First, let me make a statement: anything positive or any gift we may receive as a result of our child/children’s death we would gladly give back, if only we could have them back with us again. Since that isn’t possible, then why not accept and acknowledge the gifts or positives that we may receive as a result of their death? For a bereaved parent, this is very hard to do.
I know what most of you are thinking: “You are crazy! Nothing good can come from the death of my child!” I thought the same thing when I first started my grief journey. I continued on this path of thinking until I attended a TCF National Conference and began rethinking how I was handling my grief.
In my grief journey, I actually had begun to see positives in my life as a result of my children’s deaths. But, like a lot of bereaved parents, I did not want to acknowledge that “gifts” or positives could come from my loss. The “gifts” were there just the same, so I began to acknowledge and use them in my “new normal” life – the one without my children. Here are examples of “gifts” you may have received as a result of your child’s death.
Following the death of your child, do you remember that one special person who was there for you? They didn’t talk; they listened. They didn’t give you advice or spout those awful clichés. They were just there, maybe doing a load of laundry or mowing your lawn. They never asked what they could do; they just showed up and did what was needed. They held us when we cried and let us talk about our precious child. This was possibly our first real gift of grief.
One of our next gifts is one we give ourselves−the gift of “courage”−to walk into that first TCF meeting, into a club that no one wants to belong. We didn’t want to be in a room of bereaved parents, but our own gift of “courage” helped us to attend that first meeting.
In those first meetings, we should have received our next gift −“hope.” We saw parents who had been bereaved for many years. At first, we were concerned about seeing these parents there; will we “still” need to attend TCF meetings five or 10 years from now? Then we heard from these parents that they were there for us; they wanted us to know that they too were as broken as we are now when they first walked through that door. They told us how they managed those difficult days and nights when their child first died. They also showed us that they had found joy in life again and gave us hope that we could too. Most importantly, they were there to walk this journey with us so we did not have to walk alone, and that is such an important gift. The Reverend Simon Stephens, the founder of TCF, talked about the “Gift of Hope” when discussing TCF: “It is the gift of HOPE which reigns supreme in the attributes of The Compassionate Friends. HOPE that life can still be worth living and meaningful. HOPE that the pain of loss will become less acute and, above all else, the HOPE that we do not walk alone, and that we are understood. The GIFT of HOPE is the greatest gift that we can give to those who mourn.”
Our next gifts come at various times in our grief: new relationships in our lives with those who understand our “new normal” because they too have lost a child, and pictures were given to us of our children that we never knew existed. Someone asking us to talk about our child years after their death, when it has been so long since anyone, even family members, have mentioned their names to us is a precious gift as well.
Another gift that is so important to many of us is the gift of “signs” that our child is still nearby. These “signs” come in many different forms: pennies from heaven, dragonflies, butterflies, rainbows, hummingbirds, hawks, cardinals, feathers or deer−just to name a few−showing up at just the right time or at a time when it was totally unexpected. These are such small, insignificant (for some unbelievable) happenings to everyone else. But to a bereaved parent, they are such special gifts, helping us through the darkest of days. Letting us know that our children are still with us−not as we want them to physically be, but they are still with us nonetheless.
Some gifts are actual changes to our own personality: Are you more compassionate than before; do you have a better sense of what matters most in life than you did before; and have your priorities or focus in life changed and now people or causes are more important to you than “things”? Have you ever stopped to think of all the wonderful scholarships, buildings, foundations, and, yes, even TCF, that came to be as the result of a child’s death? Yes, we would gladly give back all these gifts just to have our children back, but…
One of the last “Gifts of Grief ” that I want to mention is the gift of “Memories of our Child.” Many of us can remember what goes through our mind when our child first dies. That “tape” our mind replays every time we try to sleep or rest; the tape of the actual event, of the funeral, of how we heard they were dead or simply that our child is dead. At an early TCF Conference, I heard a very wise lady, Darcie Sims, talk about the fact that our memories of our children change at some point in our grief. At first, when thinking about our children, all that comes to mind is that they died. But later on, we will know we are moving forward in our grief journey when we think of our child and “the first thing we think of is NOT that they died, but that they LIVED, and those memories bring a smile to our face, not tears.” I thought I would never get to that point in my grief, but I did and so can you. Death may have taken our children, but death can’t take away our memories of them. Those wonderful, perfect, beautiful memories are ours to keep FOREVER.
Whether or not we recognize these gifts, accept and use them, these gifts and the death of our children have reshaped us all to our very core, from this point forward. As one of the Sandy Hook parents said: “You have a choice; let it destroy you or let it strengthen you.” Each of us has this choice to make at some point in our grief journey−to stay in the dark days of grief or to try to bring light to our journey and have the memory of our child be one of causing positive changes to ourselves and hopefully, to our world. I hope you can now begin to recognize all the “gifts” you have received.
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