Blog post

A Grief Like No Other

November 8, 2018

Words that were meant to console and comfort but missed the mark were a part of raw grief. “Give it time. It’ll get better,” I was told as I struggled to breathe within the nightmare that was my new normal. Haven’t we all been there? The well-meaning friends supporting us as we stand shell-shocked following the death of our child? But are they right? Does child loss ever get better?

In my view, the short answer is a quiet ‘no’.

Carrying the Loss

Whilst it’s true that with time we do get better at carrying the loss, developing as we do a large, invisible grief-muscle that helps us bear the crushing weight of our sorrow, my experience is that my broken heart will never mend. It simply can’t. This is one grief that you don’t get over. It, therefore, follows that my loss cannot and will not diminish in size and is today as vast and true as it was the first day without my child. Yet I’ve learned to live with the loss and to grow from it. What’s helped is this newly grown, invisible-to-others grief-muscle. It’s this that has made the difference between lying in bed incapacitated and living again because it’s what helps me carry the grief. I’m now able to get up in the morning, drive the car, go to work, smile, function, live life again. So my answer to the question ‘does it get better?’ is ‘no’, IT never gets better; IT just gets more manageable because I’m learning to live with IT. Not the same thing at all. Simply put, this grief is different; it’s a grief like no other.

Related Post: Nothing Happened. Just The Worst Thing Happened. My Baby Died.

When non-loss parents offer support or advice they perceive a grief timeline that simply isn’t there. They’re not to blame. There’s a widely held view that all cases of grief move within recognizable parameters. Who hasn’t had to deal with comments such as ‘it’s time to move on now’, ‘he/she would want you to be happy’, ‘it’s two/five/ten years since he/she died, are you stuck in your grief?’

And that’s because there is a misconception about child loss grief being like other griefs. Even in online grief forums, books, and therapists’ rooms, child loss grief is lumped together with every other loss. Until you’ve lost a child, you cannot conceive of how cataclysmically different child loss is from other forms of grief.

The moment your child dies, you’re catapulted across an invisible divide into a parallel world, never, ever, to return. Those on this side of the child-loss barrier recognize you for what you are now — a bereaved parent whose beating heart hides the fact it’s broken — and extend their love and understanding. Those on the other ‘living’ side see a loss parent struggle with grief yet believe that in time and with therapy things will return to normal.

Related Post: When Normal Ceased to Exist

There is no normal. There’s no going back or getting through this grief. The timeline for child loss does not exist. Child loss is not fluid, does not progress, does not diminish. It is.

Stages of Grief

Much has been written about the five stages of grief, originally identified by Elisabeth Kubler Ross in her book, On Death and Dying. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The widely accepted view is that there’s a process through which you must journey and that all the stages are experienced at some point, often in no particular order. Once done with this ‘grief work’ we supposedly reach acceptance and somehow move into a released, post-grief-work state.

Personally, I have travelled this grief road before and acknowledge that there is great merit in Kubler Ross’ analysis of how the bereaved (and the dying) transition from denial through to acceptance. In no way do I wish to detract from so learned and wise a teacher. I agree that we, as the bereaved, need time to engage in grief work in order to move past the initial shock of our loved one’s death (or our own terminal diagnosis) to a place of acceptance.

But — and here’s the thing — the death of my son felt and continues to feel nothing like the loss of my mother, father, brother, aunt, girlfriend. It falls into a category all of its own. I call it ‘parental annihilation’ and from that, there’s no coming back. Observers may think I’m journeying through the stages of grief and coming out the other end yet that’s not what’s actually happening. What I’m doing is building up my grief-muscle to the point that it’s a huge mass on my back able to withstand the devastation that comes with knowing that I’ll never share another moment with my son again. It may look the same, this perceived progress, but the outcomes are very different. I may go through the five stages of grief, but at no point will I accept the death of my son and move on.

