Any loss takes time to process and work through. The loss of a loved one can take weeks, months, and years. The loss of a child takes a lifetime.
Grief has its own individual path for each person. We may often hear the words, “There is no right or wrong way to grieve,” and yet much of society shouts the exact opposite to those who are in deep mourning.
We are asked when we are going to “get over it,” or are told we need to let our child go and start moving forward. This can make us angry and add to the painful confusion, making one wonder, “What’s wrong with me, that I am taking so long to be able to function again?” So, we put on a mask, to keep people around us from knowing what a mess we still are, months and even years later.
What most people don’t realize, is that most experts consider the death of one’s child traumatic grief, and that up to five years can be considered “fresh” grief. And as grieving parents, we need to know this; that it’s okay if you are still barely functioning or are unable to go out and “have fun” with friends, or attend painful family events that your child should have been part of, years after the loss.
You may be interested to know that as I started hearing from other bereaved parents in the first couple of years of my journey, I discovered there does seem to be an underlying generic time-frame that many of us pareavors sort of fall into.
The first year is a painful fog, full of numbness, confusion, pain, and disbelief. All the “firsts” hit us hard. The first time he or she is not with us for each holiday or yearly family event, the first year they are not here for their birthday and of course, the first anniversary of their death.
I thought the second year would be easier, because I had already gone through everything once. As pareavors just starting out on this horrific journey, we don’t think it is even possible, but the second year of being without our child is usually worse than the first year. I hope that is not the case for you, but I want to be up front and honest that it is a strong possibility.
Why does that happen to so many of us?
Well, for me personally, that first year I braced myself for all the “firsts,” plus I was still in that fog of trying to figure out if this had really happened. The second year caught me off guard as the fog began to lift. Round two of all those yearly events no longer had the blessing of numbness to block the full depth of the pain. When that initial shock finally wore off, it caused the weight of my loss to hit me full force, with a heaviness and darkness that left me wondering if I would ever get through it. I remember thinking how desperately I wanted the pain to end, afraid that it never would.
The third year for many of us becomes more livable. We are starting to accept the finality and painful fact that our child will never again be with us at any of these events. We are starting to resign ourselves to the fact that no matter how much it hurts, we must figure out who we are without our child. Some of us even begin to see glimmers of hope; that we can still have joy and happiness in the life we are living with those who are still here whom we love, and who love us.
After saying all of that, I also want to emphasize that we are all on our own individual journey.
Unfortunately, there many parents who are stuck in the second-year level. They take many more years to get to the place of painful acceptance, which is necessary to be able to start building their new normal in a way that brings peace, joy, love and laughter back into their lives. For instance, I personally know someone who waited over four years before they could even bring themselves to have a tombstone made for their child’s grave.
Let me say it again, because it is so important. NO ONE is on the same timetable of grieving the death of their child.
Do not look at any dates to see where others were emotionally in our grieving process and use it as some sort of a timeline to force on yourself. We are all on our own individual timeline and need to go through the process at our own speed. Yes, there are some “patterns” (for lack of a better word) that some of us seem to fall into, but don’t expect yourself to fit into that. Give yourself grace to walk your own necessary path. As long as you are putting one foot in front of the other, you will get there. (When Tragedy Strikes.)
How close you were (or weren’t), how he or she died, their age at death and so many other things all play a factor in how you grieve and how long it takes to be able to function again, much less actually learn how to live with your child being “amputated” from you.
Even within this three to five year “acceptance” range, we are all different, including those of us who are “early” or “late.” Here are what a few others have to say about their journey and this “three year” timeline:
- Four years later, I still struggle with these feelings, but not on a daily basis.
- I just passed anniversary number 5. For me, year 1 -I hardly remember anything, mainly a fog. Year 2 (for me) was worse. The numbness was gone. It was real. It was crushing. I survived day-to-day. Year 3 -I started feeling some joy again. Able to go a few days without crying. Year 4 – still painful, but more like a slap than a body-slam.
- At first, I experienced waves of grief that crashed over me throwing me prostrate to the floor in agony. After 3-4 years it was mostly a gentle longing with times of intense pain and feelings of loss.
- I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about the first 2 years. Year 3 things began to get a little better. Lord knows I still cry every day. Year 4 I smiled again. Real smiles not forced ones. And just over the past few months I have finally begun to feel happiness.
- Year 2 is worse. But I am intentionally seeking Joy and now I’m halfway through the second year. I think I can see Joy every now and then although it is still a ways ahead of me yet.
- Sadly, the only way to ‘get past this’ is to go through it!! I am broken now in a place that will never heal. But I do find that I can laugh more than I used to, but I define my life ‘before my son died’ and ‘after he died.’ The trick is to wake up every day and try to have a plan and a purpose.
In other words, whether you fit the “pattern” or not, you are in a normal place with your grief, and the right one for you.
Year one, year two, year three, year five, year ten, year twenty, the rest of this lifetime… and then comes our glorious reunion. And the best part? Each day we remain here on this earth doesn’t mean we are getting further away from our children, but that we are one day closer!
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Expressions of Hope is written by author, speaker and singer Laura Diehl. She and her husband, Dave, are the founders of Grieving Parents Sharing Hope (GPS Hope). Dave and Laura travel full time in their Hope Mobile (a 38-foot motor home) to be more easily available for speaking and ministry requests, including being invited to hold one-day GPS Hope & Healing conferences.
Laura is a national keynote speaker and has also been a workshop speaker for events such as The Compassionate Friends and Bereaved Parents USA national conferences, along with being a guest on radio shows, podcasts and other media channels such as webinars with Open to Hope.
If you would like more information about Laura as a speaker for your next event or want more information on hosting a GPS Hope & Healing conference, click here.
GPS Hope exists to walk with grieving parents through the suffocating darkness of child-loss, guiding them to a place of hope, light and purpose.
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