What is it like in the seventh year of grief? Is the grieving still there all the time? Is it gone, mostly gone or never gone completely?
My daughter A’Mya died on September 3rd 2011, just 3 days old. In the first few months, I couldn’t see further than feeding her twin sister and getting some sleep. There were really hard times in raw grief.
It’s not all roses
Four months after A’Mya’s death, the day before my mother died, I wrote:
The face I show the world is not usually the one where my eyes are filled with tears and where I’m sobbing with the grief of missing A’Mya.
Comments about how good I look or how happy I seem are describing the surface of that very same face in just another moment of life. But the heart feels everything and different emotions on various levels no matter what shows up on the surface.
Sometimes these well-meant comments make me feel angry as they so miss the point of how I’m really feeling. What you see is not all there is… And yet, I realize, we all portray only a part of ourselves to the world and so do I. Have a look at the photos you’ve posted on Facebook and you’ll realize what I mean.
Much processing happens internally or in my personal space. Few have shared some pretty tough and unpleasant moments with me when all the emotions pour out. If you have you may consider yourself a close friend who I trust won’t turn away because of my sudden outbreak of emotions.
Having said that, recently I experience a lot of anger and frustration, anger in response to many things, situations and people. Even though I’m aware of this too being part of the grief it is still difficult to be with those unpleasant feelings, even for myself.
Many, even close friends, have become silent or distant. Who would want to get themselves in the line of fire by saying something that might trigger a bolt of emotions?
Some who spoke said ‘I don’t know what to say…’. I understand and yet it feels lonely.
I miss simply being myself with some mundane life issues to deal with.
I keep A’Mya in my heart and Ananda Mae close to my heart.
If life gets challenging, meet it
Two months later, I wrote:
Looking back over the last 6 months I haven’t been writing as much as I usually do and definitely not as much as I would like to.
Life has been challenging as I…
… have gone through a twin pregnancy
… have been emotionally and physically challenged
… have been told by a doctor at 26 weeks that one of my babies would most likely not survive
… have been living with the fear of losing my child who was clearly very alive in my tummy
… was dealing with my mum’s depression and supporting her and my family living overseas
… was giving birth and then, 2 days later, having to make the decision to let our little daughter go
… was holding her in my arms as she was disconnected from life support
… was grieving the loss of my child and at the same time caring for my other newborn daughter
… am learning to be a parent and dealing with sleepless nights
… have been dealing with the edges of post-natal depression and the joys of motherhood at the same time as going through the grieving process
… was facing the news of my mother’s suicide overseas
Sounds like I’ve got the disaster bug. I notice how challenged people I met are when hearing my news. Some wonder how I’m able to deal with all of this, others are just worried that if they talk to me about any of the above I might crumble or fall into a heap of tears. But I’m not! Life just happened to hand me a handful of tough challenges and I believe that I will deal and learn to live with them over time. I’m not in denial. I feel the pain and I feel the joy. Even though all the challenges hit hard there was and is always beauty and there are many amazing moments also part of the last 6 months.
We all face challenges and even though you might compare and think yours are more or less bad than someone else’s challenges, in the end, you have to deal with YOURS.
It is true though that when I feel challenged my view for those amazing moments gets clouded and I’m less able to take them in. That’s when I’ve needed help.
I went to see someone because I’m very aware that even though I’m an experienced counsellor and coach it does not give me absolution of experiencing, feeling, and thinking. I wanted to make sure that I’m dealing with this, that I’m not in denial, that I’m checking in not just with myself but with someone who has an outside perspective and the psychological training and experience to keep me in check. Someone that is there for me but not a friend that I had to go easy on or remember not to overdraw on favours.
I haven’t heard from some of my friends. I refrain from making any assumptions or judgments as I’m reminded that I don’t really have any idea on what’s been going on in their lives.
It makes me sad to realise that in our culture we are not used to talking openly about death, depression and suicide. Often these topics are taboo, and it seems that we are afraid to meet our own mortality and meet the emotions of shock, sadness, grief, fear…by avoiding looking into what’s the unavoidable outcome for all of us.
I have changed.
I’m making fewer excuses.
I’m more open and honest, even if it means confronting a friend.
I take less bullshit.
I’m more open to accepting help and am immensely grateful for it.
I’m no longer overly accommodating or accepting of bad behaviour.
In my experience of meeting my challenges remaining factual doesn’t cut it. I had and still have to meet it, feel it, and experience it. Diving right into all of it doesn’t mean drowning. That’s where I’m finding the balance between meeting the demands of daily life and giving to myself (like this reflection, even if it happens to be at 3 am after not being able to fall back asleep for 2 hours after feeding the baby). It also means accepting help and taking my support network into consideration.
It’s not about ‘soldiering’ on and keeping my head down marching no matter what but it is about staying vulnerable in the depth of my heart and soul and sometimes in public, sharing myself without the fear of being judged or pitied.
I feel the need to share maybe because on some level all the dealing with it becomes too much to be contained.
There is Hope
Seven years later I have mostly integrated the loss of my daughter into my life. She is part of my life, but her death does not define me anymore. Triggers like National Twins Day still affect me, but I take a deep breath, grit my teeth and let out a sigh. I sometimes feel jealous of parents with identical twin girls. I’m aware of my daughter’s grief over not having her sister with her.
In order to answer the question above whether the grieving is still there, we need to define ‘grief and grieving’. Oxford Dictionaries define it as an ‘Intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death’.
I do not experience intense sorrow anymore or only on very rare occasions regarding A’Mya’s (or my mother’s) death. This is my personal experience and I’m well aware others might experience it in different ways.
What I know is that I have done a huge amount of work on my grief, both personally, in therapy, in groups, through reading and writing, through interviewing and talking to other bereaved parents. I know this has helped me to find ways to deal with my emotions and find ways to incorporate the loss into my life. Yes, my situation is not like yours, but no situation is like any other. Even though we all have lost a child, the individual story and history with grief and loss are as personal as the relationship with the person who died.
Image source: Nathalie Himmelrich
Nathalie Himmelrich is the author of a number of resource books for bereaved parents and the producer of the Podcast How to Deal With Grief and Trauma. As a relationship coach, grief recovery expert, and bereaved mother herself she believes that relationships (intimate and with other support people) are the foundation for a healthy grieving experience. She is also the founder of the Grieving Parents Support (GPS) Network and the May We All Heal peer support group.