Accepting the absence of my child

Acceptance as a term is tricky because it implies facing the truth and then letting go, and that last part I can never do. My love for my child impedes that. The most I can ever do is accept that he is no longer living and that I’m sentenced to carry the absence of him in my life forever. It’s an acceptance of my own condition now as a loss mother, not of his dying. Kubler Ross’ stages are useful, but they don’t reflect my experience of child loss on this vitally important point.

Related Post: Kubler-Ross and the “Five Stages of Grief”

There’s no moving past this loss. It just is. That’s why we learn to live with it, with grace, humility, and sadness. In doing so we are gifted a deep wisdom that helps us find a way to build a new life around the physical absence of our child. My loss has become a part of me, an essential and enriching element of the new me that cradles my broken heart. I see child loss as a lifelong grief and accept it as my new reality, my new normal. I’m not stuck, I’m not moving on, I simply am.

 

 

Photo credit: Pixabay Annca

  • Katja

    Katja Faber is the mother of three amazing children. Following her 23-year-old son's murder, she used her legal training to work closely with private lawyers and the State Prosecutor in her fight for justice for her dead son. She hopes to inspire others in seeking justice for their loved ones and through her writing break the taboo of homicide loss. She runs her own farm, a magical place where she has recently started to host retreats for those in need of support and healing. Her farming IG account where she reflects on daily life in the country and the healing process of grief is on Instagram ~~~~ To read her blog and further articles by Katja do please follow the link to her dedicated webpage in honour of her son KatjaFaber.com.

    7 Comments

    • Jill

      November 8, 2018 at 2:52 am

      Eloquent and thoughtful as always Katja. I’m sure this will help all those parents who are expected to ‘move on’ after the death of their children, by reassuring* them that this grief is like no other. Lots of love and hugs to you xxx

    • Scott McKemy

      November 8, 2018 at 6:45 am

      Thank you Katja ❤

    • Lori Churchill, LICSW

      November 8, 2018 at 8:49 am

      Hi Katja. First, I am so sorry for the loss of your son. You do a beautiful job describing your experience and I appreciate that. I did want to add that you are right on with having difficulty with Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s model. She actually came up with the 5 phases as a result of interviewing/listening to people who were dying, not people who were grieving, and she actually tried to clear this up in the years following the publication of her book On Death and Dying. Most recently her colleague David Kessler has been working on how to apply these phases to the grief process, but in my opinion as a grief educator there is really a need to understand a bunch of different models since, as you know all too well, grief just doesn’t fall into a neat category. I like the Dual Process Model, which allows for balance between actively grieving (in the multitude of ways we grieve, not just feeling sad) and restoration. This reminds us that when we zone out we are actually resting and our psyche knows how to protect us. Too many people feel they aren’t grieving “right” and that makes my heart sad since I generally believe people area always on the journey, it’s just impossible to measure (and unnecessary). There are other models too, but for me in my work this one seems most helpful for people. Secondly and most importantly, I am really glad you wrote about not reaching acceptance. This was actually a big source of criticism of EKR’s model, and is really important to clarify. You did this beautifully. Thank you again for sharing and I wish you peace on your journey.

    • Patricia J Katz

      November 8, 2018 at 8:55 am

      Thank you from my heart and truly from my soul!

    • Lisa

      November 10, 2018 at 5:26 am

      Thanks for exemplifying exactly how I feel. So true.

    • K

      November 11, 2018 at 9:35 pm

      There is no getting over it, I agree! My loss, I think, is different from yours. I did not get to meet my child – or even know if my child was a boy or a girl. As my first pregnancy, the loss tore my soul apart. Should I even try again?
      I will never see that precious face, know this precious soul until I leave this life or know what joys this life would have brought to everyone.
      But I believe in the depths of my soul that I must live a joyful life in their absence. I owe this child this. Hard as it is, I do everything possible to be a source of laughter and an honest appreciation of life for the one I lost. This is my belief – I do not mean to offend anyone who feels otherwise but hope you find ways to appreciate life again.

    • Ali

      November 12, 2018 at 3:20 am

      No words can describe the feeling of loosing a child, may God guide the parents of lost children.

    {Thoughts}

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