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.
Angela Miller is a writer, speaker and grief advocate who provides support and solace to those who are grieving the loss of a child. She is the best-selling author of You Are the Mother of All Mothers: A Message of Hope for the Grieving Heart, founder of the award-winning community A Bed For My Heart, writer for The Huffington Post, the Open to Hope Foundation and Still Standing Magazine. Angela writes candidly about child loss and grief without sugar coating the reality of life after loss. Her writing and her book have been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, CBS News, The Huffington Post, MPR, BlogTalk Radio, and FaithIt, among other publications. When she’s not writing, traveling, or healing hearts, you can find Angela making every moment count with her two beautiful, blue-eyed boys.
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