Fighting against the reality of child loss won’t lead us to the place through which we must travel: the honest, intimate, soul-crushing acceptance that we’re grieving because our child is dead. That’s what we’re being asked to do in facing this indecent truth. We’re being asked to take the hand of this most unwanted, terrifying teacher called Death and to trust our new and cruel companion. The pain is with you when you awaken and still there when the darkness descends. There is no respite or release from the grinding, relentless anguish of child-loss sorrow. We’re given no option but to walk in grief as we journey through the barren, colorless landscape that is our post-loss existence — life without our child.
The shock of my son’s death left me utterly incapacitated. I could barely function and saw no point to life. Sleep eluded me, panic attacks were the norm. This debilitating, traumatic situation lasted well over three years and, combined with the ongoing judicial process, left me a wreck. At one point I was asked to write a victim impact statement, yet it was all I could do to sit at my computer and remember my password. “Brain fog” is a nice term for what felt like brain meltdown. My body’s exhaustion was like living inside a husk that no longer worked and could barely breathe.
Yet over time, I realized that if I wanted to be whole again I was going to have to accept the reality that was my hell. I’d have to learn to absorb the grief instead of struggling against it. Instead of rejecting this poison, I needed to let it seep into me, to let it flow through my veins. To do otherwise meant I’d never get stronger. It was the denial of my new reality that was causing me to be so seriously ill, not the grief itself.
If I was to survive, grief had to become a part of my essence.
So I ceased to wage war with the devastating truth that my son was dead and I was not, and that my grief would last forever. In that realization, I felt a release: Grief was love and had been right from the start. Only then did I understand why grief had never left my side and never would — It was the love for my child and that was everlasting. The minute I willingly let reality enter my mind, heart, and soul, I began to accept that my life as I knew it was over. It was grief’s poison which contained the essence I needed to heal. It was this that would help me forge a new life.
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We cannot do grief work without acceptance, and we cannot learn acceptance without opening ourselves to all that grief offers us, however much we abhor the path we have been forced to travel. This is what Death teaches us: a wisdom that is so profound and long-lasting that it must be learned piece by painful piece. To learn this wisdom, to incorporate it into our broken heart is an agony like no other. I felt I was birthing a new emotional self, and it damn well hurt — unbearably so. One agonizing tiny droplet after another, I had to allow each one to weep into my soul very, very slowly until I was drenched. Only then could I begin to function again as a whole person.
The old me is gone and in its place stands a different me.
I had to be reborn as a different person. I’m a mother who has folded into her grief and continues to mother her still-living children. I’m growing a new life around my loss — not in spite of the grief, but because of it. Grief is my teacher and I shall continue to grow because there is wisdom in the grieving process. Grief needs to reside inside of me so that I have the strength to do the necessary work in rebuilding my life around the loss of my son. And that’s because what gives grief its power is my profound, unconditional, and undying love for Alex.
For us, the child loss mothers that are still standing, grief is the love we carry inside. In the end, it is grief that will ultimately heal us even though our hearts can never let it go.
Feature photo courtesy of Andrej Barnes