There comes a time when you have gotten through the funeral or memorial service that the longing for relief from the pain overwhelms you. The people who have been your rock through the first days and weeks may begin to grow tired of your grief. They are sorry for your loss, but feel an urgent need to move on in their own lives. Maybe you make them uncomfortable and conscious of the fact that tragedy can strike anyone. You feel isolated in a room full of people. It is unbearable to attend social events or even small family gatherings. The sight of whole, together families overwhelms and may even anger you. You are self-conscious and feel as if you no longer belong in this “normal” world. You long for understanding and acceptance. You may have exhausted all known resources for comfort and long to find someone who understands. You may not have the will or the energy to seek out a therapist or support group. One of the first and most important sources of solace I found was available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I didn’t have to leave my home. I discovered that there are groups of bereaved parents who join together online and hold each other up every day, at all hours of the day and night. Yes, they will be strangers at first, but each and every one of them shares your burden of pain and are ready to welcome you with open arms. Some communicate in chat rooms and others use e-mail. All you need is basic internet and an e-mail address to join these groups of grieving parents. There are e-mail support groups and/or chat rooms for all types of losses. You may join and not post a message for a long time. You can just read messages from other participants and find comfort in knowing you are really not alone. When you are ready, you can jump in and you will be welcomed with open arms. There are always new members, along with those who have been on the journey for months or even years. Everyone is relieved to finally find a safe place to come to pour out their innermost pain and suffering without being judged, analyzed, or preached to. The other members will never grow tired of talking about their losses or listening to you talk about yours.
I don’t know if I could have survived without my fellow travelers on the web. On a site called Griefnet (www.griefnet.org) I found an e-mail group created specifically for parents who had lost adult children. GriefNet has over 30 groups for specific types of losses. We did not have to make an appointment to talk to each other. We did not have to drive anywhere. We were there for each other 24 hours a day 7 days a week. We supported each other through holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays. We shared stories of our children and the endless pain of their loss. We encouraged each other, uplifted each other, honored each other’s children, and someone was always there when another member needed help. We were women and sometimes men from all different walks of life and from all over the world. Our pain was universal. It is amazing how comforting a cyber hug can be. It looks like this ((( ))). Some post e-mails often and some just read the messages and take comfort from them. One mother maintained a list of the children, their birth and death dates, and where they lived. Some individuals bonded and corresponded outside the group. Some found that they lived near each other and met in person.
All of the staff at Griefnet have lost a loved one. The groups are constantly monitored to keep out anyone who doesn’t belong and anyone who threatens any member of the group in any way. It is an absolutely safe place to meet people who are where you are. In addition to easing my pain, reaching out to others to ease their pain strengthened me. Those whose loss is raw and new are welcomed by others who have been traveling the road a while longer. Those who have been in the group longer share their stories of hope and inspire the newcomers to hang on and take it a day at a time. One mother wrote:
Last night I had a nervous breakdown. I was in the black pit of despair. I’m still in the pit, but what hit me was that here I was, at my very lowest, almost ready to call it quits but there were these hands reaching out & hugging me from all over the world. Hands belonging to people just like me, struggling with their own pits & they were able to reach up out of their pits & hold me up. But yet those who were not grieving & were having a wonderful, happy life were the ones that pushed me over the edge & did not reach out to help. Those people in the pits were you, all of you. They don’t have any idea how hard & how much STRENGTH it took for you all to do that. I thank you. I know where to find true friends because true friends, no matter how low they are themselves, are still able to help a fellow friend out. I think we need to rethink the phrase “the blind leading the blind”. Would it not make sense that a fellow blind person would know how to help another blind person better than someone who was not?
The group I belonged to can be found at www.griefnet.org.
There are other websites, chat rooms, message boards and a library of resources for grieving parents where those with specific losses can get together and share the pain.
There is an organization for military families called TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program) at www.taps.org where you will find numerous resources for grieving military family members. TAPS presents a seminar every Memorial Day weekend where military families join together to support each other. Kids who have lost parents or siblings attend Good Grief Camp on the same weekend. Peer mentors hold the hands of newly grieving family members through phone calls, email, and sometimes in person all throughout the year. If you have lost a child in the military, there is no better or more understanding group than TAPS.
There is a site at www.bereavedparents.com, which offers excellent advice on many subjects, including a variety of responses to the insensitive questions, or comments people will make to you. The one question that still throws me is, “how many children do you have.” It’s an innocent question that is extraordinarily painful to answer truthfully. In the beginning I just included Dave and said, “I have three.” After a while, depending on who was asking, I was able to say out loud that I lost a son.
This site also has a chat room and links to other grief-related sites.
Compassionate Friends is another organization created to support those who have lost a child. They have chapters all over the country where you can attend regular meetings with other bereaved parents. They also have a chat room with chatson various subjects on different nights of the week. They have a special chat room specifically for families who have lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan. They can be found at www.compassionatefriends.org. Many of the grief websites offer a place to memorialize and pay tribute to your child with pictures and stories.