Between a Rock and a Hard Place – After the Death of a Child: Trying to figure out how keep on living

 

 

3ba6f4816f1b8a7144239926911e1bc9I recently got a text from a friend whose co-worker’s daughter committed suicide. When I told my husband about it, he said, “I don’t understand why anyone would commit suicide. Why would someone not want to live? Why would they want to die?” Joe is a very black and white person, while I have always been a person who sees both sides of a coin. When Joe was a young boy, his grandfather (the person for whom Joe was named) committed suicide. Suicide has never been something that he could get his head around.

After sitting there for just a moment, I told him that I could understand why someone wouldn’t want to live any more. Sometimes the pain is so great that it reaches a point where it seems no longer bearable. I told him that, right after Jason died, there were a few times when I just wanted to drive in front of a semi truck to end the extreme, crushing pain in my broken heart. I told him there were also a few times when I had to specifically and determinedly take just one sleeping pill that the doctor had prescribed and intentionally put the pill bottle away, because, when the pain and agony of losing Jason were so great and so overwhelming, I really wanted to take the whole bottle. I could hardly stand the pain of Jason’s death. It just crushed me. I had to specifically, determinedly, intentionally choose to live when the pain was so great that I just wanted to die. I realized that dying was not an option for me. Dying may have ended my pain, but I would have passed it on exponentially to those I loved and that was one thing I could not do.

I had to focus on living. There were days when remembering Jason, the wonderful, beautiful person he was and his love of life were the only things that got me through. There were days when only the thought of our daughter, Jenna, got me through. There were days when I had to find something of beauty to focus on. There were some days when I struggled to find something to focus on, but I kept on trying.

When I told these things to Joe, he said, “I didn’t know that. Why didn’t you tell me?” I didn’t tell him because I didn’t want to add to the burden of grief he was already carrying. I don’t like feeling like I’m a burden. It’s taken me 16 years to actually say these things out loud to him.

I know that I am not the only bereaved parent who has had the thought of wishing to die following the death of their child cross their mind, whether it’s just a passing thought or actually becomes a struggle to choose to live.  It’s just not something we talk about.

No one tells you that you may want to die. No one tells you that you may lie in bed and pray for your heart to stop. That even your most cherished and beloved children and husband may not be able to rouse you from the depths of your sorrow. That even the breathtaking sunrises and majestic shooting stars above won’t give you pause.

No one tells you this.

(Although written about the death of a sibling, this is equally true – if not more so – about a parent whose child has died.)

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/cora-neumann/no-one-tells-you-this-about-loss-so-i-will_b_10154122.html

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Parents of children and adolescents who die are found to suffer a broad range of difficult mental and physical symptoms. As with many losses, depressed feelings are accompanied by intense feelings of sadness, despair, helplessness, loneliness, abandonment, and a wish to die [28]. Parents often experience physical symptoms such as insomnia or loss of appetite as well as confusion, inability to concentrate, and obsessive thinking [17]. Extreme feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, panic, and hyper-vigilance can also accompany the sadness and despair.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK220798/

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Research on the impact of bereavement as a trauma has emphasized significant negative psychological and health outcomes. For instance, Stroebe, Stroebe, and Abakoumkin (2005) found that bereaved persons, especially those with extreme emotional loneliness and severe depressive symptoms, are at risk for suicidal ideation. Li, Laursen, Precht, Olsen, and Mortensen (2005) found that bereaved parents, especially mothers, were at increased risk for a first psychiatric hospitalization as compared with nonbereaved parents. In fact, maternal risk of hospitalization remained significantly elevated 5 years or more after the death. Using Danish national registries, these investigators also found that mortality rates were higher among bereaved than nonbereaved parents, particularly for deaths due to unnatural causes (e.g., accidents and suicide) within the first 3 years after the child’s death (Li, Precht, Mortensen, & Olson, 2003). Bereavement was associated with long-term mortality due to illness (e.g., cancer) for the mothers, presumably because of stress, a weakened immune system, or poor health behaviors (e.g., smoking, alcohol consumption).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841012/

Now, I’m not saying that all bereaved parents (or even some) are going to want to die or will have to be committed to a mental hospital or anything like that. What I am saying is that it is not an easy thing to do, this figuring out how to keep on living and finding meaning in life when your child has died. Besides my own experience, I can give three examples from my own life of people I personally knew who struggled following the death of their child.

