Why a glimpse behind the curtain to the deeply personal and hidden grief of a bereaved parent? Not to inspire your pity; of that I can assure you. Instead to inspire others to look beyond the surface of a grieving friend or family member. To consider how families are affected by loss, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as the unique family dynamics that result; which might help you comfort, support and encourage them. The bereaved desperately want to be understood, to have their feelings validated, to break free of the isolation, to mourn unrushed, to have another share their sorrow (not attempt to fix it). This post was written months ago and is not reflective of my current state of mind.
It’s time to get up, past time really. Breakfast, shower, dressing . . . then my turn. It all takes time, but I just do not want to get up and we’ll be late if I don’t get moving soon.
It’s raining. Again. I hate rain during the daytime. Hair appointments at noon. Still, I’d rather stay in bed. Bury my head in my pillow — close my eyes — forget the world, it’s disappointments, my responsibilities — life and the fact that I’m still living it. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. Why must I get up? Why must I breathe in and out? Why must I do it all over and over again?
For the love of Gracen.
For the love of Gracen.
It’s all for the love of Gracen.
My heart is anchored here but I long to flee — from what happened — from what is yet to come — to fly far, far away. To flee this unwelcome reality — oh, to be able to pretend it never happened! To be able to board a time machine and travel back, back before the collision, back before diagnosis, back before Katie, before Gracen, before Bethany and Cole. Back before marriage, back before love, back before David, back before my very existence, erasing every footprint, every memory of me. Back before every bit of my existence tainted the lives of the people I love far more than life. Just to have the opportunity to un-hurt others by erasing me.
It’s 10:34 a.m., I have to get up . .
I can’t. I just can’t do it.
Call David ask him to cancel our appointments. Ring, ring.
Oh, no, she’s up! Hang up the phone. Get it together before she sees you!
Ring, ring . . . Oh, crap, David’s calling back and Gracen’s right here! I can’t talk in front of her.
Leaping off the bed, head down.
“Hey, Janet, Did you call me?”
Leave the room NOW! Find a place where she can’t hear you!
“Janet, I can’t hear you . . .” David’s voice comes over the phone line.
“Janet? Janet? What’s wrong?” David’s voice is Frantic now.
“Janet?, What’s wrong?”
More crying. I hear David’s breath hitch through the phone line.
“I’m sorry I had to leave the room.”
“She’s up. She’s in the bathroom.”
Another sob slips out.
“I’ve just run out of the energy necessary to force myself to do this today. I was just calling to ask you to cancel our hair appointments.”
“I’m coming home.” Frantic.
“No, no, don’t come home. I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay. I just can’t keep our appointments. Not enough time left now anyway. I’m up. I can take care of Gracen. I just don’t want her to see me like this — to worry her.”
“Where are you?”
“Katie’s room.” The room next door to Gracen’s that now holds two twin beds without sheets and blankets, void of anything personal. Katie’s empty room spins through my mind.
“I’m sorry for upsetting you. Can you please just cancel our appointments? I can’t talk to anyone right now.”
“Don’t come home, David. I’ll get it together. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!”
Forty-three more days until Gracen heads to college. I simply cannot unravel for forty-three more days. I tell myself, take your meds — get it together. You can get up for forty-three more days. You can. You can. You will.
The Calm After the Storm
Wow! How did that get so out of control?
It was Gracen’s appearance at the same time David called back. The ring tone flooding my system with adrenaline, silent tears turned to sobs as I desperately tried to flee my room preventing Gracen from seeing me in such a state.
Oh, she’s seen me cry before, but only the controlled version. Not ugly, wretched sobs.
But today I was not able to shelter Gracen from my grief. I upset her although no words were spoken. I know she is afraid she will lose another family member; she recently admitted as much. I fear that too, but for her, all that’s left to lose are her parents — the people who have always represented safety and security to her. I don’t want to inflame her fears.
And David — he’s seen discouragement and apathy, he’s held me through tear filled nights, he’s shouldered extra burdens when normal parts of life just seem to overwhelm me. He’s been party to a meltdown or two or ten, but to receive a call at work — never before has he had to cope with a long distance breakdown even when I called to tell him an ambulance was transporting Gracen and I to the ER after a frantic 911 call. Today, I could hear the fear in his voice. It devastates me to know I did that to him!
Heaping fear upon grief — I shoulder my load — Gracen’s and David’s too, as they are forced to shoulder mine as well. Grief felt far more individual when Cole died — or maybe time has just softened the memories, blurring the rough edges of grief, leaving some sharp and biting and others smooth and fading.
Helping the Bereaved Bear their Burdens
1. Understand that it is often a struggle for those who mourn to get out of bed, do everyday tasks, leave their homes, socialize. Others become hyper involved; anything to keep themselves moving, distract themselves from the constant pain. Those who mourn may bounce back and forth between the two extremes.
2. Realize that the bereaved often perform a grieving cha, cha, cha of sorts. They try to attack their grief, process and get through it, then overwhelmed, try to suppress it, hide from it, deny it’s existence and ignore it. Be prepared to go with the flow. Talk through their struggles with them if they bring them up, or grant them the freedom to talk about other things.
3. Be aware that grieving families often continue to be hit with additional health problems, trips to doctors, hospitals and emergency rooms can trigger mild to dramatic traumatic responses. What may be a minor problem produces anxiety on steroids. Pray them through, sit with them, validate their fears.
4. Wives seem to take responsibility for maintaining the emotional equilibrium in the home: husbands strive to protect and shelter. Loss makes both feel anywhere from inadequate to utterly incompetent. Grieving men need attention too. Most will never ask for it. Invite men to sporting events, movies, poker night, fishing or lunch. They may not talk about their grief, but your presence signals support and encouragement.
5. Understand that deep grief often brings remorse for having been born at all. Job felt this way. Pay attention to suicidal comments — don’t discount them. A desire to have never been born and suicidal intentions are not synonymous, however, comments to that effect should not be overlooked. Pray for wisdom and discernment to hear exactly what the individual is communicating through veiled speech.
6. Be aware that the sense of personal safety and security has been destroyed for every member of the family. Fear of experiencing another loss is both common and rational. While uncommon, many families have suffered separate and subsequent deaths of immediate family members. Please don’t discount or brush off a bereaved parent’s fears in this area. It is a legitimate fear and they need it acknowledged.