I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard…
“I don’t know how you do it.”
“I would go crazy if I were you.”
“I couldn’t survive losing my child,” not to mention the comments many say quietly to themselves, secretly thankful it wasn’t their child. Let’s be honest. I know many of you suffering through grief have heard similar things and more. Hearing these words makes a grieving parent cringe with pain.
We didn’t choose this life, yet what are we supposed to do when we are face to face with our worst nightmare?
No matter what your grief is let me tell you, yes you can survive. And no, it’s not going to be easy. It’s a dark, lonely, road less traveled, but believe it or not, it is possible to come out on the other side.
14 years is sneaking up on me since Lydia passed away. How in the world did I survive all these years? Sometimes it seems unreal. At the time, overcome with despair, loneliness and heartache, I honestly didn’t think I would make it. Many times, it felt like the end. However, looking back years later, I can see clearly what led me to where I am today. Here are some of my secrets to surviving loss of your child.
1) Breathe. First and foremost, initially the only thing you can do is to breathe. Breathe and take things as they come, one minute, one hour and one day at a time. The first day, night, weeks and months after Lydia died, it was physically hard for me to breathe. Getting up to get a drink of water was way too much effort for someone like me. I would get so exhausted I could barely get off the couch those first few weeks. I even went to the doctor thinking something was seriously wrong with me due to my shortness of breath. Come to find out, it was just the stress and anxiety of a grieving mother.
Learning how to breathe over again literally took all the energy I had. All too often I would find myself forgetting to breathe as I became light-headed and dizzy at the smallest movements. It sounds silly, but I seriously had to make a conscious effort and remind myself to take in that oxygen.
It’s important to take deep breaths to ease your anxieties and calm the soul. If this was all I could concentrate on and accomplish during a day, I soon learned that it was okay. When we are struck with such trauma from our loss, day-to-day tasks are nearly impossible. And you know what? It’s okay to let the house go, the pile of clothes, stack of dirty dishes, unfolded laundry, missed calls, and the overgrown lawn will always be there. It’s okay, normal, and it happens to the best of us. Just let it go and breathe. Once we have this down, the rest will come in time.
2) Give it to God. Absolutely the most important, essential key to surviving child loss. When grief is so raw, it’s easy to become angry with God. We wonder why He had to take our child over and over again, trying to make sense of the senseless. Naturally, we seek answers to life’s most complicated problems. Yet, to avoid a vicious circle of torment, we must learn trust and have faith-and no, it isn’t easy.
For me, those first few nights which turned to weeks, months and years, were frightful and strenuous. If one bystander could have looked in my window as I turned out the lights and lay in bed in the silent darkness, what would they have seen? They would have seen a mother soaked with tears, terrified with another day gone, clutching her surviving child’s hands, begging God to ease their pain and give them the strength to get through another day. Seeing the sunrise each new day meant time was moving on and I wasn’t. Such a scary feeling. However, over the months and years, the nightly ritual of prayers turned to thankfulness and praise for the time we did have with Lydia, asking God again to guide me on this new life and mission.
God has done amazing things and He has been the foundation in which I have survived. Hope became the catalyst to surviving this new life we had been given.
3) Connect with others who have lost a child, for they are the only ones who truly knew the true journey. As for any loss, connecting and meeting with those who have similar losses can be life changing.
It had only been three weeks since Lydia had died, I was dragged to my first grief support group, a Compassionate Friends meeting. Reluctantly, I went and hated every minute of it, never wanting to go back. Overcome with disbelief and shock, it felt like I was living in someone else’s life, not my own. Very surreal. Who wanted to hear about all the depressing stories of grief, seeing first-hand the pain and agony so many are suffering from? Not me. I couldn’t even handle my own. But I went back. Something drew me to them. I wasn’t one to ever talk, as I barely muttered my name the first meeting amidst all the tears. Before I knew it, I felt a strange connection. I could relate.
All these people who had walked my path and they were still here. Some barely holding it together, while others paved the path of strength and hope. This was a group who “got it.” They knew what it was like to have a birthday or anniversary date come and have no one mention your child’s name. They knew the anguish of sitting alone in the dark, crying hysterically and all you are left with is hopelessness. They knew the feeling like you have nothing left to live for. They understood the emptiness and pain of a quiet house, no smiles, giggles or laughs, but especially, they knew how deep our love was for our child who died.
