I can sense it approaching. I feel a knot forming and tightening in my stomach, visions flash through my mind, my heartbeat quickens and for a moment I feel consumed. Miriam-Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” Five years ago the most unspeakable loss and devastating pain ripped me apart. Life as I knew it and as I had expected it to be shattered into a million pieces. My son died and even though I had experienced loss in many forms throughout my life, this was different. This loss changed everything.
The reality that we are not in control is humbling. In some ways, we know that. In other ways we still like to believe we have some semblance of an ability to make things be what we want them to be. The death of a child shakes us to our core. It is out of order. The brain cannot comprehend a trauma that twists and turns. Our mind may tell us one thing but our heart tells another and often they do not add up. Fear creeps into the crevices of life. If this has happened to us, what next, we ask?
Grief is sneaky. It pops up when the first few measures of a certain song drift from the speakers on the radio. A certain scent makes the emotions surface quickly. Someone innocently says a phrase that was a favorite of the person we miss. Walking into or driving by a certain location can overwhelm us with feelings that overflow. All of these experiences are normal. Fear is normal too.
Sometimes I am driving alone and the rest of my family is in another car. Headlights approach and I suddenly fear that either myself or my family in the other car will not make it home. When my spouse is late arriving from work or traveling by plane fear can creep in with thoughts of what may have happened or what could have happened. The phone rings in the middle of the night or a text message alert comes through at an odd hour. My thought automatically jumps to, “What has happened, who has died?” Out in public, I hold tightly to my living children’s hands as my eyes move from person to person with the fear that someone may grab them or snatch them away. Fear, I have come to learn, is a part of the journey of grief.
In the beginning, grief is so raw and so consuming. With time it shifts and changes. Some say it gets easier. I say it finds a balance. Some days the grief and the love of my son is on a perfect level plane. His absence is always felt and always known, but it his love is even greater. There are some days that the scale shifts and the grief is right back on the surface again. Most days though, the love outweighs the grief and I feel his presence deep within me as his legacy unfolds. What I have found though is that the knowledge of the pain that came with his death has surfaced in fear of the knowledge that I could lose again and that I will at some point lose again and that most likely I cannot control this at all.
A very wise counselor once told me to close my eyes and picture a stream with water flowing. She told me to picture myself standing beside that stream. As fear began to creep into my heart, she encouraged me to name the fear. As I named it I was to think of myself as tossing it into the stream, and then watch it float away from me. Although these moments of fear still find their way into my heart, they do not consume me like they did so many years ago. However, I have found that if I stop and give myself a few minutes to think about that stream, when I can find myself standing beside it and name what it is that is forming that knot deep within my stomach I can sense it loosening as I toss that fear into the water and watch it flow away.
Related: Fear of Forgetting
Grief has so many facets. Fear is a part of grief. Always be kind to yourself. Know that you are not ‘crazy.’ You have not ‘lost it.’ It is normal to feel sad, angry, fearful, etc. It is also normal to be overwhelmed by the love that you feel for your child. After all, we would not grieve if we did not love deeply. What fears have you experienced? Are there ways that you have been able to keep fear from overwhelming you? Remember you are not alone. We walk this winding road together, and together we will find our way.
Photo Credit: Pixabay: Engin_Akyurt