Last night at a social function for bereaved parents, I spent some time talking with a mom who expected that at the end of her first year without her 41 year old daughter that she might find closure and be over the worst pain of her life. When I asked her what “closure” meant to her, she referred to ‘Saying Goodbye’. That intrigued me and perplexed me on so many levels….and we continued to talk…
Too many parents in their infancy of bereavement have been lead to believe that after a year the grief and mourning period has ended. That may be true for a tiny percentage. There are those who truly, truly NEED it to be true, and without that self-imposed “end” wouldn’t be able to go on. But from the hundreds and hundreds of bereaved parents who have shared their stories with me; from the reading, research and studying I’d done, and from my own personal experience, I believe “closure” and the ending of grief, especially after only a year, not to be the norm.
At 3.5 years since the death of my first born, I am still a toddler in grief. We are considered newly bereaved for the first full five years. Though I am “more experienced” than many bereaved parents and siblings in our The Compassionate Friends Chapter, I am still “just getting my sea legs” and just beginning to steady myself. For many of us, that first year, though a most incredibly painful time of our lives, in retrospect, becomes a blur. The brain chemically tries to preserve the mind and body. In the second year, the fog begins to slowly dissipate; awareness becomes stronger. Support tends to lessen dramatically. Self imposed “I-Should-Be-Getting-Better” is only slightly over shadowed by those people in our lives who think that we should have “gotten over” the death of our child (or sibling) by now. Well meaning friends seemed to think that they were encouraging me by telling me that I seemed to be getting better, when what I was really doing was learning how to fake it better around them and securely put on the mask that the “civilian” world seemed to need from me.
Seven months after my daughter’s death, at a Compassionate Friends meeting, when the pain and screaming in my head was often so great I was constantly perplexed that I hadn’t imploded, a more season bereaved mom told me that the second year is often worse than the first, and that the third is often worse than the second and toward the fifth year it begins to “ease”. I remember shuddering and dropping my head upon the table! How could it ever be worse than the early stages of trying to live without Robbie in my daily earth plane life?!!
Now I know, drawn my own experience, and from what I have learned from hundreds of bereaved parents who have removed their masks to reveal their pain, It Is True. Thank goodness This Ten-Years-Into-Grief-Mom had had the compassion to be candid and “warn” me, as when the darkness became even deeper, I understood that I wasn’t “getting worse”; that I wasn’t insane, but that I was just Experiencing Grief. It encouraged me to grab tight and hold on, knowing that sometimes grief does get darker and more clouded before light begins to drizzle in and eventually begins to shine more brightly. Not having this information, as shocking and difficult as it was to hear at the time, would have added unnecessary other layers of pain and doubt. It has helped me to keep a realistic expectation of surviving life after the death of my Robyn and to not be discouraged and angry at myself for my inability to embrace life as I once did, in this, my toddler time.
Realistic has become a key word for me. It has helped me to be gentle with myself and allows me not to run away from, but to Experience Grief. It gives me the ownership to rightfully mourn my daughter; to acknowledge and understand that this is the single most horrible time of my life.
When the mom last night spoke of “closure”, especially closure after only a year, it felt false. I asked her why she wanted to say good bye, her own definition of what closure meant, and close off the relationship with her deceased daughter. She had no desire to have closure with her living daughter, so why would she want to end her relationship with her daughter who had left the earth plane? When I posed the question her eyes brightened, as if contemplating for the first time, that just because their bodies have ended doesn’t mean that the love has ended, and that we continue to have a relationship in that love. No, no, no, no, NO! It is NOT the relationship that we want. But it is an existing relationship and one that we can have. We don’t need to shut the door, we don’t need to close the relationship.
Somewhere along this journey I heard the analogy about leaving the room. Imagine you are in the same room with someone who you love, and the exchange of words, hugs, physical and emotional connection is possible. You both own the relationship. It is YOURS. Separation occurs as your loved one leaves the room, or even the building, the state, the county. You can no longer see or touch, but the love continues to exist. It IS. The Relationship, the Love doesn’t end, because of the separation of a wall.
My son lives 5 hours away, yet he hasn’t ended being my son because he no longer shares my physical space. We continue to love, though our physical existence is very separated. Though the physical encasement of my daughter is no longer on the earth plane, I am certain beyond belief that her energy continues to exist. I accept that our love also continues. The Relationship, The Love, doesn’t end because of the separation of a “wall”.
Last night’s hurting mom confided, almost with apology as if she were guilty of doing wrong, that she still thinks of her deceased daughter every day and that she was “working” toward the day when she could ‘let that go’.
“But, why?” I asked, “would you want to stop thinking of her every day?
I think of my living child, my living husband, my living animals every day. Why wouldn’t I want to think of my deceased child every day, too?”
Her eyes brightened a bit more. She hadn’t thought that it was not only permissible, but possible, to have a relationship and healthily keep her deceased daughter not only in her heart and deep memories, but in the forefront of her mind.
“Civilians” (those who have not experienced the death of a child or sibling) and what we believe their expectations are of us, frequently do bereaved families a disservice. They may understand pain and loss, but this is a very particular pain and loss, unlike any other. They often want us back the way we were before The Death, and that can’t happen. We can’t have gone through such a life changing event without becoming personally changed. They often think that we are consumed or not “healing properly” by some arbitrary standard or measurement, if we talk about our loved one, or worse, want them to join on the annual WALK TO REMEMBER, or come to a “birthday or anniversary” remembrance. One bereaved sister I am friendly with was told by a cousin that she was consumed just because she invited family members to attend the Annual Walk to Remember to honor her brother’s memory.
Society ~ Civilians ~ are “allowed”, encouraged, and expected to speak of The Living. They think nothing of wanting us honor their living family members by attending gatherings in their names. But somehow, for some imaginary reason, we are supposed to go on and pretend as if our children, our siblings, never lived. We aren’t supposed to make others uncomfortable by saying the names of those we continue to love, who have long been precious parts of our lives, but who no longer have earth plane encasements. If civilians easily accept that I am not obsessive if I discuss my living child, why do they question my emotional health and sanity because I remember my deceased child, too? I am both Robyn and Jayson’s mom, not for as long as they live, but for as long as I do….BOTH of them.
I expect to continue to miss my daughter and wish that she were only an arm’s length away from my embrace. I expect that it will always hurt that I can’t pick up the phone and find her at the other end. I will continue to live my life whispering to the wind and hoping, wanting, that we remain connected in ways that convention might not understand, but I believe, exists.
Last night, at a social function for bereaved parents, a mom hoped for “closure” “saying good bye’. I instead, embrace a relationship that continues to exists, even if not in the way I strongly desire. For Robyn and I, it will never be Good Bye, but See You Later. The last words that I heard my daughter speak to me in person were that she loves me, infinity times infinity, squared. I am pretty sure that there is no end to that.♥