by Tamara Harvey Braswell
When my 19-year-old son Logan died in a car crash more than five years ago, I soon became engulfed in a new relationship called Grief. I capitalize the word because I consider Grief more than a word. Grief is a gut puncher, water-filled lungs, blinding head banging pain that holds a person hostage.
That’s how Grief feels at first. I am talking about traumatic Grief – the kind of Grief that drowns a parent in sorrow and despair when he or she loses a child, whether the death be from a sudden cause, such as an accident or suicide, or from a long illness.
Here’s the good news – the gut-wrenching despair is not forever
I found that over the years, the raw pain of Grief subsided. It morphed from a proverbial knife through the heart to a relationship with the death of my only child.
If you are a bereaved parent trying to help others understand your Grief, I find the very feeble analogy of losing a leg may help.
Here’s how the conversation goes.
Imagine getting into a horrific accident in which your left leg is severed completely from your body. The pain is raw, excruciating and you can think of nothing else. Every cell in you is screaming and no one can stop this agony. Even the best of drugs can’t numb it. You would rather be dead than dealing with this. All you can do is take a second at a time. Your loved ones and friends try to come to the rescue. They attempt to comfort you, oftentimes making it worse by saying things like, “everything happens for a reason.” Eventually, they go on with their lives, all limbs intact.
Slowly, the sheer rawness subsides
You learn to function, minus your left leg. Your friends remark how strong you are. Everything seems to be OK to them.
Even with the initial pain passing, you are constantly reminded that you lost your leg. You learn to get around in a different way. At first, a trip to the mailbox is daunting. You can’t drive. Everything is extremely difficult if not impossible.
You find some strength and relief in reaching out to others who also lost a leg. They know what you are going through. While some have dug deeper in their despair, others learned to survive and even thrive with one leg. Many of them walk with a prosthetic leg and some run and climb mountains.
Your left leg can never be replaced, but its absence is the source of everything different in your life.
While I have not lost a leg, I broke one during a backpacking trip a few years after Logan died. I couldn’t walk for a few months, and it took several more months before I could walk normally. That doesn’t begin to compare to a lost leg.
A lost leg doesn’t begin to compare to a lost child, but there are parallels in how you can transform the pain into something positive.
Here’s the catch. Grief must happen and it hurts
Many of us, including myself, become the world’s leading experts in the art of distracting the Grief away to avoid the hurt.
Distraction comes in many forms. Some are terribly destructive such as drugs, alcohol, hoarding, and addictions of any kind. Other distractions are positive such as physical fitness, travel, adventure, and work. Even launching “good-doer” causes in memory of your dead child, putting everything you have in your other kids and family, and diving deep into the church are distractions. Eventually, I had to shut ALL distractions down for a while, even the good ones, and give Grief its space and time.
Building a relationship with Grief is a very personal journey
For me, I needed tons of help, including guidance from a therapist who also lost a child. I shared my pain with other bereaved parents through support groups and retreats. I read books about coping with traumatic Grief. It helped to know I wasn’t alone on this path.
Most difficult of all is allowing Grief to happen. In the beginning, it flooded me with pain and sadness without warning. Then I learned to stow Grief away like luggage on a basement shelf and that is destructive. It’s like burying my loss alive. I discovered I had to take time, be still, and let the memories of Logan’s death go through me. I cry, scream, get angry or just be calm. Sometimes I am tearless and empty. It doesn’t matter – the emotions need room to be. I don’t want anyone calming me down or asking me what’s wrong or saying everything will be OK. Sit quietly with me along my Grief ride. When it’s over, the pain flows away like leaves traveling downstream. Then I am OK for a while…OK enough to turn the pain into writing, cooking, gardening, taking pictures, and the new things in life I have picked up after Logan’s death. Letting Grief happens clears the space for creativity, peace, and even joy.
It’s not that I move on, but I am trying to move with Grief so I can live life fully and do my son proud.