An Open Letter to Those Who Have Recently Experienced the Loss of Their Child
Dear Grieving Parent,
It hurts. I know it hurts. It hurts with an indescribable pain. I don’t know the encompassing extent of your hurt. It’s too personal, too individual – and I don’t pretend to know it. I only know my own loss, and remember what it was like in the beginning. It hurts. And how unreal it seems. How horrifically shocking it feels. How hopeless, devastating and painful it can feel. What I remember most is the pain. An emotional pain so real it becomes a physical sensation in the center of the soul.
Hearing the news of your deep, deep loss, my heart goes out to you. I hurt along with you. Weep for you. How I wish I could do something to help you feel better. To take away the hurt. To ease the sorrow.
Though I desperately want to do so, I don’t have the power. What power I do have is to come alongside. To let you know you are not alone. To try to provide comfort through the comfort I’ve received.
I know comfort doesn’t take away the pain, but I pray it helps provide a tiny dose of strength and courage as you walk this path. A messy, muddy, uninviting path that you’ve been forced to walk. Like a forced march of prisoners on a road not of their choosing, not of their free will. A path no one else can walk for you. And no one else can know how you feel as you navigate it. Sometimes it seems as though you can’t continue, as though there’s no motivation to even want to walk. But you have no choice. You have to. Sometimes you stumble. Sometimes you fall down, then get back up and start marching again. No one really knows what it’s like. This journey is too personal, too intimate. No one else has the same relationship with your child, the same memories, or the same love.
If people tell you they understand and know exactly how you feel, and they continue on to make comparisons, even ridiculous ones, just let it go. They’re only trying to help. Their ignorance, though painfully obvious, is not worth dwelling on. We can only hope they never have to really know how you feel.
I lost a son seven years ago. I don’t know your grief, but I know my own, and I know the sorrow of such loss. Our mourning may be as different as are the children we’ve said good-bye to, yet there is a bond between those of us who have been forced to march this demanding journey. A journey many have taken and survived. A journey many more will survive, especially if they have someone who can trudge alongside them, encouraging them, supporting them, patiently waiting for them when they stumble and fall behind. The involuntary march may never totally end while on this earth, but I tell you, you can survive it. It may be nothing less than horrible right now, but hold on. Keep breathing. Keep walking.
There’s a time to mourn. That time is now. You have every right to feel the loss, to be angry, to be sad, to be numb. Mourning looks different for everyone. It might be weeping and wailing. It might be silently sitting, not even thinking. It might be pounding with fists or a club on something that won’t break… or maybe will break.
Or it may be quiet contemplation, letting tears softly accumulate until they slowly slide down sorrow-infused skin. Each tear a gentle but physical reminder, telling you this is all too real, as it silently drops onto an empty lap.
All of those responses are normal. All are common reactions. It may seem crazy to others, but vacillating between calm, complacent meditation and bursts of angry, protesting, violent feelings are all responses validated by a community of grieving parents.
Yet in the midst of it, know that a time will come when that deep pain will begin to soften. It will become less consuming. Still present, but less of an oppressive presence. There can even come a time when the memories become a little sweeter – interlaced with gratitude for the opportunity to have had that child in your life.
You may have heard, “There’s a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Right now, the thought of dancing, the thought of rejoicing, the thought of ever feeling happiness again… seems unbelievable. That’s okay. You don’t need to believe it right now. This isn’t the time. Mourn for now. Mourning comes first. Take the time to sit in the sadness. And yet know, it doesn’t have to feel this way forever.
The emotional sweet and sour mix of gratitude and despair have a tendency to become more sweet and less sour as time moves on. Hold on to hope and know the possibility of finding moments of joy will again appear. It can happen. It really can. Be patient with yourself. Wait.
One day, briefly, a sweet relief of joy will unexpectedly visit you. Be encouraged as you journey along this road. Let it be a sign. A sign that joy can once again be felt. It can return, even in the mourning.
With love and compassion,
A Fellow Traveler
Sheila Kittelson, Nathaniel’s Mom