I was rereading my journal entry from April 27, 2002 where I wrote about telling Debra* how we’d been left alone so much. Her response was that it had only been seven weeks, like that was not enough time to be as lonely as I felt. I had also written comments in other entries to the effect that it seems it was an eternity ago…and yet it seems like it was just yesterday. That got me thinking about how perception of time and future change following the death of a child. It’s like you enter a time warp.
When your child dies, it’s like your sense of progressive time is thrown way out of kilter. (A LOT of things are thrown way out of kilter…and time is one of them.) In “regular” time, one thing progresses after another. Your child is born, he learns to talk and walk, he gets an education, develops relationships, you see certain inclinations and strengths. You look behind and see what’s happened, and then look ahead at the trajectory of those things to see somewhat expected outcomes. You see trajectories for yourself, for your children, for your family. It’s logical.
The death of your child is not logical and it throws that whole trajectory system out of whack. The past is still there, but the trajectories into the future are gone. Blown up. Obliterated.
In “regular” life, you walk through one day generally (or specifically) making plans for the next day, the next month, the next year. You know that you are walking on solid ground – a life with a path that follows a trajectory into the future – and that your next step will more-than-likely be on solid ground. When your child dies, the ground just disappears and you’re left in the dark facing a huge, black chasm. You don’t know where to step next; the ground is uncertain and shaky.
Added to that is the fact that, for a bereaved parent, just getting through one moment, one hour, one day at a time takes a lot of effort. Living one day, especially early on, knowing that your child is forever gone and that you will have to learn to live without him takes an unbelievable amount of effort and energy. You have to concentrate on things that you would normally take for granted. Like breathing, putting one foot in front of the other one step at a time, trying to make even the most basic decisions. That may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s true. It takes concentrated energy to do anything and everything.
Generally, we can count on getting a certain amount of things done in an average day and plan accordingly. You know approximately what a day will hold. For a bereaved parent, that perception of time changes. An hour/day/week in a bereaved parent’s life does not equal an hour/day/week in a non-bereaved person’s life. An hour, a day can become llllooooooonnnnnnnnggggggggg, especially if the bereaved parent has little support or is left alone. A week seems like an eternity. It’s like those scenes in the movies or on TV when the film editor has cranked the speed to super sllllllllooooooowwwww mmmooooootttttttiiiiiiiiooooooon. Time drags on endlessly.
Have you ever been in a position of just sitting, waiting for someone or for something to happen? If you don’t have a book to read or something to do, it seems like time can stretch really long. You’re so glad when it ends and you can move on to something else.
For a bereaved parent, the time stretches really long, especially if there is not a strong support system…but there is no “something else” to move on to. There is no place to go to get away from the pain. It may seem to those around a bereaved parent that checking in once in a while (once a week, every couple of weeks, once a month) is support. But if that’s all there is, it may seem like it’s a little too “few and far between” to a bereaved parent.
We mostly had people who would call or visit once in a while. One gal was around more at the beginning, but then dropped off quite a bit within a couple of months. While I was thankful when someone would call or visit, it seemed like a long time in between and I felt incredibly alone in the meantime. My perception of time was not the same as others. I struggled with feeling abandoned by people I counted on to be there for us for consistent support from the beginning and, because of my personality and the fact that it seemed like it was so far between moments of caring, I ended up being very guarded with my hurting heart.
I also noticed that both Joe and I lost track of our ages. It was like time was passing by, but we were still the same age as when Jason died. I still feel like I’m that age. It’s weird. It’s like time stops…yet keeps on going. Time warp.