“That’s the ultimate oxymoron!” you may declare, in response to the title of this article. “There are no gifts in this grief – only pain, loneliness and anger – and a wild array of other unfamiliar emotions!” It’s impossible to see anything good in life when we’ve been ambushed by this most unbelievable tragedy, the loss of our child. Grief lurks like a terrifying animal, ready to pounce, and we shrink from it, yet clutch it as a remnant. It’s all we have left. We fell down Alice’s rabbit hole and it’s very deep and empty.
In the space of two years the evil demon, cancer, took two of my precious daughters. They just slipped away in the dark, leaving me bereft and helpless, with this monster trailing me around, this grief. I hate it, yet I love it. It’s my only identity, causing me to wonder why the sun shines and why life goes on. My girls are gone. I conceived and gave birth to them. I bathed their dear bodies and rocked and dressed and fed them. Now they’re gone. This is “child-grief,” the grief you and I share.
Regardless of how or when a child leaves – whether miscarried, accidental, self-inflicted or by disease – their leaving creates such profound grief because their loss directly contradicts nature. You say, “A part of me died with my child,” and that’s true. We are not us anymore, and we will never be the same. Your grief, like mine, is a journey that has drastically rearranged your life and ripped away a huge part, leaving pain that is sharp and constant. Like you, I have been left with only memories – mixed explosions of gratitude, intense longing and sorrow. I hold these memories close, because they remind me of who I am and where I’ve been, and I need that. Otherwise I’m living in a void of loneliness that can’t be filled.
Along with our memories, we still need human warmth and connection—maybe more than ever. However, this can present a dilemma because often the outside world is aloof, seeming to exclude or avoid us, as if what we have is “catching.” Friends are uncomfortable, unsure of what to say, or fearful of causing us unnecessary pain. And there’s no way they can understand the feelings of a grieving mother unless they’ve been there. In A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis offers this poignant thought: “I’m aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet . . . perhaps the bereaved ought to be isolated in special settlements like lepers.” So we often withdraw into the comfort of solitude, even though suffering in silence is not at all healthy. Hopefully there are a few friends we can welcome when they reach out, even if the best they can do is acknowledge our grief and let us talk about it. In sharing our story, we find we can live with our pain and at the same time catch hints of a somewhat normal life. This helps us heal.
Often, the safest option for connection is in support groups like The Compassionate Friends, where we meet other grieving parents. There we become able to give and receive the special gifts of encouragement that come from an understanding heart. We become “wounded healers,” life expands and we find we are all connected. Most importantly, we will see that even though we now sit in darkness, a dim ray of hope grows a bit brighter each day.
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