Day 5: EMPATHY- It asks you to write about what someone should say to you during grief. Quite honestly, I don’t know. I can’t even recall things that were said to me after Parker died – unless horrible and hit a nerve, but there’s already plenty of articles about what you shouldn’t say. It took probably close to a year before I could even remember who came to our house that evening. I remember lots of details surrounding her, but really none of myself – who comforted me, who I cried to, what I did or said after it was said and done. It honestly wasn’t important to me at that time. She was the only thing that mattered. My world had stopped turning. I was so numb. I’m surprised I moved or spoke – I guess autopilot turned on. It was like I wasn’t me. I had left. I had went chasing after my child, trying to keep her. My soul tried to escape, I didn’t want to feel the gut wrenching pain. So as to what to tell others to do, I haven’t a clue. I won’t pretend I do. I do know some things that might help a grieving parent though. Things that helped my husband and I or are still helping.
First, see someone. Go to a counselor. Grief counselor. Family counselor. Whatever. We started going when Parker got put on hospice, we figured it would take sessions just to tell him our back story and what we were preparing for. We still go, every two weeks, like clockwork. It has over time just evolved into ‘life counseling’. It’s still a lot about Parker, about grief, but sometimes it’s just about life, about us, about teenagers and the struggles of parenting (especially being an inexperienced stepparent). Counseling has been very important for the both of us and our healing process.
Please go with your emotions. It’s ok to cry, to be pissed, to be hurt, to have questions, doubts, and fears – they’re all healthy. It’s the keeping them in that’s not. There would be times I would storm out of the living room only to slam the door, collapse on the bed, and bawl. Sometimes just out of anger. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to go through every emotion possible on a drive home from work. I learned that for me I had to give myself a time limit. One that felt good in my heart. A heavy day might get a 20 minute allotment, while a spontaneous cry might get 5. I would literally look at the time and tell myself ‘go’. Most times I would find I was actually ok and had worked through ‘my moment’ before my time ever elapsed. I would sometimes scream, cry, wail (ugly cry), sing, hit the steering wheel, or string every imaginable cuss word together- or do them all in different layers. But I found if I held them in they only intensified – and always left me feeling more broken and damaged. And after a ‘moment’ was over I was then able to fully embrace whatever else was happening at that moment in my life.
It’s only as uncomfortable as we let it be. For whatever reason, child death or just death itself, is a very uncomfortable thing for our society. As uncomfortable as you feel trying to find the right phrase as to not to entice your own meltdown others are uncomfortable too. They can sense it. I still struggle with this daily but am making a conscious effort. One way is to always speak their name. Never stop speaking their name. Just because your child has died, it does not mean they didn’t exist. They very much did. And they very much shaped your life and the person you are. Let that be known. I know if I casually say, ‘yes, I have two step sons and a daughter in Heaven’ (the answer to the hardest question anyone asks me: do you have any children? At first I would say no, but that did such an incredible injustice to my heart. It didn’t feel right.) people will be taken aback- they always are- but they will move on in the conversation in a genuine way. Parker is a very active and present part of our lives and our family and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You will encounter plenty of uncomfortable questions resulting in uncomfortable answers, but it will get better and you will find that when those answers stop being uncomfortable to you so do the people asking. They won’t always be the ‘right’ answers, but they’ll be real.
Find something positive in your experience- anything. Absolutely anything. (My husband will tell you it’s to build a race car. Ha! Though that has helped us in it’s own way) It might be that you found new friendships in your heartache. It’s true when they say during your darkest times people will reveal their colors. I used to get upset over this and the fact that it was true and unfolding in front of me. Then I found the positive, let go of relationships where I was the only one still holding on, and embraced new ones as they revealed themselves to me. Another positive you might find is turning your ‘bad’ into ‘good’ for others. I took all that I learned, fought, and overcame in my life with Parker and decided to start The Parker Lee Project (theparkerleeproject.org) to help families like I mine. I now run a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families of children with medical needs obtain the supplies/equipment, education, and support they need. But whatever it is, find something positive and go with it.
And more than anything, it’s ok to be happy. This was so hard and took so long for me to accept. But once you realize it’s ok, a weight will be lifted. I felt guilty for loving life even though she wasn’t there. I felt guilty for going to have drinks with my friends. I felt guilty for enjoying really anything. But none of us would ever want to leave our loved ones behind and know they’re miserable. So why wouldn’t our children be the same? I can remember and honor my child just as, if not more, effectively through smiles instead of tears. Life is meant to be loved and enjoyed. Don’t regret anything in case another loved one leaves too soon.