How do you make sense of a sudden, unexpected loss of a loved one?
It all seems unfathomable when one moment you are enjoying ordinary moments with those you love — school shopping, out with friends or vacationing.
Then the next moment you are faced with the unthinkable. Although it is impossible to compare the pain of grief, the sudden, traumatic loss of someone close to you is a heartbreak like no other.
My family was experiencing one of those moments when we were on vacation in Pismo Beach, California. Our plans were to camp on the beach and enjoy some time riding ATVs on the dunes.
Suddenly, without warning, plans changed as we saw our daughter Nicole get off course and ride her ATV off a steep, vertical sand dune.
We watched in horror as she plunged to the bottom, with the ATV landing on top of her.
My mind could not absorb what my eyes were seeing. Everything around me seemed to slow down and blur. 9-1-1 was called, and an ambulance took our girl away. As our family gathered at the hospital, we prayed for a miracle.
When the doctor broke the news to us that Nicole had not made it, my world was forever changed.
My mind could not absorb what my ears were hearing. Someone told me that I was in shock. I believe it could also be called God’s Divine Protection. I was only able to assimilate small bits of information at a time.
If I had been hit with the full brunt of that reality, I wouldn’t have been able to survive.
1. Suddenness Adds Difficulty
The traumatic death of a child in any situation brings on unimaginable pain. But sudden, sometimes violent loss adds another layer because our brains have to absorb the sudden shock. I believe the more unexpected the loss, the more time it will take for your mind to absorb the terrible thing that has happened.
Recent headlines radically reflect this, through the violent, tragic events that have taken place across our country. One minute people are enjoying festivals, shopping and being out with friends. The next moment, their lives are altered forever. Mothers separated from their children; husbands separated from their wives.
Thrust into these situations, your bodies and minds experience a myriad of emotions. You may feel as though you are trying to find your footing in another dimension into which you’ve been forced, where you don’t want to be, but feel terminally trapped.
2. Take the Time Necessary to Process
This time of recognition is part of the grieving process. In the Standard Stages of Grief, this is called the Denial Stage. I believe God created your brain this way on purpose, as a means of protection.
If you were to realize the full brunt of your new reality, your mind could not contain it. Some would call it Psychological Shock, but I would call it Divine Protection.
I believe our culture doesn’t allow people enough time to fully and adequately grieve.
Modern train of thought is that you handle grief well if you get over it and move on quickly.
That is not necessarily true. You need to allow yourself, and others, time to embrace the loss. That is when the healing begins.
If you put off the grief or try to hide it, it will just come bubbling up in other areas of your life. And while you may feel very off-kilter, I promise, embracing the grief process gives so much more healing and re-centering than denying the emotions or trauma.
If you don’t deal with it now, you WILL have to deal with it later. And it may be much more explosive, overwhelming, or painful.
Grief is not something that can be fixed or cured, nor should it be. Truly, grief is only experienced because of love. After a significant loss, we are not restored to our original condition.
You will never “get over” it, or even “move on.” No, that implies leaving love behind because of tragedy.
We carry love and our loved ones with us. But we can move forward. You will never be as you once were, but you can embrace a new normal. There are hope and healing within our grief.
3. Don’t Rush Yourself
It may take weeks to realize your loss fully. Don’t be alarmed when you feel like you have to experience the same thoughts of denial day after day. Those thoughts will spread out, and your mind will eventually absorb the truth of your loss.
4. Give Yourself Freedom to Grieve in Your Way
Grief is a profoundly personal journey, so it is essential that you not compare yourself to others in pain. For some, it may be helpful to visit the site of the accident or traumatic event. For others, they never want ever to visit that place again.
When my daughter Nicole passed away, the nurses asked me if I wanted to see her in the hospital. I know they expected a yes, but for me, I said no. I needed to remember her fully alive.
For others, it is the opposite. I spoke to a beautiful mama who had lost her daughter in a car accident; she said that she needed to see her sweet girl. She hugged and kissed her deceased daughter. That is what she needed to do to say goodbye.
So, grieve freely and allow yourself to be yourself. Honor the place that your loved one had in your life.
5. Accept Help
It is okay to let people know that you need time alone to process. However, you must allow some of your inner circle in to keep an eye on you. When people are in pain, they can tend to isolate. You can’t always trust your feelings during this season.
You must create a buffer of a few “safe” people around you. Be honest with them. Let them hold you while you cry. Know they won’t judge you when you laugh. But above all, be real and sincere with them. They can keep you safely anchored to truth and light when the darkness feels too heavy.
Accidents are so hard. It can feel much harder, much darker when a deliberate choice and action of someone takes the life or lives of others. Feel every feeling and know it’s okay. There’s no right or wrong.
But know, above all, you still control your actions and responses to these tragedies.
Grief is a journey; however long it may take. Just keep moving, backward or forwards. Don’t get stuck, don’t set up camp in grief and trauma.
I don’t know why these tragedies happen or why God allows one to be taken and the other one left. There is no answer on this side of Heaven, but I do believe that even in the darkness of our grief, there can be purpose and healing. Remember, suffering brings perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
And hope does not disappoint.
Whatever loss befalls you, may you be redeemed with hope.
May you love fiercely and deeply and always, never forgetting or leaving the ones you love behind.
May you find purpose and healing in your own life.
And someday, may you again find joy. This is my prayer for you.