There is no way around the pain. You may succeed in hiding from it for a time, but it will never go away. The traveling Viet Nam Memorial Wall came through St. Louis a couple of years ago. I was in awe of the thousands of names, and as I stood before it, I could literally feel the grief of thousands of families who lost loved ones. There was a letter at the base of one of the partitions. It was from a mother who lost her son in the war more than thirty years ago. She wrote that not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about him and miss him. If I live for thirty more years I am sure it will be the same for me. I will think about Dave and miss him every day.
The key to survival is to move through the pain with the help and support of other survivors. They will lift you up when you can’t hold yourself up. They will encourage you and help you to remember and to appreciate your blessings. They will let you know that you are not alone, or crazy or weird, just a grieving parent. They may help you find your place in your new world. Those who have moved farther along the grief road will reassure you that there is a light in the distance. The sun still comes up and goes down, and after a time, people will assume you have recovered. I feel like I have a secret. I appear to be “okay” now and people barely remember that I lost my son. But I carry his death with me every day, think about it every day, re-live it every day.
There is no schedule for grief. It takes different people different amounts of time to accept and begin to live in their new lives. I believe that the longer a grieving parent fights this, the longer they will be incapacitated by their grief. I met a mother in an email support group who lost both of her daughters. I’ll call her Jane. One of Jane’s daughters murdered the other and is spending her life in prison. She also tried to kill Jane and her husband in their beds and seriously wounded her father as he wrestled the gun away from her. If there was ever a parent who had the right and reason to give up on life, Jane is that parent. She made a conscious decision to survive and finished raising her grandson who turned into a fine young man. Her tragedy will never leave her, and she will never be the same, but she goes on and helps other parents through their grief.
You never have to be alone with your grief. Even if you have no family at all, there are people out there who you need and who need you. They are struggling too and are ready to open their hearts to you and to listen to you with their hearts.
An American Indian woman in my support group told us that she likes to think that the stars sparkling in the sky on a pitch black night are the campfires of those who have died. When you go outside at night, look up and pick out your child’s campfire. I’ll bet it is the brightest, shiniest star in the sky.