  • The first is a woman whose children were part of the homeschool group when our kids were in grade school. Among other things, they were in a grade-school choir with our children. I lost track of her after we moved to the north end of Seattle and our kids grew up. After Jason died, I heard that her son, as a young adult, committed suicide. Not long after his death, she chose to end her own life.
  • The second is a woman whose son died when he was struck by a train the year after Jason died. At the time, what I remember people talking about is how, in their opinion, she was drinking way too much alcohol. This was less than a year after Jason died, and I remember thinking it was so unfair to judge her for drinking and that, if I had been so inclined, I probably would have been drinking too much, too. I don’t remember hearing sympathy or discussions of ways to help; I only heard judgment.
  • The third is a woman from the homeschool group we were in when our kids were in junior and senior high. Her son was born the same year Jason was and was in some homeschool classes and activities with our kids. He came down with aggressive pancreatic cancer as a young man – 21 years old, married with two small children – and died after a short, horrific illness. Going to his funeral was so incredibly hard for me. I sat in the back row in case I needed to leave in a hurry. Four and a half years after he died, his mom came down with a similar and equally aggressive cancer, dying within a few months after diagnosis. Both of them are buried a stone’s throw from where Jason and Alina are buried. (Because I had written the earlier article following the death of the young man hit by a train, after this young man died of cancer, I heard from several people how helpful a resource it was in their efforts to support his mom.)

The loss of a child is widely accepted as one of the most profoundly painful, intense, and devastating types of bereavement. It has been associated with heightened risk for various poor psychosocial and physical health outcomes, including psychiatric illness, existential suffering, marital problems, and even mortality…Grief also tends to persist longer among bereaved parents than for other bereaved populations, often lasting in some intensity for the remaining duration of the parent’s life…This longevity of suffering largely may be due to the struggle parents frequently encounter in making meaning of their untimely loss. Prior studies have in fact demonstrated that parents’ difficulties with finding meaning often persist for years, and for those who initiate a search for understanding but fail in their quest, the risk for poor adjustment increases considerably…

Following the loss of a loved one, individuals are often driven to search for meaning in both the loss and their lives…The loss of a child can be especially disruptive to one’s meaning structures; it is often perceived as “senseless” …and can rattle a parent’s sense of understanding about the way the world works and his or her purpose in life. Forced to transform their identity as a “parent,” a bereaved mother or father frequently faces a unique existential crisis…A large proportion of these parents must somehow reconcile an event that challenges the expected order of life events and threatens their sense of identity, purpose, and legacy as well as the very meaning of their child’s life…

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3745996/ – Please see original for citations; removed for readability purposes.

The fact of the matter is that every day we have to find a way to choose to keep on living. We may struggle to try to find some sense in the senseless act of our child’s death. Perhaps we find that elusive “meaning” or “purpose.” Perhaps we simply do the best we can with what we have and live our lives as best we can.

No matter what the circumstance, if you are struggling with finding a reason to go on, I hope and pray that you realize that you are not alone. Talk to someone – a pastor, a friend, a counselor. Call the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-8255).

If the first or second or third person doesn’t really hear you, keep on trying. There are a lot of uninformed/misinformed, fearful (of deep grief) people out there, professionals included. I talked to a counselor (no idea how to deal with deep grief, not every counselor can be an expert on everything), I tried to talk to friends (yeah, a lot I could say there). I went to a Compassionate Friends meeting (awful experience, never went back). I called and left a voicemail for Jason’s soccer coach (who had lost two children in a fire, no reply). I eventually stopped trying, although I really wish I hadn’t. It’s a very lonely walk when you feel like no one wants to walk with you.

If you are one of those people who a bereaved parent reaches out to, don’t be “that person” who turns a blind eye or deaf ear or just disappears. Read books or articles on how to help. You may not be equipped or know how to respond or help. Be honest. Ask how you can help. Listen. Don’t give advise; listen! Do something! If the bereaved parent doesn’t respond right away, try again later. And then try again later. And then try again. Don’t give up. And if the parent asks for help, do what you can to actually help or try to find someone who can help. If you say you are going to do something, then actually do it.

You have no idea how much effort it takes for a bereaved parent to actually reach out and ask for help. No matter how scared you are, the bereaved parent is afraid of this journey, too. No matter how exhausted you are, the bereaved parent is exponentially more exhausted. No matter how much you are affected by the death, the bereaved parent is affected more than you could ever imagine. It’s a long, difficult, lonely, scary walk. Don’t let them feel like they are going it alone.

You are in my thoughts and prayers. You are not alone.

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

 

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place – After the Death of a Child

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.

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Happy birthday, Mom – Doris Elaine Knudson

Remembering this sweet, precious lady and her sweet spirit. My precious mom – Elaine Knudson 7/1/27 – 6/24/05. Miss you and love you, Mom. Happy birthday!

Grief: One Woman's Perspective

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 84.

From my journal June 25, 2005:

I got a call on June 17th from my sister, saying that Mom was in intensive care. Mom had apparently gotten up, managed to push the call button for help and then fell. She was transported to the hospital and put in ICU, diagnosed with a mild heart attack. Because she had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis 10 years ago (with a “typical” life span of 3 years), the concern was not her heart; rather, it was the total scarring of her lungs from the disease. The doctors had no idea how she continued to live with such major damage to her lungs.

We had an absolutely wonderful day with my mom yesterday. When we all got there, Mom was sitting up in bed. She was alert, coherent (because of lack of oxygen, sometimes…

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Helping Your Grieving Friend

A thoughtful and well-written post.

Listening to Him

Timewise I’ve really only just begun this painful journey of deep grief, but I’ve already learned a number of significant lessons.  I’m sharing some here both for future reference for myself, and in hopes that they might be helpful to others walking alongside grieving friends.

I dislike the ever popular lists of “15 things you should never say to___________” or “10 things you should always do for_________”.   Those lists consistently strike me as being rooted in egocentrism and entitlement, and lacking grace.  We who are grieving do not get a free pass to be egocentric, entitled or lacking in grace.  We continue to answer to the command to be governed by love and grace, bearing with one another patiently and overlooking offenses.

My intention is not to present a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts regarding grieving people.  I am simply sharing some of what I and other grieving…

View original post 3,456 more words

Every day, every hour, every minute, we miss you.

I’ve been doing some spring cleaning and ran across all of the journals I wrote after Jason died. I started writing the week after Jason died. This one is from February 21, 2009, just a couple of weeks before the eighth anniversary of Jason’s death:

2/21/09

My precious Mr J –

I can’t believe you have been gone nearly eight years. In so many ways, it just seems like yesterday.

I miss you so much.

[Songs from] that Collective Soul CD came up on my iPod yesterday – the one that you would put in the CD player in the car and crank up loud so that we could rock out together to it…and I was instantly back at that time…a time of hanging out, of me driving you to college or the bus stop or to work at the hardware store…a time of all the great, wonderful, everyday things with you in our lives.

How I miss you. Our lives are not the same without you.

I am not doing well. I can’t get over losing you, my precious and wonderful boy.

My life is so much of a shadow of what it used to be – and so much less filled with hope.

You took my sunshine with you when you left…and I don’t know how to go on without you.

With you around, it seemed like the possibilities for good things were endless – and now I drag through the days.

I loved spending time with you. I loved hearing what happened in your day. I loved our times of stopping by Arby’s during your first quarter of evening classes at Edmonds [Community College], grabbing a bite to eat after class and catching up.

I watched you with amazement – amazed that such a wonderful young man was my son, and feeling so blessed that God gave you to us.

But then He took you away, and nothing has been right since then.

We miss you. Every day, every hour, every minute, we miss you.

I love you with all of my heart.

Mom

I still miss you, Mr J, every day, every hour, every minute. I still love you with all of my heart.

~Mom

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

Welcome Home

As a mother who has two children waiting for her in heaven, this made me cry. I look forward to that day when I will see Jason again and meet the baby we never knew. (By the way, just a reminder that this is not about politics. It’s about the death of a child and a joyful reunion.)

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Credit: https://www.facebook.com/marshallramseyfanpage/posts/1665775960142290?hc_location=ufi

A death more painful than her own:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/04/17/one-last-time-barbara-bush-has-already-faced-a-death-more-painful-than-her-own/?utm_term=.e1fa854e9722

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

 

 

Why We Will Never Get Over It

I would like to share this Facebook post in its entirety. It is the most comprehensive article I’ve read about the longevity of grief following the death of a child.

WHY WE WILL NEVER GET OVER IT

Unfortunately bereaved parents get judged often. By those who know us and by those who don’t.

We are often criticized and pathologized for grieving (for remembering our child.) People erroneously think we are stuck, depressed, and/or clinically-something, if we still cry, ache, and miss our child; if we still remember them; if we continue speaking their name and grieving for them– especially if the grieving has been going on “too long.” Too long could mean 3 months, 6 months, a year– a decade, or longer. It couldn’t possibly be healthy to grieve THAT long, right?

Wrong. We will grieve forever because we love forever. There is no end to our love for our child, therefore there is no end to our grief– not in our lifetime, anyway. We will grieve forever. We will never get over it.

The presumption is that since our child’s death happened years ago– a presumably finite event– how are we not over it by now? As if child loss is something you can get over– likening it to something far less horrific that can be conquered if you only try hard enough, think positively, or pull yourself up by the bootstraps. As if it’s a hurdle you can easily jump over, or a roadblock you can simply go around and then move on. As if sunshine, rainbows and unicorns will magically greet you once enough time has passed and you cross into “I’m-over-it” land. This may work for other things, but not child loss.

