First of all, I am deeply sorry about the loss of your child. I wish I did not know much about grief but I too have been in the trenches of gutting sorrow. I will share however that I have learned quite a few lessons along the way and while I’d give them all back without hesitation for the safe return of my daughter, there have been many gifts I have received in the process of learning to live with grief.
In 2004, my middle child died at the age of six from a sudden high fever. I know for myself that in the early days of my grief I was paralyzed not just by the agony of the loss of my daughter but, to a lesser and yet also powerful extent, by the fear that life would never be good again. Perhaps not unlike you, I felt I had won life’s lottery prior to my daughter’s death. Relationships were solid and life was on a delightful and natural course. Death made me lose all of my bearings, and I found very few resources and people who were able to bring any sense of hope that life could and would be better at some point in the future. That, for me, made the grief even more insufferable. I lost hope for any future that did not include a diminished version of the life our family had prior to the death of our daughter.
My experience with loss led me to believe that we all have three stark choices when we lose a loved one we thought we could not live without: We can DIE. We can EXIST. Or we can LIVE. Many, many people spend the rest of their lives existing for a number of reasons, not least of which is lack of resources out there to guide and encourage them through positive grief. I promise you, that if you seek hope, resilience, or faith that you will find them. I promise you. But I will share with you that one of the keys to getting there one day is giving yourself permission to find them.
There are few books out there about surviving, then growing and thriving after grief. This was frustrating and disheartening to me and it ultimately drove me to write a memoir of my own journey to embrace and live with grief. I shared my story simply because I needed something like it on my nightstand 10 years ago. I wanted HOPE. I wanted someone to take me by the hand and let me know that after all of the suffering that I might deepen and grow and emerge a better person than when I started grieving. Yes, despite that loss. Despite wanting to not go on in the early days after my daughter’s death, I wanted to hear that someday I might truly want a different outcome. I wanted someone to assure me that all of the work of grief would not be for nothing. If I could not have my daughter back and all of the joys of her childhood, then could I find a way to recapture the joy of living at least so that the time would pass more quickly until we saw each other again?
It wasn’t easy. I can honestly tell you there is still a large hole in my heart and likely there will always be one in yours as well. But what I can tell you is that out of compensation for that hole, my heart has grown larger. The hole is still there but there is room to carry love for others. There is more capacity now than before. No one told me that in the early days. No one told me I could be transformed into a better, stronger, wiser, and a more enriched version of the woman who I was prior to my daughter’s death and that made the agony of the early days even more difficult. (It can never go without saying that I’d trade every ounce of this hard-won zest for life back without hesitation to have my daughter’s safe and healthy return, but that is not to be).
There is more. I could go on and on. You must receive many letters and I do hope there are nuggets of wisdom and support in each of them. There are also some that are terribly off base. Dismiss them. The intent of the letters almost universally is to help. Often people just don’t know how to deal with people like us. Forgive them if they say the ‘wrong’ thing. The outpouring of kindness of others that I experienced in grief was another gift. It is encouraging to witness the embrace given so freely from the community. I do hope that has been your experience as well.
I can assure you that with the decision to dig deep and be resilient you will thrive. What that will require is equal parts looking inside yourself and listening to what Ralph Waldo Emerson refers to as the “wise silence”, and equal parts looking outward with an open mind for places that will bring you comfort. Grief requires us to push the envelope and look outside a bit more. That is a gift in itself though it may not feel that way to you at the moment.
I know you will find comfort in ways meaningful to you. Your relationship with your child was unique. Just as all of our relationships are. Some of that will be preserved and never changed. That deep connection provided you with the gift of a solid foundation from which to build. I hope you will share your journey with your friends and family. I know I will be out here hoping and waiting for more inspiration each day. We are so much to so many. For those of us with surviving children, we owe it to them to get back into life and to show up for them. For me, that was what kept me moving initially. There was a lot of just plain showing up until things slowly started to feel ok in small ways. Then in bigger ways. Then one day, life was mostly good. And mostly good doesn’t feel at all like a compromise. Mostly good feels awesome.
I wish you all the best. I am sorry for your loss. Please know that you will be ok. Life will feel better again one day. You will smile and even laugh easily. You will be a better version of yourself. I feel that is an easy promise to make because I have stood in shoes similar to yours.
You. Will. Be. OK. You will be better than OK if you choose to be.
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