The Evolution of Grieving

July 30th marked the ninth anniversary of my son David’s death. Since that day, I have been mourning his loss. I am not being morbid or hyperbolic; just descriptive, stating a fact. I suffer Perpetual Sorrow Syndrome, the unquenchable yearning for a lost loved one which has become a chronic condition hardwired into the mental infrastructure. Yet as time passes, our relationship—the bond between David and me— has changed. I have learned to practice managed mourning. I see my progress as the evolution of grieving.

In many ways, the loss of my child is more concrete today than it was earlier in the cycle of mourning where returning to some approximation of normalcy was overwhelming. For a long while, the finality of him being gone forever could not be comprehended. I imagined him entering into the house, saw him on the street, and heard his voice. These apprehensions seemed so tangible. Often, I had dreams in which I was able to intervene and reverse the outcome of his fate. Real life was the nightmare I woke up to. During this period, I was negotiating a foreign territory where the physical environment was recognizable, but not familiar. I felt constantly disoriented and frightened, a sense of dread looming everywhere. There was the avatar of myself going about the business of eating, sleeping, working, while an identical human representation followed behind; a lost soul, stranger to herself and her surroundings, clueless and confused about where she was and what she was doing.

I wasn’t psychotic, just in the acute phase of grieving. Simmering below the predictable sadness and loneliness was guilt, rage, self-pity, resentment, depression, and many other negative, self-defeating turns the human psyche takes after deep trauma and tragedy.

There are many factors including time, serious introspection, religious rituals, searching and discovering ways to honor the memory of the child, and reaching out to other bereaved parents to help a parent function after a child’s death. Many occasions remain painful and fraught with anxiety and melancholy—the empty chair at family celebrations, noting the milestones of your child’s contemporaries, responding to queries from new acquaintances about your children, growing old without the company and support of a son or daughter. Still, the months and then years move forward, and it sinks in that you are still in the land of the living (yes, it is possible!), but your beloved child, ever present in your consciousness, exists in some other sphere of being. Miraculously, it seems, but not until you are emotionally ready, comes acceptance. The next phase in the evolution of grieving has arrived.

As I approach completing a decade since that sweltering summer day (was I in hell?) when we buried my son, I want to explore the possibility of moving beyond acceptance to a higher spiritual goal: to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Just writing this fills me with astonishment since I still believe there can never be anything positive about the untimely passing of a young person. But I am willing to open my heart to truths I previously denigrated and dismissed as wishful and naive. I want to embrace the blessing of the time spent with my son rather than bemoan the curse of his death. I want to take comfort in the knowledge that each of us has a purpose on the earth, a mission to fulfill in the eternal unfolding of existence. The worth of life cannot be measured in the number of years an individual lives. Of course, we bereaved parents would have wished our children a long, happy, healthy stay on this planet, lasting much beyond our own departure. Of course, we will grieve for them until we too have shed our physical container, and are no longer matter but pure energy, ready to join our children as part of the creative force that fuels the eternal cosmos.

The years of David’s life were diminished, but not its worth. I want to be able to let go of the what ifs and if onlys that surround his death; to give up the fantasies of what he could have been, done, achieved had he been granted a normal lifespan. I want to focus on the special joy, insight, and pleasure he brought to those who knew and loved him. The thoughts of him and what he means to me have allowed me to manage my mourning and go on with my life. I have learned from his destiny, the immeasurable value of life that must be revered and respected unconditionally, and the indestructible power of love that transcends even death. It was his gift to me, which I accept with gratitude, even as I continue to mourn his loss. This, I believe, is the next stage in the evolution of grief.




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Comments (8)

  • WOW! I am approaching the four year anniversary of my Patrick’s death at age 36 from a sudden, unexpected heart attack. I am nowhere near this point in my grief journey but your words give me hope that someday I will be. Thank you 💙☘️⚾️💛

  • I am right there with you…my son Josh, passed away at age 20 on July 26, 2004. It has been 15 years and not a day goes by that I don’t miss him.
    I am thankful for the 20 years we had together on this earth and will keep his memory alive for the rest of my days. Grief does evolve and you do survive, even though there are times when you do not feel you will.
    I will cherish the memories until the day I see him again.

