"Think of your grief as a wilderness - a vast, mountainous, inhospitable forest. You are in the wilderness now. You are in the midst of unfamiliar and often brutal surroundings. You are cold and tired. Yet you must journey through this wilderness. To find your way out, you must become acquainted with its terrain and learn how to follow the sometimes hard -to-find trail that leads to healing." - Alan Wolfelt
As a parent who has lost a child, I remember the first time I read those words. I remember saying, "Yes! Finally." Someone was able to put into words exactly what I felt for the first time in two years. I did not know this new place in my life. It was dark, no one seemed to understand, and, as much as I tried, I could not explain it to them. There were no words to describe my pain and yearning. What I wanted was to have my daughter back, to feel happy one more time. I wanted to redo the entire two years of her life, taking it all in once more. To hear her laugh or watch her dance one more time.
I wanted my world back.
But, no matter how much I cried, screamed, yearned, wished... It was gone.
I hurt, but I felt nothing. I was in darkness, yet all around me were happy people with their children living in light. I had difficulty sleeping, but when I did it was bittersweet because with the morning came the realization that my life was no longer my own. My daughter used to wake me with "Good morning, momma". As soon as my eyes opened, the realization that I wouldn't hear that voice anymore took my breath away.
I searched everywhere for answers - go to a concert, go out with friends, dive into work, start a new hobby ... Whatever pushed down my feelings. If I could take my mind off of it, then it would go away.
Except, that's not what happened. Instead, my pain got worse. I would be standing in a grocery store, see her favorite snack, and have to leave to avoid a panic attack or a crying spell in public. I struggled to get through daily activities, and I felt like no one understood, so I often did not turn to anyone for help. A cycle formed: push down what feeling you had, trigger, cry alone, find something new to do ...
One day, I couldn't push away the pain anymore, and I leaned in. I watched a video of her dancing to Elmo on the television with juice cup in her hand. It was one of my favorite videos, and Facebook was ready to remind me that it had been two years since that day ... I leaned in. Oddly enough, I hurt less. Over the next few weeks, I leaned in more - her favorite songs, pictures, places, bought her favorite snacks and ate them. It's not that it didn't hurt. It did, badly. However, after the crying had stopped, I felt a little better. I could watch more. Today, sometimes I'll still cry but, mostly, I watch them with laughter and remembrance. They bring more comfort than pain now.
Grief is love. We hold so much love for our children, and once they are no longer with us, where does it go? I sometimes feel love gets stuck inside us, where the love turns to grief, then growing and overflowing. The more that we avoid the grief, the more that it overflows. It starts to beg to be attended to, heard, felt, and seen. Then, when it becomes too full, the grief flows out of us as anger, sadness, panic, distress ... As long as we avoid it, the grief will keep overflowing and spilling out into the world in less productive ways.
But, when we attend to the grief ... when we hold it in our arms, watch the videos, tell their stories, put up their pictures, feel the hurt, speak our feelings, give ourselves grace for work through the most devastating event of our life ... then we take control over our grief, and we turn it back into love. We can let that love spill back into the world whether we help our neighbor, start a non-profit, or just simply enjoy the life we've been given. We exude the love we have for our children.
Whatever you're feeling - it's okay. There's no guide for the loss of a child, and it is the most difficult time of your life. If you're angry - acknowledge it. If you're sad - let the tears fall. If you need a day - take it. Let yourself feel it all. Just remember that your grief is just the love for your child in disguise. Lean in.
(Leaning in may be difficult for some. There are counselors and support groups to help. It's okay if you can't do it alone. I couldn't either. There are people here to help, and we're happy to help you find them.)