One minute you are singing on the highest mountain top, blissfully unaware of the impending rockslide, and the next you become buried within the deepest, darkest hole, covered in the rubble of child loss.
Just three hours before “the call” my children and I gathered around our six-month-old baby boy to enjoy extra morning kisses, squeezes, and coos. We dressed him in his “One in a Million” onesie, lathered his body in Burt’s Bees baby lotion, and kissed him some more. I told him as I did daily, “One day you are going to grow up, marry a Scottish princess, and build mama a castle”.
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Despite running ten minutes behind, I lingered at the sitter’s house. She and I giggled at each smile he shared, I kissed him some more and left the weekly babysitting check in her kitchen with “to Cullin’s second mama” scribbled in the memo. I caught one more glimpse of the biggest smile ever and ran out of the door.
“Come quick. There’s something wrong with Cullin.” I grabbed my purse and keys, ran out of my second-grade classroom, told a teacher friend that something was wrong, and ran out of the school. The sitter’s house was just three streets over, but Cullin was not alive when I arrived. I begged God, pleaded with the first responders, and yelled at the chaplain. I screamed, cried, hyperventilated, and moaned with agony.
I looked up and made eye contact with my youngest daughter, and it was in that moment that I remembered that my four-year-old daughter was also at the sitter’s house with her brother that day, and she witnessed my uncensored reaction. She too had just been buried within a landslide of grief.
Kubler Ross and Kessler describe this journey as the stages of grief, but I believe that the experience could be described as the terrains of grief as it seems a less predictable, more treacherous description, and ongoing. One minute you are on the highest mountain, the next you plummet. You dig in and climb back up. You fall again. Deeper. You drown in the waves and rise with the tide. You look over and see loved ones struggling as well.
You discover the need to find some anchors, some creative actions, inspiring people, and positive mindsets to cling to when stuck in the muck of grief or keep you steady when the waves of grief come crashing down. You adapt to the terrain, break down for yourself and rebuild for your child. You keep trudging, surviving, and making strides whether you are trapped within the lowest valley or climbing your way to the top of the next mountain.
When you find yourself within the shadows of the valley of grief, try this creative grief activity that we use at Camp Cullin, a Retreat from Grief for siblings of loss and their parents, to see how far you have come, assess where your current terrains of grief, and visualize your path ahead.
- Gather some 11×14 paper (manilla or white), markers, crayons, watercolors, etc. Invite your grieving children, bereaved partner, or supportive friends to join you.
- Start your drawing at the beginning of your grief journey. Maybe you were on top of a mountain, maybe you were on a plateau, or already in a valley.
- As you let your mind travel through the beginning of your grief, think about how that terrain looked. Was it jagged and edgy, were you stuck in the mud, or buried beneath rocks? Draw the next obstacle that you have faced.
- Continue drawing your journey through grief to the present day.
- Visualize what the road ahead may look like for you. Plan for the pain and joys of your future.
- Look back at how far you have journeyed, what you have endured, and the obstacles that you have overcome. Keep falling. Keep climbing. Keep grieving and loving.
- Share your terrains of grief with your loved ones and on social media using the hashtag #terrainsofgrief
Nothing will completely take away the hurt but these types of activities will help heal the heart. See you at the summit, in the muck, or down in the valley of grief.
photo credit Ginny Limer
Ginny Limer is a mother of five, teacher, and adventurer from Fort Worth, Texas. She founded Scared Sidless, a 501(c)3 nonprofit in order to support bereaved families, unite grieving siblings, and promote a lifestyle of creative, healthy grieving. Just as you exhale grief, Ginny encourages you to inhale hope.