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“It suddenly struck me that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” ~Neil Armstrong
Pain encircles planet Earth. From suicide alone there are one million deaths annually around the globe; every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. Staggering! How many survivors does that make? Also staggering! Looking at Earth from Armstrong’s perspective, it looks like a beautiful blue marble with white swirls. From this distance it is looks peaceful and serene. But down here on terra firma where we live, it is anything but that for those with broken hearts.
How do we manage our grief on a planet of people who expect us to walk away from pain about as soon as we walk away from the cemetery?
It’s difficult to breathe after tragedy strikes. Not only is there a beloved someone missing from our lives going forward, we have to face the firing squad of looks, inappropriate comments, and the actions of others, who are eager for us to put the loss behind us and get on with living. Sound familiar? Folks who don’t understand have no idea that a suffocating mountain of tragedy has landed on top of us, nearly burying us alive. They cannot fathom out loss ~ unless they, too, have experienced the tragic loss of their child, and often to suicide. Those who don’t “get it” may have expert advice to give . . . but from my experience, it absolutely will not work that way.
If I may speak directly to those who don’t “get it”: Unless you have personally experienced the tragic loss of one of your children, please spare those you love from oft repeated platitudes. Instead, hug them. Listen. Listen some more. Listen to anything the griever wants to share about their child, even if you have heard it “100” times. Tell them how sorry you are every time you give them a hug. Nothing more need be said unless it’s asked for. Many of us are fortunate to meet other cyber grievers, who do relate to our pain. It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than having no one in our circle who understands.
~ The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Dear Reader, I know this grief journey first hand. I lost my firstborn to suicide some years ago. I know the pain you are going through, and I’m so sorry for your suffering. I’m not an expert, but as a surviving parent, I have learned to tune out “expert” advice given by anyone who has not experienced this same tragedy. I will accept their comfort and encouragement, but that is where I must draw the line. If you are new to your grief journey, I encourage you to be empowered to stand your ground. If anyone tries to tell you what to do or when you should do it, feel free to put your hand up and say, “Stop. Thank you, but I am not taking any more advice at this time.” Period. You might ruffle a few feathers, but the self-proclaimed advisers will get over it. No permanent harm done. But for them to “ruffle” you does more damage to your already fractured, fragile heart.
I basically lived “underground” for the first couple of years. It’s the only way I know how to describe it. I was shattered and damaged beyond repair. Those around me seemed to be breathing fine, but my space seemed void of oxygen. It was as if I had crashed my vehicle off a bridge, and was gradually being sucked under the rushing, freezing water until there was only a tiny pocket of air left.
We grievers have no rules. We allow the grief to consume us as much as it wants to. Your travels may be different from mine, which is bumpy, crooked, with steep hills and deep valleys. Yours probably will be, too, but not necessarily in the same order. Grief is busy doing what it needs to do to take us into healing. Heart and mind seem to disconnect after tragedy. Please don’t let that frustrate you. It won’t always be so. Perhaps we were created this way for our very survival.
In time . . . lots and lots of time . . . you will begin to breathe easier and even feel less anxious or less other negative feelings. In time grief will lessen in its intensity. There will be days when you feel more like someone you once knew, and then the next day you crash and cry buckets until you are bone dry again. It’s okay. Do not fear. You aren’t going backwards. You are working through the grief. It is slow going and cannot be rushed. I suspect I will be grieving until the day I draw my last breath, and I’m okay with that. I know I will miss my firstborn as long as I live. I carry the warm memories of him tucked in a place of safety, down deep in my heart.
One final note. Blame is easy. It takes the pain and rage we feel and plants it on a target: maybe it’s the boyfriend or the parent. Maybe you blame the classmates who bullied your child or you fault God. Many do. We see Him as a heavenly soda pop machine. We put in our coins, make a selection, push the button, and out pops the answer we asked for. After all we already know the answer we want, so God should dispense it, should He not? He has the power, so He should use it the way we ask, because we know best, right? After all who could possibly love our child more than we do? But please try to reject both blame and guilt, which will pummel your heart unmercifully if you allow. Both strategies zap any energy you may have. I know the struggles. I have them, too, but if we persistently reject them, we save ourselves added pain.
May I make a suggestion? Please don’t wait as long as I did to seek comfort from the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). You may not be a believer, but you may believe in a higher power. Seek comfort there. It has helped me so much. As I look back, I could have been aware of His comfort sooner after my tragedy, if I had even been aware of His constant presence. He will never leave or forsake His children (Deuteronomy 31:8).
I have come to see God differently. He has taught me so much along this grief journey. He has been right beside me every breathing moment. I just didn’t care or notice in the beginning. God is neither a puppeteer dangling us from strings, or a heavenly pop machine. He created us as beings to love and be loved, and when our first parents turned to the deceiver as their higher power, reluctantly, He had to back away. He created us with the power to make up our own minds about Him. He is a gentleman and would rather have us turn away from Him by choice, than force us to love Him by taking away our free will.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life” John 3:16 GNT.
Verse quoted from the New International Version (NIV) and Good News Translation (GNT)