The recent horrific events in Connecticut make my heart ache for all those who are grieving and trying to figure out how to cope, what to do, what the next steps are.
No one can ever understand how another person actually feels. No one should ever try to tell them “how they should mourn” or “this is how it will be”. Each journey though the time is individual. I offer my experience today in case it might help anyone in even the slightest way…and I send hugs and prayers to all those who are suffering right now.
Quite a few years ago, my family lived through our own private tragedy, somewhat public, nothing on the scale of the Sandy Hook school and – thank God – I didn’t suffer the loss of a child. I can’t imagine the sorrow and despair of that…although the lives of my children were altered forever by the events. I can’t discuss their grief because it is theirs, not mine.
I know for me the first few weeks I was in shock. But I stayed in motion. There were things that had to be done, arranged, attended to…my community rallied around me, my children’s teachers and school rallied around us…I NEVER could have managed without all their love, comfort and help.
The reality of the situation, of the rest of our lives stretching forward without our loved one really hit me as the door closed behind the last departing guest at the reception following the memorial service. The moment is still vivid in my memory, heavy on my heart, even after all these years. The door closed, I turned around to face the empty house and the next thing I knew I was on my knees weeping, feeling like I had the entire world on my shoulders. Well, I did.
For the next year I managed. I had good days and bad days. The children went to therapy, I went to therapy. We spent the first holidays at other homes…but nothing really helped fill the person sized hole in our lives. I knew I had to survive or my children wouldn’t survive and that kept me going. I did stupid things, I did smart things, I managed to work. Some days being able to escape into my job was all that kept me going.
One of the hardest aspects was that everyone else moved on with their lives. Why wouldn’t they? It’s what you do after the funeral, right? Oh they still honored my grief and my right to grieve, but it wasn’t their sorrow any more. I understood that. Some friends made amazing gestures of support during the next year, which I appreciated but I also understood this was their closure and then, sure enough, they drifted away, out of our lives, because their connection with us had really been the person we all lost. Many other dear friends stayed close and are our “family” to this day…
Do you want to know when I fell off the cliff? After the one year anniversary of his death. Oh, it was hard, as each holiday and birthday had gone by, each being “our first without”…but somehow, deep down I had expected a release from grief, some blessing, some miracle if I just soldiered through 365 days, was a good girl, made it through that one year anniversary in stoic heroic style like Jackie Kennedy (my role model for being a widow).
What really happened was that the next day dawned, the alarm went off, the kids went to school, I had to go sit at my desk and try to read complicated contracts, the car had a flat tire, the boss wanted to schedule a big meeting…in short, nothing changed, life went on…I think that’s when I truly realized the enormity of the years stretching before me without my other half.
Lots of therapy then.
You never “get over” what I’ve been through. You figure out how to go on. I certainly have found joy in life again – the birth of my grandson was a special happiness, my daughters’ college graduations, other milestones for them and for me…although every occasion is tinged to some degree with thoughts of “if only” the missing person could be there.
I’m basically a very joyous, optimistic person, who wakes up every morning ready to start anew. I don’t take the anniversary of that tragedy off work any more, haven’t done that in years. I can look at photos (up to a point). I gave my daughters my wedding ring. I’ve dated… I’ve come to a peace with that part of my life. I believe God has a plan and while we may not ever know the what and the why, the idea that there IS a plan, comforts me. Again, that’s my personal journey, not trying to tell anyone else what to think or believe. I don’t presume to suggest that what comforted me will comfort others in their grief.
My advice is to offer the hug, send the card, honor however the person needs to grieve…be there for them if needed. If you can find specific ways to help – mow the lawn, pick up dinner, babysit a few hours – even better. Don’t expect them to meet any timetable for grieving, remember grief can ebb and flow and hit you unexpectedly, echoing through the years in a way that can surprise you at the oddest moments.
Again, my thoughts and prayers and hugs go out to the families and friends of the latest victims, and to all the others who find their grief spiking as this situation brings fresh reminders of their own losses.
Peace comes, joy returns. The bridge of time doesn’t get you over your loss but provides a path through it, so although you never forget, life can go on. At least it did for me.