Updated: Sep 6, 2022
When I didn’t know where to turn for help when my son died, I did what we all do nowadays and searched the internet. I don’t even remember what I was looking for exactly, probably just something that would take away a tiny bit of pain or provide some semblance of an explanation or the slightest ray of hope.
I went down all kinds of rabbit holes (try googling “parents who have lost a child to suicide”… um, on second thought, maybe don’t). One of the first things I stumbled upon was something called “Grief Is a Process.” When I first read it, I thought it was generic bullshit, an obvious and cautiously optimistic roadmap kind of thing you might find in the waiting room of a therapist’s office.
The truth was that it was impossible for me to process anything at the time, least of all the process of grief. I was at the beginning of the beginning and could barely read through my tears. Everything felt so empty and meaningless, especially words. All the mourners at my son’s funeral who annoyed the hell out of me by saying “There are no words” turned out to be right.
But now that he’s been gone for a few years, I thought it might be time to revisit the words in that grief guide and add some 20/20 hindsight words of my own.
Grief is a Process
A better title would be “What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Cry Forever.”
Here are Some Realistic Expectations for Your Grief as Time Goes By...
Maybe the first thing they should have said here is: “You can’t possibly comprehend what you’re about to read, so just give it a quick scan, then put it away and come back to it a year or so later.”
Although the pain of grief often comes upon us all at once in a crushing blow, the pain gradually lessons over time.
The pain and crushing parts are certainly true, and both abate eventually. But I’d tweak the first sentence to read: It takes a lifetime for healing to happen, and that’s if it even happens at all.
You will find relief through expressing your feelings even many months and years after the death of your loved one.
So, here’s the thing about relief: On a micro level, sure, there’s some solace in letting out your feelings rather than keeping them bottled up inside. But on a macro level, there’s no relief when it comes to losing a child. And I’ve been expressing the hell out of my feelings ever since he died, and still mainly feel like crap.
You cannot get through this alone, so find ways to seek support.
Seeing a therapist, joining a grief group and talking about my son with family and close friends have all been incredibly helpful, and I couldn’t imagine enduring this without that wonderful support. But ultimately, we all go through grief alone. When I’m in the shower, or sitting in the car at a red light, or late at night just before I fall asleep, I’m alone with my thoughts about my son and how much I miss him and how much this world sucks without him. That’s when the heartache is at its worst. But I also know that somehow, someway, I’m going to get to the other side of grief–if there is such a thing–and will have to do it alone.
The camaraderie and understanding of others in a grief support group will help to normalize your feelings.
I never imagined myself in a grief group. I’m uncomfortable in just about any group setting, so I couldn’t see myself being any different with a bunch of strangers who I had absolutely nothing in common with other than that we had all recently suffered the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent. However, the moment I walked into my first meeting and saw the look in everyone’s eyes, I knew that I was in the right place. I knew because they all had the same look that I’ve seen in the mirror every day since my son died. I was with my people. We all understand each other in a type of shorthand that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s a safe space where we can share whatever needs to be shared without any guilt or judgment. And I hope it will also be a space where we can all begin to heal.
It helps to continue to honor and maintain a loving connection to the memory of the person who died.
Writing about my son helps me stay connected to him like nothing else. For the first few months, I was compelled to document how I was feeling and dealing with his loss. And also, how those feelings might change over the course of time. But lately, I’ve become more aware of the “loving connection to the memory” part. In other words, focusing on my son’s spirit more than just recounting all the bad craziness he got himself into these past few years. So good call, Grief Is a Process guide!
There will come a time when you go for an hour, a day, or a week without crying.
I didn’t believe this could be possible when I first read it, but of course it’s true. We can’t cry forever. We can’t grieve forever. We’re forever changed and I’ve since learned that grief is a shape-shifting monster, but as Amy Winehouse prophetically sang, “Tears Dry on Their Own.”
You will be able to talk about your loved one without feeling an overwhelming sadness.
As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, the takeaway with most of these milestones is that in the beginning of grief, you just can’t imagine that anything will ever change, and certainly not for the better. Remember, it’s a process: “a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result.” So yes, the sadness slowly loses its adjectives and just exists unadorned.
Find yourself laughing or enjoying yourself.
The guide has obviously never met me.
You are able to smile as you think of tender memories.
It took some time, but right again, Grief Is a Process smarty pants!
You find yourself wanting to spend time with others.
See answer to “You find yourself laughing or enjoying yourself.
You Begin to Once Again Engage in Activities that Gave you Pleasure in the Past
This is the “you need to get on with your life” speech, and I thought it was ridiculous until I had the recent epiphany that this was even possible and that it’s something I have some control over. Now I just need to remember what those old pleasurable activities were.
You begin to see and feel a possibility of hope for a meaningful life ahead.
So how does it feel to be mostly right about all of this stuff, Mr. Grief Is a Process know-it-all?