What is grief? How does it impact the person? What can you do to help a friend who is grieving? In order to help someone who is grieving, we must first attempt to understand what it means to walk in their shoes. One of my goals with this blog is to show you, with words, what grief is like. Leave behind the “I could never imagine” and begin to imagine with me for just one moment.
These are statements and phrases that I wrote not long after Maggie died. All of these still ring true twenty-one months later. The difference is that I am learning to walk hand in hand with these emotions. Do remember that every grieving person is an individual. Some of these things they may not experience but we all experience the trauma.
1. Hot tears always at the surface
In the beginning, meaning the first year/year and a half, tears were always just below the surface. It was a strange, burning sensation that just never went away. It did not matter if I was talking, laughing. joking, shopping, or any of the other million actions and tasks I had to accomplish. The hot, burning, sensation was always there. Remember when you asked me how I was doing and I said I was doing ok? Even then the tears threatened to spill over. If you can remember this about your grieving friend then you can be there for them in a way that no one else can. If you are the one grieving and can remember for yourself that this is “normal” then you can be there for yourself sitting with your emotions and allowing them to flow through in order for healing to begin.
2. A Dizzy Feeling in the Brain
The night Maggie died I did not sleep. I wandered the house crying and mourning as I looked at her pictures and read the Psalms. The next morning when I got up my head felt dizzy. Not my head. My brain. I chalked it up to exhaustion. As the days, weeks and months wore on I realized that this dizzy feeling was not going to leave me. It was especially bad every time I laid down and turned my head to the right. The room would immediately begin to spin and I would feel disoriented. Sometimes this would change. Sometimes I would feel dizzy upon standing, sitting, moving a certain way, turning my head a certain way. It constantly changed on me. This lasted for about a year and then slowly began to fade away as my body realigned itself and grew “used” to this deep-seated agony. However, it has not disappeared permanently. Last year, and this, just after January 1st, those “old” symptoms return. My body and my mind again revisit those agonizing moments of holding her while she died and I am acutely aware that the month of May is just around the corner. See, there are no breaks for the grieving person. As soon as we begin to feel “better” another anniversary, birthday, special day, appears on the horizon and we go back to not being able to sleep, eat, and take care of ourselves properly. Our bodies respond physically to this grief and we cannot help this. Be kind to your grieving friend no matter how long it has been since their person died.
3. A Constant Scream from the Soul
The soul is constantly in a battle and crying out for the one who is “lost”. In my case, it has felt like a very visceral reaction that cannot be helped. My soul is always longing to be reunited with my child and there is truly nothing that can be done about this. The intensity of this longing is greater in the beginning when one foot is in Heaven and one foot is on earth. The longing does not go away but the edges of it begin to smooth out over time as the grieving person begins to settle into this new way of living.
4. Wandering in a BarrenPlace
Without fail the spirit is always pushing and pulling and tugging the grieving person toward their person. This is especially true in the case of child death. Mothers and fathers and children were not meant to be permanently separated from each other in this lifetime. As a mother, there is an innate cry within me that never goes away. It reminds me every second of every day of what I have lost and what my child has gained. In order to walk with your friend, it will be necessary to know that even years down the road this tugging and pushing of the spirit will not go away. This road feels barren as the parent wanders it throughout life.
5. Looking Forward to the Day I Die
While this sounds extreme to so many to the grieving parent all they can see is the place there child is. Many of us wish for death to take us so that we can once again hold that little one in our arms. For myself, I am no longer fearful of death in the way that I once was. I do not wish for death to take me only because my mission on earth has not yet been completed. I have children to raise who would be devastated to lose me. Watching how they have mourned their sister I have no idea how any of my children will recover from another close loss. Of course, we all know that God is in charge of the day and time so we can trust that when we leave this world our mission on earth has been completed and we go to fulfill our mission in Heaven. Remember, your grieving friend may be longing for things that they never talk about publicly.
6. Feeling Like my Heart is Physically Gone
This is such a strange and physical reaction to child loss. I have spoken with many mothers who feel as though a piece of their heart is gone. For myself, in the early months, I would wake up at night in tears and feel an empty hole where my heart once was. It felt, at times, as though my entire heart had simply been cut out of my chest and nothing but an empty, lifeless hole remained. During the day I could feel physical pain in my heart and a piece of it felt as though it was gone. Now, later in grief, the physical pain comes and goes but the missing piece has always remained. I’ve grown “used” to the feeling. It is only when I stop to think about it that I realize this is not a normal feeling for most people.
7. Never Ending
Your grieving friend is likely exhausted of mind, body, and soul. The grieving never ends. Well-wishers say that you must simply move on. It does not work like that with the body even if the mind moves on. We simply move forward growing ever closer to the one who is gone. And in the moving forward we begin to find that while we are utterly exhausted (and these words do not even come close to what this type of exhaustion feels like) we are learning to walk hand in hand with all of these struggles. The edges do smooth out but the exhaustion and grief do not fade away. For myself, I am continuing to learn about what it means to walk hand in hand with grief. I am learning how to grieve and live at the same time. This is a painful process and one that is not easy to endure.
How are some ways you can support your friend? The very biggest way to support your friend is to simply be there. It sounds so simple but a grieving person can be very complicated. We may forget to reply to text and phone call. We don’t always pursue a relationship because we simply are not thinking about it. We WANT those relationships but we have no strength or energy in us to chase after them or even to simply initiate conversation. This is especially true during the first two years. So, be there. Text and call even when they don’t reply. Bring a meal without asking. Show up and mow the yard. Take the children out to do something fun. But most of all, just BE. Sit with them. Cry with them. Learn from them. This is not an easy task and it is one that many do not continue after the first 30 days of loss. Grief is such a hard path for friends to walk with their grieving friends. As hard as it is remember that it is a million times more difficult for the one grieving.
For all of the many friends who have walked with us, and continue to walk with us, thank you! You have not gone unnoticed. We are so very grateful as you journey with us.