  • What a beautiful expression of your experience with grief. June 6 was the sixth anniversary of my son, Rashaan’s death. He was 38 and driving home at night and he hit a tree and died the next morning in the hospital. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, I was not familiar with the term “Perpetual Sorrow Syndrome “. That term seems to express what I have been going through.

  • This is well written… Its 9yrs for me too, since losing my Joanne💜. Gratitude is beyond me, but clearing out the mind clutter & acceptance is the best I can hope for. I don’t tell, for few of being labelled delusional, or in denial, but I talk with my girl every day, in little things, and my mum who passed last year, and I get little messages from her. Never lingering or bad, just love exchanged and I need that. Its a spiritual relationship now, I don’t believe in complete death… They’re not gone, they’re just different… Maybe my perspective is all part of this ‘grief evolution’ … its all I have left… I can’t let go.

  • This is just SO where I am and articulated incredibly helpfully. Thank you. Our daughter died aged 29 in August 2005.

  • MY Son Joel died in 2005 in his sleep from an unknown cause. 14 years later I miss him everyday and still cope with the ripples of his loss. Our yougest Son found him dead and continues to suffer. We lost two Sons that day though one still lives. Its not easy but we live on .

  • Perpetual Sorrow Syndrome is what I am, since I lost my little 3 and a half year old beautiful granddaughter, Latayah on 27th august 2014. Its coming up to 5 years soon, August n April (24/4/2011 Birth) are always the hardest times, but even all the times and occasions in between. My family do still struggle all the time, and can all relate to living in disorientation and dread, and even with new births of Latayah’s brother n sister. Love for Latayah and for each other keeps us going, especially my Josephine, Latayah’s beautiful Mummy. I could go on and on, but most times I find it hard to put into words, my life now, our lives now, in which Latayah is not. Thankyou for sharing xxx

  • This is absolutely beautiful, and I completely embrace all your thoughts. I do truly believe that we are put on earth to serve a particular purpose, and that when the goal is realized, it is time to return home. Some of us fulfill our life’s purpose very early, the end result being a considerably shorter time on earth than most humans. This would be the group that include most of our children.
    Through visits with a gifted medium, and many conversations with people whose lives have been touched by or dramatically affected by my daughter Katie, I’ve gained a feeling of acceptance of her early departure, and an unexpected joyfulness and heart-bursting pride upon learning of all the ways she selflessly gave of herself to be of service to others.
    I never knew of any of the heroic acts that she did. I never had any idea that she saved not just one person from dying, but three. I didn’t know of all the times she put her needs or wants aside, so that she could tend to someone else, someone who needed comfort, or friendship, or help of any kind.
    This child of mine, she continued to astound me with her beautiful soul and loving nature, even more so after her death.…. for it was then that I began to discover just how honourably and respectfully she spent her short life here on earth. She never let me in on any of her acts of kindness; she was the most laid-back, modest, low- key, undemanding, happy and relaxed kid I’ve ever met. Learning what a hero she actually was, after she was gone, has been both a delight in its discovery, and a regret that I hadn’t been allowed to acknowledge it, in real time.
    So, yes, I understand that she did what she was meant to do here, in her human form. She just crammed it all into one very short space of time.
    This way of thinking, this new belief that I have embraced, I have to admit, I’ve accepted as true partly because at the very beginning, I was being driven insane with grief at the thought that I would never again see my precious girl. I was, quite assuredly, prepared to exit my own life. I couldn’t handle the pain, the excruciating anxiety, the crushing sensation in my chest every time I thought of her. It wasn’t the thought of living without her, it wasn’t the thought of anything at all. I just couldnt keep living with that PAIN. I just wanted away from that pain……
    Learning that I would see her again, one day, was what saved my life, what gave me strength to carry on. It gave my life, which was at the time filled with dread and sadness, a sense of hope again. Something to look forward to….
    And out of all that also came the most incredible feeling of gratitude. Gratitude that I was blessed with this beautiful girl in my life for 24 years and 33 days. My sweet girl, my darling Kate, my beloved Katie Bird. I love you so much, I miss you every day more than the day before. But I WILL see you again, and THAT makes me smile….
    Love, Momma
    Katie V. July 14, 1993 – August 17, 2017

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