After my daughter’s death, I learned that the first year’s grief doesn’t flow neatly from one stage to the next; it has multiple patterns, fluctuating cycles, lots of ups and downs. First-year grief will surprise you in many ways, but here are a few things you can expect.Expect sudden “grief attacks.” Practical matters demand attention in early grief when we are the most confused and least interested in things we used to care about. We must decide how to get through each new day. Some days, getting out of bed may take all the energy we have. Trips to everyday places like the grocery store feel so different. In my case, simple things like seeing my daughter’s favorite cereal on the store shelf brought immediate, excruciating pain. I call these unexpected reactions “grief attacks.” And unlike the response we would get if we had a heart attack while shopping, those around us don’t know what to do. We get good at hiding our pain, at postponing grieving for a more appropriate place, a better time. Expect exhaustion and disruption. Early grieving is perhaps the hardest work you will ever do. It is common to have difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and blood pressure, tense muscles that are susceptible to strains, a weakened immune system.Many bereaved parents return to work, school, or other activities feeling vulnerable, less confident about their capabilities, less able to concentrate, distracted by memories, and flooded with emotions that disrupt thinking. For others, work is the only place they are able to concentrate- focusing on tasks helps take their mind off their loss for awhile. Those around us may have unrealistic expectations as we return to work or school. When one mother whose only child had died returned to work, her supervisor greeted her by saying: “I’m sorry about your loss but I want to talk to you about improving your work performance.” Expect to be stunned by the ineptness, thoughtlessness, and discomfort of some people, and to be thrilled and deeply touched by the kindness and sensitivity of others. Sometimes those you expect to support you the most can’t or won’t meet your needs, while others you weren’t that close to before reach out unexpectedly. Expect ongoing “echoes.” We experience so many emotions after our child dies. We may feel relief that our child is no longer suffering, then feel guilty about being relieved. For a time we may be unable to feel much at all. While learning to live with the hole in our heart and fatigue in our body, other responsibilities beckon. We must file insurance claims, pay bills, write thank-you notes, decide what we want to do with our child’s possessions, and on and on.Just when we think everyone surely has heard of our loss by now, the reality of our child’s death echoes back to us. A call comes from the dentist’s office about scheduling her a checkup, or we run into our child’s old friend who just moved back to town. Once again we must tell our story, respond to someone else’s pain, experience fresh waves of grief. Knowing certain events are coming, such as seeing the grave marker or reading the death certificate or autopsy report, does not prevent us from hurting. These are tangible reminders of the reality of death, while part of us still hopes it’s all been just a bad dream. Our child’s death causes us to re-examine our beliefs about the Universe, God, and how the world works. Your faith and belief system may comfort and sustain you during the first year or you may feel angry and disconnected from it. Remember that it is okay to question. You may be drawn to people who have experienced a loss like yours and can understand some of your feelings and questions. This is one reason many people in early grief find comfort in bereavement support groups. But remember that no one can ever totally understand your grief, your questions, and what your child means to you. Like all relationships, each person’s grief is unique and complex.During early grief, you may want to stay busy all the time, avoiding painful emotions and the exhausting work of grief, hoping time will heal you. There’s no set schedule and no recovery period for grief. But time alone does not heal- it’s what we do with the time that counts. Take the time you need to do your grief work. But also take time away from grieving to do things you enjoy, to rest and replenish yourself. When our child dies, our hoped-for future dies, too. Beginning in this first year, and continuing on from there, living with your loss means taking on new roles, new relationships, a new future- without forgetting your past. Sometimes, life takes surprising turns. Before my daughter’s death, I never would have imagined I would become so involved in grief support. It wasn’t part of my “plan.” Confronted with loss, we can weave the strands of our past into a new, meaningful future we never would have planned to live. Doing so is a conscious choice. Getting through the first year of your grief is like winding a ball of string. You start with an end and wind and wind. Then the ball slips through your fingers and rolls across the floor. Some of the work is undone, but not all. You pick it up and start over again, but never do you have to begin at the end of the string. The ball never completely unwinds; you’ve made some progress. My daughter’s spirit and our continuing bond of love gives me strength each day. May your child be there to help you during this painful first year, and in all the years to come.
Oh God, I am drowning again. I pray that I will go to bed tonight and never wake up. I know it I stupid because it would kill the boys and cause others that love me so much pain, but I cannot face life without my child.
I was looking at posts on “The Grieving Parent”, a Bereavement Facebook page for parents (https://www.facebook.com/TheGrievingParent ) and it just made me feel so inadequate and weak. Bereaved parents speak of the healing they have experienced….I don’t know whether I ever will heal. Tonight, like yesterday and the 82 days before tonight, I fear that my life is over.
All parents love their children. Some have a closer bond than others. The mother /child relationship is the closest relationship anyone will ever find. There is a bond between a mother and child that cannot be broken or destroyed.
Vic’s death cannot “remove” her from my life. My love for her is never-ending and all-enduring. For 9 months I nurtured her in my womb. For 38 years I nurtured her in life. My life revolved around Vic.
Did we have a perfect relationship of never arguing, fighting or being angry with one another? Hell no!! We went through the different stages as all mothers and daughters do.
As a toddler and pre-teen Vic loved me with unshakeable conviction. By the time she entered her teens we reached the stage where we disliked one another… We always loved one another, but we certainly disliked one another at certain stages of our lives. It was a tumultuous swing in our lives…
Vic was extremely headstrong! She wanted to go to boarding school and that she did…She married early in life, against our wishes…Not because we disliked Colin but because she was too young. Vic got married 6 months after her 21st birthday. Six weeks later she fell pregnant against ALL doctors advice. She had two children at the risk of losing her own life and passing on the Osteogenesis Imperfecta disease and/or gene.
Vic also refused to die. Vic refused to be “sick”. She got dressed into normal day-clothes every day of her life. She refused to hand over the responsibility of her children’s upbringing to anyone regardless of how ill she was.
Vic did what she did when she wanted to. If she believed in something she would defy anyone and everyone. She was driven by her need to grow up and live her life to the full. The relationship shift from child to adult was very difficult for me to accept.
Our relationship changed after Vic had the boys. Maybe because then there was a greater level of understanding, by Vic, of the enormity of the responsibility that a mother has to her child…..
Vic was not a saint. She was a difficult teenager and a fiercely independent young woman. Yet our mother-daughter relationship was ultimately fulfilling. I was certainly not the perfect mother. I failed Vic on many levels. We were so different that we found it difficult to understand one another’s choices and needs.
Despite conflicts and complicated emotions, Vic and I loved one another unconditionally. We complemented one another perfectly. Vic so often said “God knew what He was doing when He put us together….We are such a good team!”
I am grateful for the time we spent together. I wish I had spent less time working and more time playing…I wish I had been less concerned about Vic’s financial care. I wish I had been there when she took her first steps…I got the hospital time. Her healthy time I spent working – playing catch-up for her hospital time… I wish Vic had grown up in a home with a mommy and a daddy…
In her later life Vic became a child again. She was totally dependent upon me. I did not have to “compete” with a spouse to take care of her. In the final months of Vic’s life she had panic attacks when I was away from her. In a weird, sick way my life was perfect. My baby was home. I could love and nurture her…
I wish we had more time…
In the final days of her life Vic cried “I want to live. Mommy I don’t want to die… If only I could live for one more year…”
I would give everything I own; every second of my remaining life; everything I love and cherish for Vic to have lived just one more year.