The Grief We Hide
An honest look into the grief that bereaved parents hide.
Child loss. How should you react when it happens to someone you know? That is a question I have been asked many times, and to be honest, it is a very difficult question to answer. It has been almost four years since our son, Noah, passed away, and though I do not consider myself to be an expert, recent events have reminded us of the importance of allowing that ugly side of grief show. Why? Why allow such a vulnerable peek inside the heart of a grieving parent? Because when grief is not fully understood, friendships can be broken, and relationships strained and even the best intentions can leave scars that run deep.
Can you please do one thing for me? If you know a parent who is grieving the loss of a child, especially if you are family, can you please reach out to them and make sure they know they are loved and supported? There comes a time when gifts stop and normal sets in. This normal feels so alien to a grieving parent because whether they like it or not, life goes on, days pass and eventually “normal” sets in. When they least expect it they stop anticipating little feet running into the room. They stop looking for that small body sleeping peacefully on the top bunk. Their ears forget the sound of their child’s laughter from down the hall and whether they like it or not, their lives go on. Let me make one thing clear, their grief does NOT go away. It never goes away. Though in different intervals, the waves of grief still come in and often take the feet of a grieving parent right out from under them. Please have patience with them. Unless you have walked in their shoes, you will never know how crippling those waves can be. Especially in the first couple years after losing a child, it is so important to understand that just finding a way keep living for their remaining family is an excruciatingly painful job. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. They have to do what is right for them. Period.
Trust me, their minds are on overdrive just trying to make sure they are going through daily motions. Their minds are foggy, they are often unable to make decisions, and even simple tasks can be crippling at times. They can easily find themselves overwhelmed by even the simplest tasks. They may not be able to sleep thus, making them grumpier or making their emotions more present. They are not being mean or vindictive. They are merely surviving the seemingly unsurvivable.
They may be suffering from PTSD for the things they have had to helplessly watch their child endure; scans, procedures, CPR, resuscitation, clueless doctors, and a fear that all of it could happen again. They may have spent sleepless nights in a hospital praying for healing that would never come.
They may have helplessly witnessed their child die before their eyes and even worse, they may have had to make the decision to remove those life sustaining devices. They may have had to watch the body's reflexes and “natural reactions” to death and felt immediate regret/doubt that they had made the right decision, all the while knowing, deep down, it was the only choice they had. But still hope haunts every part of them.
They may have had to listen to the deafening sound of their child's heart rate slow to nothing, while watching the doctor place the stethoscope to their child's chest and saying those haunting words; time-of-death. They may have only been given 5 minutes to say a lifetime of goodbyes and I love you's before that broken piece of their heart was wheeled to the OR in hopes of giving other people a chance to live. In that moment, they instantly, felt their own body react; they just experienced heartbreak unlike anything they have or could ever experience and that pain may have left them wishing they could die too.
They may be trying to cling to that final glimpse of their child as they turned to leave their lifeless child in the hands of strangers. Everything inside of them wants to run back, pick their baby up and just hold them. But they can't. Instead, they have to defy all parental instincts and for the first time, have to admit to themselves that their child is dead. They are not coming home. Trust me, you never recover from the images of those last moments. They relive that nightmare countless times, replaying everything desperately searching for something they missed; they must have missed something.
They may have regrets; things left unsaid, vacations never planned, time never spent. And many times, they may have a better appreciation for the value of time. They may view parenting differently, after all, maybe their other children are hurting too and need a hug instead of a spanking. They may not think your parenting meme, about how frustrating children can be, is "funny". Truth is, they would relive all of those frustrating parenting moments just for the chance to hold their child again.
You see, grief is so much more than what you see on the surface, and I would pray that we all would treat each other differently if we could see those unspoken truths. Everybody handles grief in different ways, and that is ok. But just because you don’t see the tears doesn’t mean it is gone; it is never gone. No matter how many days, weeks, months, years pass, it never leaves and some days those suffocating images and feelings come flooding in and take us back to the day our hell began.
So what can you do to help a grieving parent? Be kind, check in often, and listen. Because that pointed letter and harsh words will not bring resolution to a broken friendship. Because true friends realize that when a grieving parent goes silent or MIA, they are merely struggling to get their heads back above the waves that keep pounding them down. Because sometimes a grieving parent needs to tell their story a thousand times until they can find the strength to climb back up their mountain of grief and stand on their feet again. It is only then that they find the strength to continue on their journey towards the day when their hell will end and they will finally get to hold the thing that is most valuable to them; that missing piece to their hearts.