Today is the tenth anniversary of my son Tim’s death at the age of 22. I’m sharing that with you because ten years is a milestone. It’s a time of reflection, a time to look back over a decade to see what I’ve learned that might help someone else.
I spent last Saturday with a mom new to the grief of losing a child. She’s just six months into her new life where one less person on earth calls her Mom.
Every person’s process of grief and mourning is unique. Even if you’ve lost a child yourself, you don’t truly understand what another person is feeling.
That being said, I’ve listened to enough personal sharings from grieving moms to know that there ARE strong similarities in our stories, regardless of how young or old our children were when they died or by how they died.
Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone in your thoughts and feelings and reactions can ease the pain just a little. And that’s what most of us are seeking initially. So I’m sharing three thoughts.
And if you’re on the outside looking in, wanting to help someone else who has lost a child, these ideas may help you be more truly empathic.
1) The first year of grief is the hardest. There are so many “anniversaries” to get through: the first birthday that your child isn’t alive to celebrate, the first Christmas, the annual family vacation, other holidays your child especially enjoyed, and of course, the anniversary of their death.
Believe me—it’s a flat-out horrendous first year filled with landmines. And it doesn’t even have to be a special day. It can be anything that reminds you of your child. For instance, hearing a song on the radio that your daughter was crazy for or scrolling though the tv menu and seeing your son’s favorite movie pop up…little instances like this can send you reeling.
I remember once in the first year driving behind a pickup truck with its windows down. Just the way the young man driving had his left arm resting on the sill with his fingers extended upward reminded me of Tim’s hairy arm and the long fingers on his hands. I dissolved into tears.
2) People mean well and they may be trying their best to show empathy, but you can count on some to say stupid, hurtful things. Just try to forget what they say because it will drive you crazy otherwise. Here’s a true sampling of what grieving moms have been told:
“I know how you feel about losing your son. My cat just died.”
“I feel sad like you; my 98-year-old grandmother died last week.”
“It’s been four months. Are you feeling better now?”
Some people will say nothing at. You may even have friends drift away from you because they don’t know how to be with you anymore. And that’s OK. The friends who stay are the true friends anyhow.
3) You may be angry. In fact, you may be furious. You may keep a list of people with whom you’re angry. Here was my list from ten years ago: God, Tim, my husband, the “friends” who helped propel Tim down a worsening spiral, and myself. Yes, the person I felt the most loathing towards was, in fact, myself.
My first and constant thought each day for several months was this: I was Tim’s mom. I should have been able to save him. If only I had done this or not said that or made a different decision anywhere along the road, things might have turned out differently.
No one else said those things; it was just me shaming myself. That is a terrible burden to carry. So if you are holding on to any thoughts like that now, please…just set them down and walk away. Because it’s just not true.
I know I just wrote about forgiveness, but I have to talk about it again here because it plays a huge role in my own story. Forgiveness was one of four savings graces on the lifeboat that buoyed me above the waters of despair and hopelessness and carried me to the shores of grief recovery.
Forgiveness may take some time. Again, situations are unique and I understand emotions run deep. If you can’t forgive right now, how about if, just once a day for five minutes, you pretend to forgive. Imagine how your life would be if you could forgive.
Take that tiny first step.
And know that many others have walked that path before you.
This post is dedicated to Tim’s memory and in honor of all the courageous moms who have entrusted me with their stories.