“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go”
~ Jamie Anderson
July is bereaved parents awareness month. While Addy’s Colors focuses much of our time to bring fun and resources to families, we don't shy away from the reality that sometimes the unspeakable happens – a family loses their child. It is within this worst time of their lives that families need more love, support, and acceptance. We hope to be that safe place.
As a bereaved parent, I understand the pain that comes with losing a child. Unlike theorists describe, it is not a straight line through different stages that you move through then, poof, you are cured! It just does not work that way…
For me, it was an overwhelming number of feelings that I could experience at any given moment with various intensity: sadness, guilt, physical and emotional pain, longing, denial, and even sometimes happiness in remembering the good times. Within any one moment, I would feel one or all of these. I am now two years into my journey, and the waves are further apart, but they have not stopped, nor will they ever. I am not sure that I would want them to disappear completely because that means I would not be thinking of her or sharing her story. Now, however, I can remember the good times with happiness. I can think of her and laugh.
It was not always that way. It takes time and healing. I remember one day in particular that was extremely difficult. I was walking through the grocery store (one of our favorite chores to do together), when the theme song from "Moana" came over the speakers. Addy loved that song, and it was one she sang during her treatment. I tried to ignore it, to keep walking, reminding myself it would go off, but it was too much. I left my cart and walked out the store. Sitting in the car, I felt overwhelmed with feelings: embarrassed, sad, angry... What was wrong with me? It was a song!
Have you ever felt that way? Something small brings a flood of memories of your loved one, leaving you overcome with emotion? Addy's death has taught me to give myself a little grace, and we hope that in sharing you can find that for yourself as well. We cannot rush our healing. It comes within its own time, and it does not come quickly. I now understand that there will not come a day that I wake up to find that my grief is gone. It is a life-long process, filled with ups and downs, good days and bad. With grace, I study and explore grief, and, when the bad days do come, as they will, I give myself a little time, understanding, and love. I may have to step aside to allow the feelings to wash over me, or I may watch a good movie with some ice cream. It is okay to allow yourself to feel whatever feelings arise and to give yourself grace to heal.
How do you know if you're healing? Coping can be a little counter intuitive. You may see one person who is crying and think, "He/she is not doing well". You may see another who appears "normal", and you think he/she is doing great! There are extremes of both; however, it is never healthy to push down grief. Grief has to be felt and explored. Otherwise, it continues to rise until you finally acknowledge it. Healthy coping is allowing yourself to feel the grief and to work through. It means learning to be kind to yourself and to initiate self-care. It also means talking about your loved one and sharing their memories. Healing comes in different ways for different people. I’ll share more of my healing journey with you this month as well, and we’ll explore the differences in healing and things that may stand in the way of your healing.
As you journey through grief, if you look closely with an open heart, you will find gifts. I know… Nothing in grief is ever as it seems, is it? I remember someone saying this to me during my grief journey, and it seemed so ridiculous. Please feel free to roll your eyes as I did! It does happen, though, and if you are working on your grief, the gifts will come to you as well.
You see, as you work on and acknowledge your grief, things change. You change. In many ways, these changes are brought about by your loved one. You may find, as was in my case, a new support system who not only accepts that you have been in pain but sits with you in the struggle. They enjoy the best of times with you, and they are there when the worst times arise. You may find yourself looking for meaning in your life – bringing about new opportunities. Maybe you find a job that allows you to feel fulfilled. Maybe you take that vacation you’ve been waiting on. Maybe you set aside more time for your family. The best gift, though, can come within yourself. You learn to love yourself more, take care of yourself, and appreciate the good things in life with more happiness because you understand how quickly it can be taken away.
So, for July, we open our hearts to the families who have lost a child. Over the next four weeks, we will explore grief: theories of grief, feelings that rise, coping strategies, and gifts that we find within grief. Each week there will be meditations, quotes, exercises, resources, and a little hope. This isn’t just for those who are bereaved, though! We encourage family and friends to also read more, as it will help you understand the person in your life who has experienced the loss of their child. For bereaved parents, we have a group for specifically, and additional resources will be added there as well. Please join us as we journey together and feel to share your thoughts and experiences.