What Happens After You Lose a Child? A Mother’s First Steps on a Journey Through Loss
What Happens After You Lose a Child?
"There are no straight forward ways to deal with this. I offer you a glimpse of my experience in the immediate. Take my offerings for what they are, a mother’s journey through the loss of a child."
It has been a year since my daughter, Shauna, died by suicide. April 16, 2018 was the day my world turned upside down and inside out, collapsing under the unimaginable pain of losing my middle child to suicide. It has been a year of sorrow, grief, questions, guilt, and yes, anger. It has also been a year of change, reflection, growth, and reevaluation of what is important in this life. Dare I say, healing can happen. Not back to before your loss, but to where you will find yourself down the road.
If you are reading this as a parent that has lost a child, I am sorry, I weep with you. After losing my daughter, my heart was broken again and again with the news of other suicide deaths. It is an intense and personal pain no parent should have to feel. It is a pain you want to scream at the top of your lungs to the world for all to hear. It is a pain that you wish no other parent ever must feel. From the depths of my broken heart, I embrace you.
There are no straight forward ways to deal with what has been placed in your lap. I offer you a glimpse of my experience in the immediate. Take my offerings for what they are, a mother’s journey of loss of a child.
Expect every fiber of your being and soul to be changed. Every expectation of your future will be different from here on out.
For the next few minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months everything will be a blur, a heartbreak, a gasp of breath, a gut wrenching, soul breaking stab to your heart and your being. You will feel like you should have died with your child. You may feel that you will not be able to survive without them.
Lean on everyone and everything you can in the next few minutes, days, weeks, months, years. Accept every offer of help no matter how big or how small it seems at the time. Those that help know your house is a wreck, you are a mess, your life has just been shattered into chaos. Don’t be ashamed or decline an offer out of fear of being judged. All your strength is going towards breathing and surviving right now, let someone else take care of the rest. Let someone take care of YOU.
Ask someone to tidy the house, do some laundry, drive you places (DON’T TRUST YOURSELF TO DRIVE.) Have someone to make sure you are taking care of pets. If you need to make calls to others, ask someone to help you, or just be with you as you do, or do it for you. You may need someone to check in on every day to day task that is a normal function because you are not functioning normally right now. Don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t be ashamed to accept help.
If you have a family physician, call them and let them know. Even if you don’t have a physical need in the moment, you might soon. I experienced a sinus infection while flying across country to where Shauna died. My doctor phoned in a prescription for me. They will probably ask you the hard question, “Are you feeling like you are going to harm yourself?” Be honest with your answer.
Take in every ounce of pain you feel at the time, don’t hold back to be strong for others, you deserve and need to feel the pain. It is your pain and you have to feel and own it to accept and move forward.
Find your best support person for the immediate time. The person to help you through the next few days of decision making that you never thought you would ever have to make. The decisions come quickly, and you may not feel capable of making them alone. Make arrangements that you need to make for your goodbye, or that you think your child would have wanted. Get assistance from a strong support person to take care of details, you won’t be able to. My person was my surviving daughter, she went straight in to business mode of handling the funeral home, flight arrangements, her father, everything.
Make sure you feel comfortable with your funeral home, make sure they touch you on a personal level. My funeral director was the best, she ran interference between me and the people she instinctively felt were a bad vibe for me. She took me under her ‘Mom Wing’ and went above expectations.
In the case of divorce, no matter how strained relations may be with the other parent of your child, they have lost their child too, and should be included in the mourning and grieving process. Their wishes should be considered in final arrangements. As difficult as this may seem at the time, it can go a long way in your personal healing process.
Have your personal support person be the go between in the above if you can’t do it alone.
Don’t forget to eat the food that people bring you, even when you have no appetite, you need to eat.
You also need to sleep. Sleep, shower, eat. Repeat. Please find a way to do it. I think I nibbled on bread for the first couple days, it calmed my churning stomach as I had no taste for anything. The shower was my place to sob. It was also the place I had my first vision of solace weeks later.
Let yourself remember the good and humorous during grief and mourning. Laugh out loud about things that your child did that were crazy funny, share the iconic comic moments that made them who they were. Share their moments of being kind to others in their unique special way. It’s okay to laugh, just like it’s okay to cry. We laughed during Shauna’s funeral as memories were shared. It’s OKAY to laugh when you feel like it. These are the memories of love for the life you created that was taken from you too soon.
When it comes to entering your child’s room or house, do it on your time as you need to. IF you need to enter alone, do it, but have someone close at hand to lean on. Let go of preconceived notions of how you will feel or what you will or won’t find. My daughter died out of state, when we arrived at her house, we took time to enter her bedroom. As I entered her room, I wanted and expected her to pop up out of bed saying, “Just kidding y’all!” Instead, I found the out of control spiral of despair that had become her life of the past few months. We had only a few short days to sort through her belongings and limited space to decide what to keep and what to toss. Do sort through every scrap of paper and every pocket of clothing. Important memories or much needed clues to the end might be there. Because of my circumstance, I have no advice to those who have lost a child in their own home, except do what feels right for you. I can only say it is emotionally exhausting.
Don’t expect your life will ever be back to “normal” again, your normal has shifted. Your measure of happy will be different. Some things that seemed important before will become inconsequential, things that were never important will become vivid. For me, it is a new deeper awareness of others, realizing that no matter what brave face a person is wearing, there may be deep pain behind it. A simple kind smile to stranger becomes a very big thing. I have had the biggest interruption possible in my life, so remembering small inconveniences are just that, small.
Sadly, you may lose friends and family bonds that don’t “get it.” There are people that believe you should have a specific mourning time and then be done and go back to what was before. For most of us, it isn’t that easy, your being has lost a very special part of you, and that has changed you.
Don’t rush immediately to a support group for survivors expecting a magic cure for your sorrow. Wait until you are strong enough to do it, there’s a whole lot of hurt out there. But in your own time, check out a few, in person, online, whatever is comfortable for you. You will be able to share the thoughts and feelings that only other parents of suicide will understand. You can vent angers, ask crazy questions that you think nobody will get, but someone will. Most of all, you will find that in the loss of your unique and beautiful child, you are not uniquely alone.