If there is one thing I’ve learned about grief since losing my son shortly after his full-term birth in July 2016, it’s that grief strikes when you least expect it. When I have anticipated a particular day being impossible, grief usually hits harder in the days preceding it than on the actual day. My son’s first birthday, for example, or what should have been his first Thanksgiving.
Last holiday season, I was most concerned about Thanksgiving and Christmas being devastating days. But much to my surprise, New Year’s hit me the hardest. I feared that people expected a new year would bring me hope. A fresh start. A chance to look forward rather than backward. But that expectation is just a great example of how most people, although loving and well-intentioned, misunderstand a grieving parent’s feelings.
The Passage of Time
Maybe it comes from my choice to focus on my son’s life instead of his death. But putting more time between the present and those few precious hours I had with him, is the opposite of comforting or hopeful to me.
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A new year meant more distance between my son and me. 2016 was Jacob’s year, and once the clock struck twelve on January 1, 2017, it would never be Jacob’s year again. I could no longer say I had a son “this year.” Instead, it would be “last year.” Or in the future, “2 years ago,” “3 years ago,” and so on. The longer ago it sounds, the more people would expect me to have moved on and my grief to have lessened. I knew that wouldn’t be the case. The trauma of losing a child isn’t like the trauma of a bad car accident or a painful medical procedure. If your trauma is the loss of a child, putting more time between you and your trauma doesn’t ease the pain.
Time doesn’t heal this trauma because the source of your trauma is love, and that love is something you want to cling to as closely as possible.
New Year’s Grief
So if your loss is fresher than mine, or maybe even if it’s not, don’t be surprised if New Year’s grief sneaks up on you. And if you’re able to explain that to your friends and families, maybe they will gain a better understanding of how grieving parents feel. But I will also offer some words that I hope will be comforting. I will say that I am less scared to turn over this calendar page.
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Since time has gone on and I’ve continued to talk about Jacob, most people in my life seem to understand that more time is not the answer to my grief. In fact, they should not expect me to stop grieving in this lifetime. And that is comforting. My other big fear – that with time my memories of my few hours with my son would fade – has been mollified too. Somehow, even as time goes on, I can easily remember what he looked like and what it felt like to stare into his sweet face. I will never stop wishing I had more time with him, but at least I’m less scared now of those memories fading away. And so the passage of time is ever so slightly less terrifying than it was last year.
If grief hits hard this New Year’s, know that you are not alone, and those feelings are very, very valid. But take comfort that the passage of time may not distance you from your child as much as you think. Your love for your child is strong and will preserve his or her memory better than you think.
Wishing you a year that’s as peaceful as possible and filled with love and memories of your lost little one.
Photo by Carlos Domínguez on Unsplash
Elizabeth Yassenoff lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Erik. She writes for Still Standing and on her blog to honor her firstborn son, Jacob Dale, who passed away three hours after birth due to unexpected complications during labor. Elizabeth is a co-founder of Alive In My Heart, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides connection and resources to bereaved parents in the Columbus area, and she is studying to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. Jacob’s baby sister, Ella Jane, was born August 11, 2017 and has brought a lot of light and healing.