything that explains
Captures the absolute gut wrenching, ache,
bewildering horror that grief feels and is like
Thankyou for writing this….words are never
enough, when we are grieving, bit this was very helpful
Thankyou and my heart goes out to all xxx
Thank you for your kind words. Thank you also for taking the time to find us here. Please come back often. I am humbled that my writing can give you some comfort. I don’t know your story, but my heart goes out to you whatever your loss. Be well.
I’m in tears now too. 27 years on we have certainly gone forward with life. But there are still occasions, like reading this post, when that pang of grief hits. Our son would be……????
The best is “I know how you feel. My best friend lost their child…” How dare the uninitiated make statements like this? No one, who is not part of this lousy, exclusive group of parents, will ever understand our pain, guilt, sorrow and loneliness. I am sorry for your loss. I KNOW what it feels like. I have “followed” you and will travel this journey with you. Hugs and gentle thoughts!
Tersia- Thank you for visiting. I know you know. We don’t need a secret handshake or a password to identify ourselves to each other. One look, a single word, and we can tell. I am truly sorry for your loss. You are blessed to have your grandchildren to carry on Vicky’s legacy. I am sure she will live forever in memory. Be well, and I wish you and your family peace.
Pingback: Lessons of the Year | The Infinite Fountain