I would love to say that I’ve learned and grown since losing my 25-year-old daughter Jessica on November 10, 2013, but the truth is all I have managed since is to survive for the sake of my older daughter, Sarah. I would like to tell you that I have remained for the sake of my husband and others who love me, but the reality is not even their love could have kept me here, so great is the pain of this terrible loss. I’d like to tell you that my faith in a benevolent Being has seen me through this tragic horror, and that I take comfort in knowing we will all share eternity together. But, once again, that would be a lie. I’m more disconnected and alone than ever before, and I question everything: my present reality, my past and the notion of eternity. But I still live and breathe and hope for answers and peace and perhaps even a hint of joy someday. I still use humor to lighten others’ moods. I still work for justice. Even with this huge hole in my heart, I do my best, but I do not pretend to be who I was before losing my child, for that would be a lie.
When my 25-year-old daughter died unexpectedly, just two days after I buried my mother, I couldn’t imagine surviving the nightmare I found myself living. I kept telling my older daughter, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this …” to which she wisely replied, “Mom, you’re doing it.” I was, and I did and, in retrospect, these are the things I learned on that painful journey.
Insight #1 — You do survive if you choose to.
I’m still here. I’m not “over” my daughter Jessie’s death nor will I ever be, but most people would never know what I’ve survived. I continue to work, manage my farm and participate in relationships with my husband, family and friends. I’ll never be the person I was before that phone call, but I’ve survived, and I’m more than functional.
Insight #2 — Get the help you need, whatever it is.
During the first month of debilitating grief, I went to my medical doctor and got meds to help me sleep. I didn’t want to disconnect from my grief, just be able to bear it. I went to therapy, specifically a grief counselor. I went to a hypnotist. I went to spiritual mediums and anyone who could help me see through the pain. I attended Bereaved Parents’ support groups because those were the only people I felt could understand my pain, and I needed advice from subject matter experts, not folks who hadn’t gone through my nightmare. I knew that to live, I had to work through the excruciating pain.
Insight #3 — Feel your feelings whatever they are.
Everyone grieves differently, and my grief wasn’t particularly pretty. The rage and sorrow I felt were overwhelming … and often loud. You can’t bury your natural responses to loss and expect that they will miraculously disappear or heal. The only way through grief is through it. You have a right to your anger and sadness and despair. Just try not to harm anyone, including yourself, when expressing these powerful emotions. But feel them and find a safe place and people with which to express them.
Insight #4 — Don’t let other people create a box for you and your grief.
You’ll soon realize that some people offer you platitudes because they want you to return to the pre-loss version of you. But you can’t, and more importantly, unless you really find a platitude that you want to cling to, you have every right to reject them and even tell folks that those simple words aren’t helpful. Hearing that Jess would want me to move on didn’t ease my pain. It just made me more angry. We all grieve in our own way, in our time and simple solutions seldom solve complex issues such as grief.
Insight #5 — Find your reason.
The single reason I’m still here six years later is my other beautiful daughter, the one who kept assuring me I was “doing it,” who had already suffered the loss of her sister and didn’t deserve to lose her mother as well. For me, Sarah was and is my reason. If you don’t have another child or, obviously another spouse, mother, father or best friend, it helps to find your reason and cling to that. And if you can’t find a reason, then turn to the people who love you, and let them cling to you. Share your despair, and indeed, thoughts of checking out if you have them (most of us do at some point). Find your people or your purpose and hold on, literally, for dear life. This is a terrible journey, but you won’t remain in the starting point of horror forever. Grief changes and becomes part of who we are. We adapt, survive and sometimes even prosper.