Looking back after many years

Back To Life! A Personal Grief Guidebook

Personal Guidebook to Grief Recovery

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Four parents whose children died many years ago share their thoughts on grief and how they changed:

My 15-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia in 1962, and he lived until February 1963. He was tall, sturdy, wonderful. He inspired us all. Although it was very painful when he died, I truly felt that I had done all that I possibly could. I had four younger children, and I'd parceled myself out as best I could. Jennifer was born in October 1965, and my mother always said David had asked Our Lord to send her "to help me mend my heart."

I felt that I had done my best for David, he was at peace, and I also needed peace. Our deep faith greatly helped. David was strong enough to tell me, "I don't want you to worry, Mom, God knows what he is doing." I also had a flock of kids who were hurting and needed me. So I threw myself back into life and carried on.

There are many imponderables that I think of. What would David be like if he had survived? Would the lives of his brothers and sisters have been different if they had not lived through his illness and death? How would my marriage have been different? What would I be like if he was still alive? These thoughts serve no purpose; you just have to give yourself credit for doing your best and leave it at that. But at times when I feel desperate, I simply look up at the night sky, and I know that one of those stars is mine.

My daughter died in March 1971. That feeling that I had a hole in my solar plexus and was walking around with a heart literally broken in two lasted for over a year I didn't go to a movie for four years, and it was very difficult for me to find pleasure in anything. But I have healed and am again a fully functional person. I have fun, tell jokes, play guitar, make speeches, and love my children.

There are many things that I did to heal. I linked up with another bereaved parent. Our relationship worked wonderfully; we clung to each other and we helped each other survive the holidays. During my daughter's illness and a catastrophic diagnosis of mental illness in my other daughter, I began to take too many tranquilizers. So I entered a

12-step program, and think that it literally saved my life. I gave up pills, quit smoking, rediscovered faith, and learned a new way to live.

At that time I also became very involved in a church, which was perhaps the most comforting, healing thing of all. I decided never to visit my daughter's grave. I know it comforts some people, but not me. I never thought for a second that she was there, just her bones. She, I will meet again. And finally, I had more children. I caution newly bereaved parents to think long and hard about the timing of the next child. But I look at my children, and I thank God for them.

Grieving was such hard work. For years her birthday was a black time for me, but that has faded away with the years. For a long time I felt like I was only going through the motions of life. But I just decided to act cheerful, force myself to go out, count my blessings, and reach out to people who were less fortunate than me. It worked.

Life does go on after the death of someone you love...even if it's your child. It isn't always easy or fun or purposeful, but it's like anything else.life is what you make of it.

My son Cory died on Mother's Day 1985 after five and a half years of battling leukemia. When he left this existence a big part of my heart died with him. At first, the sky wasn't as blue as it once was.the mountains weren't as majestic.. .the ocean wasn't as magnificent, and yeah, it was hard to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. But I had to do it. I had to go on, not only for my daughter, but for myself, too.

One day the fog lifted, and I knew in what remained of my heart that my little boy wanted me to continue on loving life and all it has to offer. Before he died, Cory told me, "Don't weep for me, Mama. Just remember me and all the love I brought with me. I chose this life to be with you, but I was never meant to grow up."

I will never stop missing him. Thankfully he gave me the strength to move forward. Cory loved life so much and fought so courageously during the short time he was here, it would be an insult to his memory if I didn't cling to and enjoy life as tenaciously as he taught me to. The memories of the fun we had, the love we shared, and the vision of him dancing on the stars sustain me.

The old adage that "time heals" is a myth. You need to choose to heal and then find out how to help yourself. As I look back on our journey, our first instinct was to huddle as a family; to bask in what was left. We were hurting together; we loved him; we missed him; we needed to celebrate who he was. We intuitively knew that we were going to make it, we just didn't know how.

When Donnie died thirteen years ago, we didn't know much about grief. There wasn't as much written about it then as there is now But we were committed to healing individually and as a family. One of the important things that we did for one another was to give each other lots of space. My husband and I knew the distancing was necessary but temporary. We were on a teeter-totter. We each had a different schedule, a different way of handling pain. He allowed me my "craziness," and I respected his silence. I found that it helped me to wallow in it, to feel it all, to cry. I've grieved clean.

If you have children, learn about how kids grieve. They revisit their grief at each developmental stage. Keep the door open so that they can talk about it. After Donny's death, I found that I just had to be with kids. I volunteered at the school, and followed all of his friends until they graduated from high school. A friend carried his cap and gown, and they made a speech about how a very important person was missing from the ceremony. I cried, but it was good.

I think it is very important for people to choose to feel. If you attend a grief support group or Compassionate Friends, or read about the grief process, you will quickly realize that your feelings are normal and that each person goes through grief differently. Another good reason to go to a group is that other people can give voice to your feelings when you just don't have any words. In the beginning you are just a ball of pain. You learn that every person feels that way; that it is normal, human. Many people come to group and never speak, but they are comforted. I found it was far better for me to be in the same room with real people who had walked down the same road, rather than just to read about it in books. Feel the pain and you will heal.

I just wish that I had armfuls of time.

—Four-year-old with cancer Armfuls of Time

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