After losing my son Matt last January I felt like I had inherited the elephant. You know the one I’m talking about- the elephant in the room that no one will acknowledge, let alone talk about. This elephant follows me around like a lost dog except he’s so much bigger and harder to ignore.
I inherited this elephant shortly after the death of my youngest son. You see, Matt died from an overdose of prescription drugs. He never touched street drugs and I never thought he would die.
So now I’m left behind, trying to come to terms with this tragedy and attempting to navigate this new life without my son. Mothers are not supposed to bury their children, it goes against nature. It shatters our dreams of the present and our hopes for the future, shifting the axis of our lives and leaving us unbalanced and spinning out of control. We expect to leave them behind, our children are our legacy. Our children are expected to carry on for us long after we are gone.
Throughout my journey I’ve come to understand and accept the fact that until someone has experienced this life altering loss and felt this heart shattering grief, knowing what to say to a mom like me is inconceivable.
Being so shrouded in grief, it never dawned on me the impact my tragedy had on my family and friends. I witnessed their uneasiness and watched as they danced around my elephant.Gatherings became uncomfortable, conversations were forced and no one mentioned Matt’s name or acknowledged my loss. Invitations became scarce as friends faded away.
Soon my grief was accompanied by my new friend- loneliness. Spending many days by myself gave me the soul searching experience of understanding that grief scares the hell out of people. Grief by itself is tough enough, but add to that the emotions and guilt that flood your brain after losing a child to addiction and you’ve created a barrier most people don’t know how to penetrate.
I’ve also come to understand that until someone has shared and understood this life altering grief, it would be impossible to imagine the impact their behavior and words would have on a mother like me whose world has been shattered. No one knows how to act or what to say. It’s easier for friends to disappear into the sunset then to accept the grieving me.
One day out of the blue I received a phone call from a woman I’d never met. She found my number after reading my blog and needed help. Her best friend joined my club after her son overdosed, after years of struggling with addiction. This amazing woman wanted to know how to help her friend. Rather than running away, this woman was asking for help in learning how to remain a friend to this grieving mother.
Listening to her opened my floodgates. Here was this woman- a stranger- reaching out to me when so many of my friends disappeared. She showed the compassion that I so needed from those who had abandoned me. She wanted to speak to a mother who knew this grief and to understand how to be there for her friend.
The timing was perfect. It was the day after Matt’s birthday and my grief was still raw, my eyes still swollen.
I took a deep breath and began to share my deepest pain with this caring heart. My advice…
Just show up. Don’t call and ask if she wants company. She is isolating herself in her grief. If you ask permission, she will find a million reasons to tell you to stay away.
Accept the Elephant. Talk about her child and share your memories. Don’t be afraid to say their name, our children were a large part of our lives. Death has changed nothing and her child is still part of her heart and lives on in her memories. Allowing her to talk about her child is healing for her grieving heart.
Allow her to cry in your presence, cry with her. Wrap her in your arms and allow her to sob.
Never tell her it will be okay, because it will never be okay. She buried her child along with her hopes and dreams for their future. The world as she knew it has spun out of her control. It will never return to normal.
Don’t force her to go out in public. Seeing happy families is very painful. Bring food and flowers and surround her with her favorite things. Give her time to accept her loss. Spending one on one time with a loving friend is a precious gift.
Never tell her “it’s been” and “you should be”. I’ve heard that so many times I wanted to scream. Believe me, she knows exactly how long it’s been and most likely is full of guilt for not being who she was before losing her child.
Support her through the first holidays. Reminders of her loss will surround her everywhere she turns. Family traditions take on a different meaning. Her family has changed and she needs time to adapt. Don’t be upset if she declines invitations to holiday parties. Refrain from forcing her to join in the festivities, she needs to navigate a new life and the holidays are a brutal time for a grieving mother. Instead, ask what she is able to do and offer help.
Please suggest a Grief Therapy group. Knowing I was not alone on this grief journey was the greatest gift to myself. Being surrounded by those who understand and are learning to live with this loss will help her get through the darkest of days.
Most importantly, you must remember that the loss of a child
is the greatest pain a mother will ever experience. Navigating through the grief of losing a child is a lifelong process. This is the one loss that time does not heal. Weddings and baby showers are now bittersweet. She will never be the mother of the bride or groom and will never know the joy of holding her child’s firstborn.
Losing a child changes us and stays with us forever. Time is full of reminders and regrets of what should have been and what is. Learning not to fear “the elephant” and loving her for who she is and who she will become is the greatest gift to offer a grieving mother.