Then, upon leaving, I found myself entering a world of people who didn’t “get it.” Of no fault of their own, they simply hadn’t been there. I’m sorry but there’s no way to “get it” or to fully understand unless you’ve experienced it. Years later, some of these people I have met who have also suffered child loss remain close friends. Absolutely, they came into my life for a reason at just the right time.
So, reach out. Don’t be afraid. Find your local meetings or online support groups. You just can’t beat being face to face with other parents who understand your pain. It will absolutely transform your life.
4) Honor your child’s memory, birthday, wishes, etc. Just honor your child. Yes, even this can be a tough one, but it’s absolutely necessary.
When I went to a meeting early on after Lydia died, people were talking about making birthday cakes for their children no longer with them on their special days. Initially, this struck an odd chord within me and I was appalled that people would do that and thought they were crazy. When Lydia’s birthday came around that first year, I couldn’t bear the thought of having a cake to celebrate her day. The pain was too great and I believed there simply was nothing to celebrate and how disrespectful of people to do such a thing. However, as time passed, my perspective changed.
While difficult at first, after two years, the fog slowly cleared and I realized what I was missing out on. The lightbulb had come on. Of course, she should be celebrated!
It’s now been thirteen years, and on Lydia’s birthday each year, my kids and I eat her favorite meal, chicken strips with French fries, complete with ranch dressing. We take turns exchanging memories and stories of our girl. We will forever celebrate this beautiful day, the day that God blessed us with her.
However, my children and I are about the only ones who recognize her birthday. Yes, it does hurt when others don’t remember, but we can’t expect them all too. Some may believe it’s too painful for us, or it may be too painful for them, while others believe we should “move on” and “get over it.”
Our children were here. We want to talk about them, and our hearts fill with love when we hear their names. They lived, and you know what, their lives should be celebrated and remembered. There are countless ways to remember your child and honor their memory. There’s nothing too big or too small, just do what feels right for you. Honoring and remember our children can bring opportunities to create new traditions and beginnings that we can embrace when the time is right, offering comfort, peace and hope.
5) Find your purpose in life. What we thought was our purpose before our child passed away, may no longer be. So, with your new life, can you or should you change careers, your focus, or path in life? Absolutely! While we ponder these decisions with trepidation, we often lack focus and energy. However, simply planting those seeds and then meditating on which direction to take can influence our path.
After enduring the loss of my beautiful daughter, I was lost. I didn’t know who I was anymore, but what I did know, was that I wasn’t the same person. My life was forever different. I remember, it was 2 ½ years later and I found myself searching for my purpose in life because I didn’t fit in where I was. I was broken and at a standstill. I prayed incessantly to God to guide me and give me direction in the path I was to take. I found myself being ineffective at my job, often times welcoming my wandering mind, oblivious to what I was being paid to do. Yet I had found a whole new empathy and outlook on life that mirrored compassion and understand for those enduring tough times. Slowly, doors began to open, while some painfully closed, but God was showing me the way.
Losing my daughter opened my eyes to another world. A world posing the questions, “Why are we here? What is the meaning of this life we have been given?” Life is too short to not explore your dreams, passions, and follow your heart. This way of thinking and action was a huge weight off my shoulders, providing a sense of freedom I find hard to describe. Let’s just say it’s a feeling of freshness, new beginnings, possibilities and hope!
6. Bring joy to others. Nothing is more fulfilling or rewarding than serving others. Whether it be in a small way or a big way, this can heal you in a way like nothing else. From sending a short thank you card, to giving a smile to that one person who needed it most, giving to another and making a difference in the life of another human being, you can’t help but notice that it will lift your spirits and give you a sense of worth, pride and healing from the inside out. Bringing joy to others gives you an internal change, a transformation of the heart that fills a void and satisfies that deep hunger for the life hidden inside you. Serving others provides an opportunity for self-reflection and meaning, while exposing the things we have previously taken for granted, offering us understanding and a renewed compassion for others. For me, founding an organization in memory of my daughter has been an experience like no other. Being able to reach out to underprivileged children and see them smile has impacted my children and I in an amazing way. God absolutely can use our pain to bring sunshine to others in dark places. Give it a try!
