Surviving grief after losing a child

Following the death of my son, the mere notion of being happy, laughing or even smiling again seemed ludicrous. Not only did the thought of being happy again seemed like an impossible place to reach, but it also felt very, very wrong.

I remember there was one evening that my husband suggested we watch “You’ve Been Framed” with our 2 girls; we used to watch this show on a regular basis as a family for years. My husband was able to see that in the wake of their brother’s death our daughters needed to return to a sense of normality. This didn’t meant just carrying on with our normal daily routine, it meant returning to the normal conversations, having the usual bouts of laughter, spending quality time together as a family in the same way we used to.

Against everything I was feeling inside of me, I sat and watched the show. During the show, for the first time since his death, I had the urge to smile again, the urge to laugh again. But rather than allow myself to laugh and smile I did everything in my power not to smile, not to laugh. It seemed like a betrayal of my son, my guilt for being able to enjoy the show overpowering the simple act of smiling. So here I sat biting down on my lip to stop myself from smiling.

I just kept thinking that if I allowed myself to smile again, to laugh again it would mean I was ok that he had died. I enforced a continued state of misery; in my mind if I held on to the grief and misery then I was holding onto him. Looking back, it did help – it was almost like I could control the grief, if I held onto it out of my own free will, then it didn’t feel as if I was drowning so much.

It started out as basic survival, the pain of losing a child is unexplainable, it’s so powerful that it consumes you.

Many others, who have been unfortunate to have experienced the same loss, say that early on it’s a feeling of numbness. It’s almost like when your body shuts down and you pass out when you experience excruciating pain; the numbness is equivalent to that, but just emotional. I would have taken the passing out over this numbness anytime. With the numbness I still had to put on a show of being able to function.

After around 3 months following his death the original numbness started to subside, however, I tried to continue with that numbness by burying my emotions deeper. I was trying to suppress my pain and guilt, but as I couldn’t pick and choose which emotions I could to suppress, my answer was to bury them all. This didn’t really work, as I managed to bury everything but the pain and the guilt; those I had to live with every day.

grief of losing a childLife that I once knew had ended the day my son died, I was now living in a world I could no longer understand or tolerate. The thought of experiencing happiness again didn’t even cross my mind anymore, that option was no longer available to me. What made it worse was the anger and the bitterness I felt; I could not tolerate other people being happy. I surrounded myself in a cloud of impenetrable misery. To smile, laugh and have fun again would mean that I would need to accept that my son really had died and life really did go on without him, and I wasn’t prepared to do that.

The pain that I was feeling was the biggest connection I had to my son, the only connection. I could no longer do all those things that mums do every moment of every day; see him, talk to him, hold him, comfort him. Friends and family had stopped talking about him, I think they thought they were protecting me but nothing could be further from the truth. I thought they had forgotten him, and this made me more determined to hold onto the pain. It was the pain that kept him constantly on my mind.

In the end, it was the support groups that really helped. They gave me an opportunity to talk about the pain and the loss. And by talking about it, acknowledging the terrible loss I had experienced, I recognised the permanent place he would have in my life and my heart, for as long as I lived.

No matter what happens, when we lose a loved one, sorrow and pain will naturally came. We need to acknowledge the emotions, feel the pain, no matter how overwhelming in order to process it and come out the other end. When we find ourselves remaining in that space and in that pain, it’s because it feels like it is the only lasting connection we have with our lost loved one, and that is not true. I will always have my son with me.

As time passed, the thought of being happy started to feel like less of a betrayal of my son. The laughter, the happiness, the smiles slowly returned. I don’t know the exact moment that this happened, it wasn’t like it suddenly happened in one moment. But slowly the realisation came that life WAS going to go on without him physically here. Also the realisation that his sisters still needed me, I had to concentrate on them. Having my other children really helped, they bring so much joy to my life, for a while I had forgotten that.

It has taken a long time for me to get from focusing on my son’s death, to actually trying to celebrate his life. Focusing on all the good times we shared, the games we played, the songs we sang, the joy that he had blessed my life with is what I concentrate on now. The pain is still there but I do not let it become my ruling emotion instead I choose love, I choose happiness and I choose joy. This is the best way I have found to remember and honour his life.


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