Strength in the Everyday
People can say hurtful things to grieving parents, often unintentionally, because they don’t know what else to say, so they blurt out a cliché. They do not mean to add to our pain, but some of these things still hurt. However, every so often, people say something remarkable. Something filled with such understanding and compassion that it strikes you in the moment and stays with you long after the conversation.
One of those moments happened with the friend of one of my closest friends. A conversation that lifted me up and validated my pain when I needed it the most, reminding me that I am strong and am surviving something I never thought I could have. A couple of months after losing Aiden, my friend Jodie and I ran into one of her friends. I didn’t know her well, but when she saw me, she gave me a huge hug and said, “You are amazing. I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know how you are even able to get out of bed in the morning.” It was said with deep compassion, as if she could feel my pain and understood just how hard each day was.
Those words struck me deeply. They made me want to shout, “Thank you! Thank you for acknowledging how hard it is to be standing here showered, dressed and ready to make small talk!” Most people have no understanding how difficult it is to simply carry on after losing your child. I felt as though my world had just been turned upside down and came screeching to a halt. Everything around me was dark. It felt like a cruel nightmare that my sweet child was dead and I was supposed to continue to live. It took incredible strength and determination to decide each morning that I would get out of bed, I would shower and dress myself, and I would choose not to give up. In the months following Aiden’s death, I felt proud of myself for doing these things. It seemed silly to me sometimes, to think that getting out of bed and showering could be something to be proud of, especially when some days that was all I was able to accomplish. But I also knew that these simple actions were a choice, and not an easy choice most days. It seemed that it would have been easier to try to hide from the nightmare that I was living in, to stay in bed and let the darkness take over what was left of my life. But I didn’t. Even if the only thing I was able to do that day was to get out of bed, shower and dress, that counted for something. My heart was broken, but I was not giving up, and I felt proud of that. I knew how much effort these small actions took when I was deep in the throes of grief, even if no one else could understand or acknowledge what a feat it was for me.
It felt uplifting and validating to hear someone who barely knew me recognize how difficult it is to carry on with life when my world ended the moment my child died. To have someone acknowledge that you have to be strong and brave every day to face the world without your child where nothing makes sense to you anymore. To have someone validate how difficult grief is and how it takes strength and courage to just keep breathing, keep living. To have someone acknowledge that it is a conscious choice you have to make each and every day that you need to keep going knowing each day, each hour, each moment is filled with pain and heartbreak as you miss your child more than you knew was possible.
It seems society allows you a short period of time after a loss to grieve, but then people expect you to “get back to normal”. What they don’t realize is you will never get back to normal. After experiencing the loss of a child, you have to find, create and build a new normal for yourself. It takes time, a lot of time. I felt relieved that someone acknowledged my life will never go back to normal after losing Aiden. For someone to acknowledge that even months later, every single thing I did took effort, strength and an intentional choice. I felt validated by her comment that my loss was life changing and brutal. That the simple act of getting out of bed was a huge step. People often take for granted how hard these little things are for a grieving parent. But these little things, things that seemed so insignificant to us before losing a child, like getting out of bed and showering, are important.
Her words were simple, but they were a gift to me that day. She reminded me that choosing to survive after losing a child is an accomplishment and should be honoured. I was grateful that someone acknowledged my pain, acknowledged the strength it takes to continue to live after losing your child, and acknowledged that grief is hard and there is no time limit on it. The essence of what she said touched me deeply, so I want to pass those words on to all of the bereaved parents reading this, to remind you how amazing, strong and brave you are each day:
You are amazing. You have faced a pain greater than any parent should ever have to face, and yet here you are, still standing.
You are strong. You are making the choice to continue with your life while you hold your sweet child in your heart instead of your arms.
You are brave. You are choosing to face the world again and hold onto hope that you will find peace somewhere, some day.
You are strong. You are brave. You are amazing.