Not too long after Morgan passed away, a customer at work pulled me aside and asked if she could speak to me privately for a moment.
Turns out, her best friend since high school just lost their child – suddenly and unexpectedly.
She desperately wants to ‘be there’ for her friend – but she doesn’t know how. She timidly asks me for guidance.
After a moment, I replied,
“I really feel for you. I do believe being the friend of a grieving parent is probably the harder road to walk. She may not know what she needs – but she’ll know exactly what she doesn’t want, the minute you do it – – – “
We just don’t expect to outlive our children. We realize if we live long enough, we will bury our parents, lose friends and spouses. But the loss of a child seems to go against the natural order of the Universe. We aren’t ever really prepared for the loss of a loved one, but losing a child shocks our sense of reality as well.
I knew when I wanted space and when I needed a hug. I knew when I wished to talk about my son, or look at pictures and when I opted to distract myself by engaging in any activity that wouldn’t remind me of him.
You, my friend, cannot know that inside information – – You can do your level best to be sensitive to my responses and try to meet the moment – but the fact is, I will be racing through the stages of grief like a roadrunner and sometimes, that race will be run in circles.
I may be in anger one moment and guilt the next. I may want to hear about your life to distract me from my own, until you complain about how your teeny-bopper is acting and I will silently think, “At least you still have them.”
It’s not fair and it’s not right and though I tried mightily hard to forgive those who wounded without intent, I’ll be honest – I lost a lot of friends during my intense grief phase.
True, I had more going on in the ‘loss’ section in addition to my child – but for me, that was the Big One – the one that would blindside me when I least expected and the Grief that could turn my world upside down with no warning.
The anger was the hardest for my family and friends to deal with – there simply was no one I could justifiably fling my angst at. Everyone did their best and the microscopic bacterial meningitis still won – – there was no one to be blame other than the Universe – and people get nervous hanging around you when they think the lightening strike meant for you might hit them.
And while there was plenty of sympathy and support for my periods of crying those first few weeks, most people could not understand or remain calm in the face of my anger.
It didn’t show up as anger over my loss – it came as over-reaction to things that others thought ‘were no big deal.’ I was overly protective of my child and any other that ventured even close to my peripheral vision.
I was overly sensitive to any criticism of any child and those who complained about their teenagers found I was always on their child’s side of the argument – loudly and insistently.
I decided all children were great and all adults sucked and little by little, the loving protection I would have given my son went to any child who, in my opinion, needed shielded from actions of clueless adults. All that was left for the adults was anger. No compassion, no empathy – it all went to their child.
Anger when they complained about what they had – anger that they didn’t appreciate how unique their child was – anger at their belief that dirty socks on the floor, a C in math and a 5 minute curfew infraction mattered when I knew those things didn’t make a tinker’s damn bit of difference in the whole scheme of things.
And then there was disappointment over those who received support from me while they worked through their own troubles and then came out the other side wondering why I was still ‘wallowing’ in it six months later.
Hello – – I coped with mine, by putting it on the back-burner and ignoring it while nursing you through yours – – you’ve gotten it together and now – it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.
I simply can’t cry if you’re crying – – I have to be strong while you’re vulnerable – when you get your stuff together, then I can fall apart…
I waited for those around me to not need me, so I could do my own thing – –
And when I got ready, I wanted to do it alone – – heck, been getting along without help this far, what makes you think I need you now?
(See – – -the anger thingee again)
Those I needed the most were incapable of being there for me when I needed them, so I learned to do without. When they came around later, fresh in their acceptance and new found hope, I wasn’t ready to join in. I wanted the space and support for my healing and they couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t already done.
I also think they had walked through their own version of hell and simply couldn’t stand to revisit it by sticking around while I did my own walk-about.
Since I couldn’t be around them without the feelings of resentment clouding our interactions, I chose to withdraw, until such time as I could forgive myself for expecting what they couldn’t give and them for not providing what I needed. Those who insisted on following me into the cave, demanding that I straighten up and meet them half-way were greeted with snarls. If the snarls were ignored, I made it easy for me – I cut off all communication by informing the intruders I wished no further contact from them.
My series of losses also resulted in a huge change in perspective for me. Life changing events transformed me so quickly the shift that occurred probably registered a 9.7 on the Universe’s Richter scale.
Those around me kept waiting for me ‘to get back to being myself’. They waited for the ‘me’ they knew to show up, so they could feel secure in the knowledge that I was going to be okay.
Because of all the other life events going on at the time, there were some that worried about my name and suicide showing up in the same sentence – Ha! Like I’m giving the Universe the satisfaction.
They took my anger and frequent comments of, “When does it let up? When will the catastrophes stop for a minute, so I can rest?” as indication I might give up – and I was hurt they knew so little about me that would cross their mind.
What they (and I, for awhile) didn’t realize was, I will never be that version of me again. I don’t even want the life I had before. So waiting for the old me to turn up to assure everyone I was okay and back to ‘normal’ was like waiting for hell to freeze over – not happening.
Once I realized that key point, I tried to communicate it to those in my circle. They didn’t understand that I preferred downsizing my life to be able to spend less time working and more time with the child I had left.
My boss didn’t like that I was no longer willing to work 16 hours days. She thought work would be good for me, I knew I already regretted the time I had lost with Morgan – I was not going to repeat that mistake with Nathan.
My friends didn’t understand I was no longer willing to race over to their house every time they needed something – I just wanted to focus on my own backyard for awhile.
Most people don’t like it when you change the rules of engagement without informing them or getting their permission first. For a species that lives in a continually fluctuating Universe, we sure don’t respond well to change…
So if you’re the grieving parent, I tell you life does occur on the other side – but don’t let anyone try and tell you just when or how you get to the other side. If you need to take a sabbatical – do it – don’t wait for ill health to force you into it. (I did and got a vacation in the form of “stroke recovery” – – Hindsight is 20/20)
If your loss caused huge shifts in your goals, beliefs or priorities, so be it – – Be okay with the fact that you may have to shed some relationships in order to form ones more suited to the new you.
Be gentle with yourself – no need to hurry and it’s okay to pretend you’ve stumbled into an alternate reality and this isn’t really happening. Time does take the edge off, and there is no reason why you can’t peel back the layers of pain a little at a time – when you feel strong enough to examine them. May be 6 months or two years – it’s up to you.
If you’re the friend, well – – – it’s not easy sitting quietly by while someone you love battles their own demons. It’s also not always comfortable when that which you once treasured transforms into something else overnight – but if you can, your willingness to walk a road not your own and not complain about the pot holes or detours will be long remembered and much appreciated.