How do you survive your first year of grief?
Well, there are no black and white solutions here, but I managed to do it so I guess that qualifies me to talk about this awful subject. Watching our son suffer the effects of cancer and treatment, seeing him seize and struggle to breath, and witnessing him take his final breath is by far the most painful thing I have ever experienced. The days, weeks and months following his death have been a strange combination of feelings including shock, heartbreak, anger, disbelief, overwhelming sorrow, guilt, and despair. There have even been some feelings of not wanting to go on with life at all. With January behind us, I look back and wonder how did I survive?
It feels like God threw me a line and he’s pulling me in.
January 2017 marked the beginning of the worst year of my life. We have already passed some major milestones including what would have been Taylor’s 24th birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the one year anniversary of his death. There have been some very dark moments. Moments where I did not want to live. Moments where I thought I’d rather die than live here with my beautiful, supportive family. That family and my faith have been my saving grace.
I did a lot of writing. I got up every morning, early…couldn’t sleep well those first few months…and I would read my devotional. I’ll note that I suggest a grief focused devotional because the one I used before Taylor died, I just couldn’t relate to anymore. And then I would write. Prayers, questions, and anger flowed out onto the pages of my leather bound journal which was a beautiful Christmas gift from my husband. One I had planned to fill with hopes and dreams.
Understand there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
I’ll never be “over it” and I’ll never “move on”. But what they told me, “you can move forward” has been true for me. This started with a desperate dependence on God, which has not been easy at all. Some days I am so angry I can feel myself rebelling against God. I chose not to worship, I don’t read the bible and I just avoid him altogether. I question his goodness and his very existence. I think it’s okay to question God! Be completely honest about your feelings with God. This will create a more intimate relationship that is sincere and deeper than ever. However, those days when I am running away from God have been the hardest to get through.
Surround yourself with other believers.
The men and women in my life who have strong faith have been an anchor for me. I know I can call them day or night and rely on them to speak truth and love into me. You need those who can help you answer the hard questions, point you to the truth and have compassion for you.
Find a support group.
When you experience the death of a loved one you can feel isolated. We suddenly felt different from our friends and it seemed like the world was just moving on without us while we stood trapped in time. My husband and I tried several different things including counseling. We agree that the most helpful resource for us early on was GreifShare, a national support group that met at a nearby local church. It was enlightening for us to hear from others who had gone through similar hardships. I pray for those people we met in that group still to this day and I know they pray for us too.
Make time to grieve.
Maybe this seems obvious and if you’re like me absolutely unavoidable, but if you throw yourself into something to stay busy to avoid the pain, at some point it will surface. If you try to hide or suppress this, it will come out in unhealthy ways. For me, if I don’t make time to grieve, I wind up exploding in anger or sobbing uncontrollably at inconvenient times.
At first it was impossible to control. The floodgates were always open. With two little kids at home, I began to notice I was unable to control myself when I needed to. Eventually, I realized the value of setting aside time to grieve. Doing something intentional each day has been a big help.
Do what you love.
This sounds so cliche. Have you ever heard this and thought, what is it I love doing anyway? Life without Taylor has led to a deeper discovery of what it is I enjoy. It was tough at first. I went months without painting, exercising, writing, cooking or doing anything I enjoyed before he died. But in the last few months, I began to do some of these things and figure out what I love to do. It became the best therapy for me to refinish furniture and to write. As a result, I see hope and a future where I enjoy life again.
Find your niche.
We have joined support groups, done some face to face counseling, joined Facebook groups, picked up the phone and spoken with others who have lost children. Some of these have been more helpful than others. My favorite outlets have been this blog and the community. I am currently participating in an Instagram photo challenge. Having something intentional to do each morning to grieve may sound like checking a box but it helps me move forward with my day.
We are fortunate to have such a supportive family and network of people around us. The people who randomly check in to ask how we are doing are great because it is an open invitation to speak about our son and no words of judgment or solutions are spoken…just love and compassion for our ongoing grief survival process.
What are your experiences of the first year after the loss of a loved one? Please email me with any comments, I’d love to hear from you.