When we first learn our child has died and all our dreams for the future for them are gone, no matter their age or the circumstances, our bodies and minds go into a protective mode. Some call it total numbness or shock, but no matter what it is called, it's normal..
That state of shock or numbness is what allows us the time we need to get through those first days, weeks and months. You may or many not remember some or all of those first days, and that too is OK – in time you may.
As the initial shock and numbness begins to fade, you may not recognize what you feel – you may simply feel overwhelmed and confused and again, that’s OK and very normal. It is impossible to love someone as much as we love our children – from the moment we realize we will be bringing life into this world or for those children who may be well into adulthood, middle age themselves or even older – they are still our children… So it is impossible to say goodbye and not feel overwhelmed, confused and much much more - the list of emotions you will feel is very long...
It's not healthy to bottle these feelings up – they are all normal and if you do try to avoid them or suppress them, you may find yourself feeling even more out of control and experts say that trying to avoid or suppress the grief, most will significantly impact their own health in a very negative way...
For many of us, we might find ourselves lashing out at others when we don’t mean to or that we explode at the simplest deviation from the normal. Nothing is normal as we knew it before our child's death anymore... But remember, during the grieving process, our bodies and minds are almost like a steaming tea kettle or pressure cooker and the variety of feelings and emotions we experience create an immense physical amount of pressure - some refer to it as the "pressure cooker effect". All of these feelings need to be released so that we don’t continue in the frustrating cycle of exploding, being upset by our explosions, building up pressure, and exploding again and again.
Here are some ways you can put some motion to your emotions:
- Acknowledge how much your grief hurts. There is no denying it or ignoring it. Try to live through it, not avoid it. By acknowledging the pain of grief, you heal the hurting. How do you do this? Tell a trusted friend what it feels like. Write it down in a note to yourself. Share what you are experiencing with a counselor or minister or support group. Say it to yourself. Notice what hurts you. Don’t try to figure it out or make it make sense; just notice it.
- Acknowledge your expectations of yourself and others. Make sure you understand what others expect of you and be equally clear in stating your own expectations. Don’t put added pressures on yourself by demanding more than you are able to do. For instance, acknowledge that you expect to be distracted and less efficient at work. Let others know that you intend to make time to walk every other day. Be clear that you may not host the next family festivity because you just don’t want to take on all that extra work right now.
- Find appropriate outlets for the energy that anger gives you. Pound a pillow, weed a garden, yell in the shower, hit golf balls. Lock yourself in your car and scream as loudly as you want to. Hit something soft, and hit it hard. Bang on a piano. Draw a wild picture. Throw things. Have a water fight with a friend. Sounds silly, but trust me - it helps..
- Writing down your thoughts and feelings might help. Don’t get uptight about keeping a journal; only keep a journal if you enjoy that. Otherwise, simply jot down your feelings. You don’t even have to use complete sentences if you don’t want to. If you make notes every day, it will encourage you to go back in several weeks and read them and see how far you have come.
Initially, many of us can't even bear to hear our child’s name or look at their pictures or favorite things without falling apart completely - for others, those things are all we want.. But no matter how you feel initially, there will come a time when those "memories" will warm your heart, so don't get rid of them... When you are ready, consider creating a memory book, a memory box, memory quilt or other special way to keep your memories together to visit in the future.. when you are ready.. At first you might not be able to do this, but little by little as you run across things that are special to you and your child, have a place to store them, so when you are ready, you can hold them once again and smile… You might include special photographs, mementos, letters and bits and pieces of your loved one’s life that remind you of the joy you shared. Ask others to share their memories with you as well. In fact, ask someone to help you gather and organize these things; this kind of task might be overwhelming to you without someone’s help.
Remember – grief is the price we pay for loving someone – so it’s not a bad thing, it's normal… We all grieve differently – there are no right and wrong ways to grieve and there is no time limit or natural progression no matter what you might have been told. We each grieve differently and we grieve differently for different people in our lives that we love - our parents, siblings, relatives, friends and the worst grief of all is that for our children, because it defies all that we believe to be normal - we should never outlive our children. But some of us will and have.
Be gentle and patient with yourself and those around you… And remember, you will get through this, one small step at a time…