Tuesday, June 25, 2013

More Than a Bereaved Parent

     Losing a child can have the effect of making you retreat into your loss and seeing yourself only as a person with this tremendous grief.  Recently, I realized I have been seeing myself as a bereaved parent and childless widow.  Reality check.  I am more than that.  I am still me even if I am not as I was before my losses.  I am more than the sum total of my losses as are you, Dear Readers.
     Shifting my personal thinking on this concept is like breaking out of a painful shell in which I have been cocooned for too long.  Is it fear of feeling again and risking the gut wrenching pain of another loss?  Maybe.   Yet, if I am experiencing this, perhaps others of you are also.
     I have made some temporary explorations outside this shell since the deaths of my son and husband.  I connected with old friends, made new ones, bought two cars, bought and sold a home and published the first two books of my children's series.  But, there was kind of a finality to the books because I dedicated one to my son and the other to my husband.  I fear I have retreated back into my shell...  just biding my time until I meet with Chris and Fred once more.
     I think I am in my shell for my day to day activities and even social situations.  I often feel out of place... like someone extra whose friends are kind enough to include her.  This has to change.  Yes, I have had losses which partly, but not totally, define me.  
     I am still a sister, aunt, cousin and good friend.  I am a school nurse who has recently become an author.  I am an independent, professional woman with an active social life and many caring friends and family.  For these reasons, I feel blessed and grateful.  Time to shed the shell.
     My grief, even if not acutely painful, will always be with me.  I must not let it hamper me.  So, Dear Readers, I say to you be aware of being only a bereaved parent in your mind.  It will take effort for me to re-connect with my total identity.  It is  good for me to examine this as a goal.  I will pray for help in achieving it and pray for all of you.
     If you are able to share your experience in feeling this way, too, please comment.  I would appreciate hearing from you.

Peace and love,


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Too Quickly and Too Soon

     There is no way to prepare for the death of a child.  When a son or daughter dies suddenly, it is earth shattering.  Two images still haunt me:  my son, Chris, lying in the grass and dying alone and my last conversation with him by phone.  It was only an hour before he sustained a gunshot wound to the chest.
     I sensed in our last conversation something was wrong.  Unfortunately, I thought since he said he would return home that night, he would be okay.  Sadly, I didn't listen to my own premonition, nor did my son.  I had told Chris not to return to western Pennsylvania as I felt his life was in danger.
     So many things left unsaid.  So unnatural to bury a child.  A horrendous, numbing and unbelievable shock when the police came and told me.  How was ever going to tell my very ill husband, Fred?  After burying Chris, this was the hardest thing I ever had to do.
     Something which I remember helped me in the first week after Chris' death was writing a long letter to him.  I wrote everything I felt and feared... anything that came to mind, even questions.  I actually took that letter to the cemetery and buried it in the soft soil of his new gravesite.  This letter and gesture were the last good-bye I never got to say.
     I know not everyone feels comfortable writing.  Yet, I encourage trying to write a letter as a way to say good-bye.  No one is there to correct spelling or grammar.  What matters is speaking from the heart.  It will be an effort, not a pain free one, but pain needs expression.  It may prove to be an effort well spent.
     Remember, everyone grieves in their own way.  I believe for my husband, Chris' death was a release as he no longer needed to live to be there for Chris.  Fred asked to go to the cemetery.  He asked where he would be buried.  I showed him his place at the gravesite and sensed at that point after much suffering and hanging on, he was now prepared to die.  And he did... six weeks after Chris.
     When Fred died, I was so numb with grief about Chris, it took me two years before I could internalize Fred's death.  It was a lonely time filled with anger and resentment at them both for leaving me all alone.  Two years later, I was finally able to grieve Fred.  I went back to my support group with a friend who had newly become a widow.
     I mention my feelings of anger and resentment because it is important to be aware of these feelings as well as of jealousy and self-pity.  These feelings can really affect couples who have lost a child.  It is very easy not to understand each other's feelings and make each other the brunt of personal feelings.   That is where support groups and individual grief counseling can be helpful to keep lines of communication open.    
     Let me add, too, starting to feel better doesn't mean feeling guilty also.  Feeling better shows progress, effort and choosing life.  This is what a son or daughter would want.  Moving forward with life takes time, but there is no clock here.  What is important is slow and steady progress.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Life's Detours

     When my son died, I took a long and major detour off the path that was my life.  My husband was very ill.  He had been in a nursing home for several years.  As much as one can, I was prepared for his death.  Well, you never know what fate has in store for you.  Instead of my husband dying, our son Chris was killed.
     I had been feeling sorry for myself because I was still dealing with some complications from breast cancer, working everyday and visiting the nursing home daily.  Chris dying plunged me into a spiral of despair, self-doubt and anger.  It was too much for my husband.  He died six weeks later.  I had asked Chris to bring Dad home to end his suffering.  With both gone, now I was alone.
     I lost my way on the detour.  I no longer wanted to live.  Luckily, I had some very close friends who didn't give up on me and a pastor who was there for me.  These factors, along with my faith and counseling,  helped me.  I chose to go on.  I figured if people weren't giving up on me, then I had to respond.  The last thing I wanted was to become bitter and angry and push everyone away.
     One of my friends came every weekend.  They took me places like craft fairs and shopping.  They invited me to dinner.  I did things with them, I couldn't do on my own.  I don't think I could ever re-pay them or thank them enough.
     I learned that isolation was my worst enemy.  I realized I had to be open to some help and friendly gestures even though I didn't feel like it.  It was a small start to getting back on the road to possibly continuing the journey of life.  Notice I said close friends.  I had to be selective about who I associated with and where I went.  I would avoid large gatherings.  When I experienced distress from certain people or situations, I no longer exposed myself to them.  I felt there was no point in bringing unnecessary stress to my self.
     Even though I needed the love and support of others, this did not include all types of activity.  I had to trust my judgement  and be kind to myself.  Once, I had to leave a gathering because I became so upset by someone's conversation.  My friend understood, had her son get my car and I left by the back door.  But, it was okay.  It was a learning experience in feeling my way back to life.
     I hope you can relate, Dear Readers, to some of what I said and be able to get out little by little.
Peace and God bless.