When a parent dies, you lose your past. When a child dies, you lose your future. – Anonymous
Grief is a tricky thing to understand. In some ways it can be neatly put into a 5 step process (Denial & Isolation; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and Acceptance). In other ways, it doesn’t fit into any logical realm of reasoning. And although I thought that I understood the grieving process quite well, I was completely unprepared for the process of grieving my baby girl.
When grieving a child, especially a baby as young as ours, there is a lot of grieving of what would have been. The lost dreams. The missed milestones. The absent conversations. The real life of each grief step looks very different and can be very disarming to an unsuspecting heart. As my mind cycles through each stage of grief, it also looks different than the last time I was there.
My social worker gave me a wonderful visual for the stages of grief … imagine that you are at the bottom of a pit of grief and you are told that you are able to walk out of it, but it will require many trips around the walls of the pit to gradually reach the top. Each step of grief is like a marker on the wall. Each time that you pass by that marker, it becomes further apart from the last stage that you passed and it’s impact on your life lessens. Finally, you reach the top and you are among the sunshine again. However, your landscape is forever changed by the knowledge that the pit is there and you will forever walk a delicate balancing act around it’s edges.
I remind myself of this visual as I cycle through the stages … I personally find the anger stage the most disconcerting. I suppose that it has to do with the fact that I am rarely angry at anything or anyone … frustrated, sure. Angry? Well, not often. And it’s the direction of that grief anger that halts me in my steps. There hasn’t been the typical, expected tangents of anger. At my health professionals? Not at all … they have been fabulous and did everything they could to give Abigail a chance. At myself or my husband? No … I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we did everything right that we had control over. At my God? No, I truly don’t understand why He didn’t heal my Abigail, but I rest assured in the fact that there is a bigger picture being painted that I cannot understand from my limited human perspective. At the fact that Abigail doesn’t get to experience everyday life? Most definitely.
I spent most of last week battling inner anger at how easy the logistics of life are right now. Let me explain … my husband is away a lot of the winter and he returned home last Sunday evening. So my week consisted of having him home to help parent and to be near. And so one day we took advantage of him being home and treated the boys to dinner at a favorite buffet restaurant. As I enjoyed my meal and laughed over the funny antics of my boys, I felt a bubble of anger in my heart over the fact that it shouldn’t be so easy to help the boys get their new plates of food. I should be carrying a little girl on my hip that wants to grab everything off of my plate. She would be 5 months old by now and such a busy, inquisitive age.
The next day we took the boys to check out a recently renovated park in a nearby city. As the boys laughed and played hard, that anger simmered a bit more. As I watched a mother pacing around the playground, with an infant in a stroller, trying her best to placate a cranky little one so that her older child could have some exercise … my internal battle over it shouldn’t be so easy rose up again. I should not be able to sit quietly and snuggle in next to my husband, while crocheting, and keeping an eye on my boys delightedly checking out the new equipment. I should have a fussy baby that needs soothing.
Later as we decided to treat them to ice cream and I watched their excitement over the flavor they picked, and then as they started to try to beg “just one lick, Mommy!!” off of my cone, tears pricked at the corners of my eyes, as my mind instantly went to the fact that it shouldn’t be so easy. My mother heart knew that it was close to supper time … just the time that a 5 month old baby girl would be screaming for her supper if her demands weren’t met immediately. Had things turned out differently, I would not have been casually leaning against the counter enjoying my ice cream beside my husband. Instead I would have been in the car nursing a hungry Abigail, while my husband corralled our boys in the ice cream store.
As the week wore on, there were many more instances of internal anger toward the fact that it shouldn’t be so easy. Slowly, I walked along that path going around the walls of the pit of my grief. I eased out of that stage and the walking became rather calm. And the mystery of grief is that the next time I encounter the anger stage on my path, it will likely look very different and it will take some analyzing to determine that that is where I am again. If you are walking through grief right now, please be assured that every path looks completely unalike. And if you are journeying along with a spouse, family member or close friend, your paths will likely look very different and the location of the stages of grief on your wall will be in dissimilar places. It’s okay … walk beside each other and never stop relying on each other. Your landscape will appear again. And it’s changed appearance will still be beautiful.
What stage of grief do you find the hardest to walk through? Did any of my experiences resonate with you?