The thing about the death if a child is that it doesn’t only change one thing…or even a group of things. It changes everything!
The first thing changed, of course, is the huge vacancy left by the departed child. There is absolutely nothing that can fill that void. The whole landscape of a parent’s world has changed; their whole lives have changed. Bereaved parents speak of losing their bearings, of feeling like they are falling down a black hole with nothing to stop their fall, of being adrift on a vast ocean with waves of grief threatening to down them, of losing themselves or of feeling lost, of the world looking bleak and dark. Absolutely everything surrounding a bereaved parent changes. Nothing is the same.
The second thing changed is the people involved. The closer a person is to the child who died, the more that person is changed. As a mother, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am nowhere near the person I used to be. Once strong, I am now broken. Once trusting, now wary. Once open, now guarded. Once hopeful, now struggling with hopelessness. Once easily laughing, now struggling to hide my sadness. Once positive, now skirting the depths of depression. I could go on and on.
The third thing changed is relationships. People disappear immediately or over time. Friends we thought we could count on are no longer anywhere to be found. Meeting new people is difficult, because some of them can’t handle or don’t know how to react to such a loss. Even answering the simple question “How many children do you have?” is tricky. It’s the rare person who comes alongside a broken person for the long haul.
The fourth thing changed is the future. The path of graduations, marriages, grandchildren – all of these change. The assumed path is obliterated, and we have to find a new path to walk – one that will no longer include these events for or with our child. We have to figure out a way to rejoice in the celebrations and events of others while masking our own sorrow at not being able to celebrate these events with our child who died.
The fifth thing changed is our physical being. Energy levels drop. Some people find solace in drugs or alcohol. Weight gain, insomnia, eating too little, eating too much, heart palpitations, hair greying or loss, just to name a few. Grief is a huge stressor on our bodies, so it is a logical conclusion that our bodies would be affected. And, yes, you can die from a broken heart, as recent research has shown.
Another thing that changes is jobs and hobbies. A job or career that once brought satisfaction or fulfillment (or at least was worth working to pay the bills) no longer satisfies or fulfills. Hobbies that were once fun now are fraught with painful memories or no longer hold the same appeal. There is a deep yearning for life to have meaning, and former jobs/careers or hobbies no longer seem to hold much meaning. Bereaved parents look for a new way to find fulfillment. Surely something good has to come from all this pain, doesn’t it? Surely there is something I could do that would honor the memory of our son and his life.
I’m sure there are many other changes bereaved parents experience. We are truly between a rock and a hard place – wishing we could change that moment in time when our child died, all the while trying to figure out how to create a meaningful future. I welcome your input. Hugs to each of you on your continued and changed journey.
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney