A question I’m frequently asked by bereaved parents is, Does it EVER get easier?
The fear in their eyes is palpable. I know. I get it. The answer to that question still scares me too because I’ve been waiting for easier for almost six years straight. And it wasn’t long ago that I was asking bereaved parents who were further down the road of grief than I was that very same question.
I’m not sure when I stopped asking it– probably when I realized it might not ever happen.
Straddling heaven and earth isn’t something that I would describe as easy.
Easier is a tricky word when it comes to something as permanently horrific as child loss. I like to reserve the word easier for things like, Once I learned how to cook, following the recipe was easier, or It’s getting easier to run longer distances now that I’ve been running for a year. Easier is a nice little word for things that can actually be measured. It’s also a lovely little word for things that aren’t irretrievably lost and permanently missing. Forever and ever.
I’m certain the “progress” of moving through the uncharted waters of grief after the loss of a child is immeasurable. It’s one step forward, four steps back. It’s treading water, with your head slightly above, until you’re not. It’s swimming along, then drowning without notice. It’s not linear.
I will repeat: there is nothing linear about grief. Whether in a day, or in the course of a couple years– grief is not linear.
Even still, six years later, I think I’m sailing along ok, then all of a sudden– SMACK– out of nowhere grief beats the crap out of me. Sometimes it will come in the form of a strategically placed gorgeous eight year old, blue-eyed little boy who should be my living breathing oldest son, but who obviously belongs to another mother who is calling after him; sometimes it comes from the missing puzzle piece of my heart the size and shape of my son that starts oozing uncontrollably without warning, and tears leak out of my eyes without asking me first. Sometimes it’s the simple, almost-perfect moments with my 2/3rds children, that smack me upside the head and rob my lungs of proper breath.
Breathe, I gasp. BREATHE.
The thing about life after loss is that no matter what someone is always missing. No matter what, my family is always achingly incomplete. I could have four more children, and these facts would still remain, staring me down like a cruel bully who will torment me for the rest of my life, no matter how much I fight back.
The reality about life after losing a child is that the wrong can never be made right. It can never be fixed. Ever. Life is irreparably broken without our living, breathing child in it. Life will never feel a-okay again. Sure it will have moments of bittersweet joy, and bittersweet happiness, and you will eventually laugh again, and find stupid things funny, but it will never again be what it once was. There will never again be that twitterpated feeling of happiness– the kind that feels naive now, the kind you wonder if ever existed at all? You might never again have the feeling that all is right in the world. You can’t fix it, mend it, or even cry it away. No matter how many years go by, the ache remains.
So back to the question– does it ever get easier?
The hard truth is a resounding no. Not for me, anyway. It hasn’t gotten easier to live without a huge piece of my heart. Grief is always there, lurking around every corner. It doesn’t get easier to walk this earth without my son. It doesn’t get easier to breathe while choking on air. It doesn’t get easier to try to make new friends when you don’t have normal answers to normal questions anymore. It doesn’t get easier to try to live in the present moment while half of you is living in the what should be’s and why the hell is it not, damnit! It doesn’t get easier to answer the question, How many kids do you have? It doesn’t get easier to wonder what your child would look like, be like, sound like, act like, live like?
It doesn’t get easier, but it becomes different— softer, at times– louder at other times. It’s like a storm. You can’t predict when it’s coming, and you can’t predict whether you’ll be able to find shelter or not. You can’t predict whether you’ll even survive. You just hold your breath, brace yourself for the impact, and hope you can find some solid ground. Eventually. Sometimes you’ll get swept under by the tsunami of grief; other days you’ll tread water, and still other days you’ll choke and gag on the on-going horror of it all. Some days you might float above it, and your whole body will feel the glorious feeling of air hitting your skin above water– sun on your face– wind in your hair. Those are the very good days of grief, of life after loss. Over time there might be more of them, so embrace them when they come. And let the sun dry out the soggier parts of you whenever you can.
The thing is– nothing about life after the death of a child is easy. I think it’s all pretty damn freakin’ hard. Whether you’re a day in, or 20 years out, I believe being a bereaved parent is the hardest job on earth. Period.
What people don’t seem to understand is– it’s a life sentence. One we didn’t ask for, or want– it’s one we were charged with against our will. The life sentence doesn’t change, or lessen, or ever go away. Not with time, not with a whole lot of anything. We’re forced members of the God-awful club that is every parent’s worst nightmare. A club we can never leave. So what are our options? We are forced to lean into it– to grin and bear it. We are forced to find grit we never knew we had. We are forced to dig deeper than is probably humanly possible. We are forced to live out this horrific life sentence, some how, some way, even though everything within us is screaming, NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. We are forced to learn how to consistently do hard. Over and over and over again.
Because, guess what? Hard is the only choice we have, the only choice we were given. It’s do you want hard, or hard? Either we find a way, or we give up, right? And giving up isn’t an option.
So we find a way. And we keep on doing hard. Together. We find people who can say me too, me too with us– and over time we realize that finding a village who understands the depth of our pain without words necessary is really what makes all the difference in the world when doing hard.
And just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not also a beautiful life. It can be beautiful and we ache. We can rebuild a beautiful life from the ground up. We can honor our precious child with every breath we take. We can and will be happy again– and I’m guessing it will probably always feel difficult to go through life without our child.
It doesn’t get easier, it just become different. Some might call that pessimism, but for me, it’s truth. It’s simply the reality of bereaved parenthood.
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Note: Grief is as unique as each person’s fingerprint. I’ve met plenty of bereaved parents who would say a resounding yes, grief does get easier over time. And that is absolutely true for them. Easier just isn’t the word I would use to describe it. Each person’s experience and circumstances are different. No two people grieve the same. And our job is to meet everyone’s experience/reality with unconditional support and love.
A couple months from now I might re-read this and think– what was I thinking?!– it totally gets easier over time. That’s what is so incredible about writing. You can see how many times you change your mind about something over time. How you evolve. How you grow into something different and more beautiful. How your words change you, and how you change your words.
. . .
What would you say? Has it gotten easier for you over time?
Or would you use a different word to describe it?
. . .
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