It’s time to bust a long-standing myth about child loss and grief. There is no getting over it. Child loss is not something you get over. Ever. You don’t get over watching the living, breathing piece of your heart and soul, your flesh and blood, your child– die. It’s simply not. possible. to get over the death of your child. You will grieve the death of your child until your last breath.

It is said that the decision to have a child is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” When your child dies your heart is obliterated, broken beyond repair. When your child dies, a huge part of you dies, too. And there is no getting that part back again. Over time you can try to put the pieces of yourself back together again, but they don’t fit the same. There are huge pieces missing, no matter what you do. No matter how long it’s been.

The pain– visible or not– is with us every breath and every step we take, every second of every day. The scars never heal. We are not defined by child loss, but we are certainly marked by it. Forever.

Normal died the day our child did. There is no guidebook for how to survive, or how to grieve. No formula. No roadmap. No start here, end there. The truth is bereaved parents will grieve the loss of their child until their last breath. It may seem confusing why bereaved parents do the things we do; how we’ve chosen to survive and navigate life post-tragedy. From outside of grief, it likely won’t make sense to an onlooker. The good news is, if you don’t understand, breathe a deep sigh of relief and remember one thing: you’re so fortunate (#blessed/lucky/_______) you don’t.

Ultimately to understand means to be bereaved. Which we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. We hope no one else truly understands. Ever.

We would have given our life one million times over + infinity to save our child– but, unfortunately we weren’t given that choice. And so, for the rest of our lives, we have to learn how to live with the pain. A pain that is so excruciating, so much like torture, so unimaginable, there’s not even an apt word for it in the English language.

We trip over grief just when we thought we had it contained, figured out, put away, managed. We fall into grief potholes when we least expect it.

We become adept at carrying it, stuffing it, hiding it places. It leaks from our eyes when we least expect it. We sob in the shower, the car, on the bathroom floor. We dry our tears, put our masks back on, so we can move and be and live in the world, to the best of our ability.

Grief steals the person we used to be, and we grieve that, too. The person staring back at us in the mirror becomes almost unrecognizable. We wish we could be who we used to be, too.

We are broken, but there is no fix for our heartache.

We carry it with us, always. Grief exhausts us to the bone. There is no reprieve. No minute, hour, or day off from being a bereaved parent. Once a bereaved parent, always a bereaved parent. There is no going back.

Even during happy or joyful moments, the pain and sadness is always there. A permanent undercurrent, a pulse of pain.

We learn how to carry it all: the joy, the pain, the love, the sadness. Eventually we become an expert at carrying it all.

The moment our child died is now, yesterday, tomorrow, forever. It is the past, the present, and the future. It was not just one finite horrific moment in time that happened last whenever. It is not just the moment, the hour, the second, the millisecond our life became permanently divided into before and after.

You might say, “But she died last year!” Or 10 years ago, or five. No. No, she didn’t.

Our child dies all over again every morning we wake up.
And again every moment they are (yet again) missing.
And again every moment in between.
And again every breath we take.

Our child dies again every moment they are not here with us– for the rest of our lives.

The truth of this fact is almost impossible to express. How many deaths can one parent endure?

For the rest of our lives we will struggle to accept and understand this very fact: our child is dead. And in the incessant replay of our minds our child will keep dying all over again for the rest of our lives.

This is child loss. It is never over. It is always happening. Again and again and again.

We live and relive it. It is now, yesterday, tomorrow– forever.

Just like our love for our child is now, yesterday, tomorrow, forever. It spans both directions. There is no end.

Please remember this next time you hear someone tell a bereaved parent they are dwelling, stuck, depressed, not moving on; that they should just hurry up and get over it– or any other common judgment or misconception. Our pain, our love, and our child cannot be watered down to such phrases, such shallow summations. It does not even begin to capture or express the reality of our day-to-day lives, nor the eternal ache and love in our hearts.

To understand child loss, you have to think about every second, minute, hour, day, month and year a bereaved parent has to live without their precious child– a lifetime— not just the finite moment in time their child died. Every missed milestone, every heart beat, every breath without them, hurts. It hurts now, now and now. It will still be painful 10 and 20 years from now. It will remain an ever-present ache in our heart, soul, mind and body always– until our very last breath.

Child loss is never over. It is a loss that spans a bereaved parent’s entire life.

This is why we will never, ever, get over it. Because “it” is our precious, irreplaceable child. There is no getting over it. There is only love (and pain) to be bravely and courageously carried– for a lifetime.

Credit: https://www.facebook.com/grievingmother/?hc_ref=ARSEvo0TbFrXW87SCMCbS9RBugZy_gSeO59bV5Pe8o1pgHen6yhrdK5uyJYJhCG9ldc

~Becky