7. Share your journey. Tell your story. Speak of your child. Say their name. Although it can be difficult, the more you share, the easier it gets. After feeling compelled by God to share my journey via my blog, I began writing more and more which has made a remarkable transformation in me.
Overtime, it gets easier to share those fragile memories. For sure, it makes us apprehensive and can be scary, however, it can also be rewarding and miraculous at the same time. To verbalize this dark reality somehow makes it tangible yet, when we do share, our heavy cement boots become just a little bit lighter. As time goes by, you will gain confidence in telling your story. This is your child’s story. It makes it real and becomes part of who you are now, propelling your journey to healing.
8. Gratitude. Can grief and gratitude really coincide? At first, I didn’t believe it and didn’t want to believe it. When you experience child loss, it can be difficult to see good things in life as our lives have been shattered. However, overtime, as grieving parents we need to slowdown in life and count those blessings. Yes, take time to smell the flowers. Take time to read a book, go for a walk, watch a game, laugh, talk with a friend, or admire a sunset. Try to find things to be thankful for.
If we try to view that glass half full, does it mean we love our children any less? Does it mean that we don’t miss them? Does it mean our guilt was magically washed away? Absolutely not. On the contrary, it means we have been shown a world we never would have known. Grief takes us back to the stone ages with no cell phones or internet, like a time warp of dream lands filled with precious memories, heartache, and wishes that we could go back and do things differently. In an instant, we learn what’s really important. We learn to appreciate the little things. And you know that saying, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” that couldn’t be truer! Find perspective. Embrace it. Look with eyes of wonder and hope for tomorrow.
9) Keep a journal. Writing is an integral part of the grieving process for many. Hesitant at first, for me it started as a recommendation from my counselor, encouraging me to write letters to Lydia. In doing so, the tears flooded as my heart poured out to my girl. That then emerged into writing down dreams I had, thoughts that would rush into my mind that I didn’t want to forget, which then progressed to sentences, scriptures, etc. Also, I was so afraid of forgetting things about my daughter that I wrote them down-funny things she said, what she loved, her favorite songs and activities and so much more. Journaling became a healing vessel for my own pain and grief where I could process all of the chaos in my mind. After reading my words back after all this time, a picture has clearly been painted for me, bringing light and understanding, a whole new dimension of life. Without a doubt I would recommend this to everyone dealing with loss. You just can’t recognize the value of your thoughts on paper until years later. I promise you won’t regret this!
10) Distractions. Reading became my first distraction. I read so many books about God, Heaven and the spiritual sense which were immensely helpful, however, one thing I needed was time off and unfortunately, you can’t get a break from this new life. So, especially at night when it was difficult to sleep, I found myself needing an escape. In addition to those self-help books we all reach for; it is so important to read what I call “mindless” books. You know the ones that are ridiculously meaningless, but transport you to a whole new world and take you places you’ve never been.
Some say that you should face your grief head on and not distract yourself. I disagree. In the end, you have to do what works for you. There is no right or wrong way. For me, I craved to go to a world that was not my reality, especially during those dreaded long nights. It brought relief being able to focus on a fictional story and somehow live that life until I was able to fall asleep. If you’re not into reading, other distractions such as exercise, hobbies, taking adventures, new projects or hands on activities to channel your energy and thoughts can be very therapeutic.
When we’re grieving, sometimes we need a break from our reality, as the mind can only take so much before it reaches its overload capacity. Years later, I still look forward to my “escapes,” giving me much-needed rest from the heavy weight of this new life.
My secrets are now yours. A few helpful tips from a mother whose heart was shattered to pieces, but with the grace of God, found new meaning, purpose, and valuable connections with others to create a new beginning and live the impossible life.
My heart is a little bigger, my eyes are a little wider, my skin is a little thicker, my body is a little tougher, my mind is a little wiser, and my looks are a little older. But I am still here. I am surviving. I WILL survive and so can you.