Healing Your Heart
In the early days after the loss of a child, we may try to anesthetize ourselves to the experience to some degree. We can’t or we choose not to feel the full impact of this unbearable loss. We are overwhelmed with grief. The tendency is to just “get through it.” It’s a survival mechanism. But all the residual pain we prevent ourselves from feeling is still inside us, waiting, and there it will stay until we are strong enough to face it. Our emotions aren’t ethereal sentiments. They are real substances that move through our bodies and affect us in both positive and negative ways. Ultimately, we have to be able to feel it before we can heal it.
Our child has died. It is there, at the very core of our loss, where healing is most needed. It is there where we feel the most pain. And it is there where we lay the foundation for eventually healing our hearts. Some say this process takes a year, at least. For me, it lasted a great deal longer.
In my own grieving process, writing helped me to stay present with the grief. Day after day, I carried my grief like a newborn, holding it, feeling it, looking into its face, tending to what felt like a new member of my family. I once heard someone refer to the grief you feel when you lose a child as “sweet grief.” Certainly it didn’t feel sweet for a very long time, but eventually I began to understand. Sweet grief–because the grief you feel is a living, breathing connection to your child. Sweet grief–because grief, like love, is a powerful, very human emotion. Because you love deeply, you grieve deeply. Sweet grief–because the grief that you carry in your heart will never be greater than your love.
Grief is not a linear process. You don’t walk through grief as much as you learn to walk with it. It’s full of starts and stops, ups and downs, gains and losses. And just when you think you understand what this grief is, it changes and you find yourself in a strange land once more. Be patient, be present. Your grief will unfold from within. One day your child will once again be a blessed presence in your life.
Do your work. Heal your heart.
The greatest honor you can give you child is to live your life with as much joy, integrity, love, compassion and appreciation as you can. You must keep your heart open to the love you will always have for your child as you continue to give your love to the family by your side. Stay engaged in life, stay connected. It takes time and work to heal but I promise that if you do the work of grieving, if you just keep taking the next step on the grieving path, you will one day be able to step back into life with joy and love.
We have found ways of staying connected to our son on a daily basis. He’ll always be an important part of our family. We have a digital picture frame in the family room with dozens of pictures of our family including many of our beloved Mason. We have created an altar of sorts with some of his favorite things in the den. We tell ‘Mason’ stories, especially at family gatherings. We say his name often. We keep his presence present.
Another way to honor your child is to create a scholarship in his name. The recipient can be someone who shared a dream, a job, a disease or a desire that was near and dear to your child’s heart. If your child had a particular cause or passion, volunteer your time or money to advance it. And always, when given the opportunity to better the world in some way, do it in his name.
Be willing to recognize messages from your child. These are gifts! A sign is anything you can imagine that serves to remind you that your child, though no longer here, is still close by. It could be a particular song, a vivid memory or dream, a sunset, a clanging church bell, a shooting star or a firefly. It can be anything that feels like a connection from your child’s soul to your own. When you feel your heart lighten, your child has just reached out to you.
Appreciate these gifts fearlessly!
A look back, a look ahead
I think this is a good place to update my grieving process. I remember all too well the feeling that my life was essentially over. The death of my son was not something I could live with with any degree of ease. Ever. Life was now just something to be endured.
What I didn’t know early on was that grief is not static. It evolves. The face of my grief changed from something unimaginably shattering to something I could live with. Barely. The change was slow and it was not always palpable. Anything that shapes your life on a daily basis is subject to change so subtle as to be unnoticed. Your family, your relationships, your home, your job, your weight, your health, your happiness and your sorrow, all change, moment by moment. But these changes usually remain undetected until you are far enough away from where you began to be able to look back and see how far you’ve come.
This is the postscript; I have found peace. I feel grateful for my life. I am blessed, truly blessed. Once again, I feel hope.
And I never saw it coming.