Posted by: jodyglynnpatrick | 06/06/2014

Lighting a solitary candle on our child’s birthday….

cake for blogThere is no cake to make, no present to buy. No candles to light, no song to sing. The party is forever over.

We commemorate a person’s birth as their “special day”, but when it is our child’s birth day, it is our day, too. It is the day when we are born into the role of parent. Our dreams draw breath.

My sister confided just yesterday that one of the most wonderful experiences she has had with her daughter was right after her daughter became a mother. About the fifth day of her visit to help out, Susan heard her daughter boo-hooing in the bedroom. She rushed in and found the new mother holding her newly born daughter in front of her.

“What’s wrong?” Susan gasped, seeing the baby still alive and seemingly well. She was wondering if this was what post partum depression looked like!

“I just never knew I could love somebody this much,” her daughter replied, sobbing.

Susan laughed as she told me that, recalling that she’d had that same wonderment after each of her children were born. As did I, with each of mine.

Perhaps you did, too. And perhaps you also were stirred by that emotion to vow to always keep them safe, to always do everything on their behalf.

Then this person that we love so much we can’t even begin to express it … is gone. Whether through accident or sickness, murder, suicide or sudden death syndrome, with no explanation – we feel we have failed. And on a birthday, of all days of the year, the loss of our child is biting.

The bereaved parents who write comments here are helping acknowledge that pain and are encouraging other parents through it – they can help you make it through the day. We are here. We understand. We cannot make it “right” but we can help you bear the unbearable and get through this day. Walk in our shadows. You can do this.

My thoughts are with each of you as you muddle through a birthday, or make it the one that you find you finally can bear with a soft smile of remembrance. My thoughts are with you on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and all of those days which were special to you with your child –many of them special for no reason at all. Regardless of their numbers, there were not enough of those days.

We get it.

Rather than fight your sorrow, acknowledge it. I’m not suggesting you dwell in it, if you can move on; healing is different for everyone and only you know when you can sing “happy birthday” and mean it for another child. But you will, my friend. You will. Take courage from that promise.

Thanks to the parents who write comments. You have no idea how much you are lightening a load for a person you may never meet. Thank you for reaching out.

Jody

 

Posted by: jodyglynnpatrick | 05/13/2014

Oh, the stupid things people say after our child dies….

Picture1Many “bravos” and thanks to our brave readers this past month for participating so candidly in the comment/chat thread about well-meaning family or friends saying the most hateful or hurtful or downright stupid or thoughtless things to us following the death of our child. Thanks for sharing how you coped with their comments after another anniversary of the death, or as a sentiment for Mother’s Day, or when they say dumb things just to show us they haven’t forgotten our loss. Too bad for us, that what they say makes it worse and not better. And in return we go off on them or we suffer silently, we smile and thank them or hurriedly walk away, or we change the subject.

People certainly do say the oddest things to create a bridge to us or to offer us hope or to try to show us they understand. Too often, what they actually do is reinforce how much they do not understand. They do not know. They could never imagine. Nor do we want them to know it or imagine it or even try to understand it. We just want them to let us experience it our own way, with their unspoken love and support. If they must speak, how great it would be to hear,  “I could never imagine and don’t want to imagine your pain — only to support you in your grief, however long it takes and whatever form it takes”. We want the “If you want to talk, I’ll listen, and if you don’t want to talk, we won’t” kind of friend to bring us chocolate and wine and then shut the hell up.

And yet… yet in our solitude, we still want to speak with someone who DOES understand. With other grieving parents, or at least, those who feel some of what we feel or express or experience grief somewhat as we do.

Unfortunately, and I’d like to address this now, here — this elephant in the room for some of you — the person who best “understands” may or may not be your spouse or partner. And that sets partnered people up for all sorts of other emotional battles.

I was lucky, in a strange and twisted way, that I was no longer married to Daniel’s father at the time Daniel died, so no one expected us to “help” each other. Otherwise, I probably would have murdered him within the month. I was flat out physically, emotionally and mentally devastated after my son’s death, while he went back to work.  He worked the next day, too, and the next — right up until the few hours before the funeral. Neither of us was “right” or “wrong” in our grief, but it shows that we expressed our grief in ways that would only aggravate the other.

My ex-husband’s pain was so great that his mind shut down to protect him, and he went on numb autopilot, finding relief in schedules and routine. My brain went into emotional and dramatic overdrive.  I had endless, looping thoughts about God (or the lack of God), and about life-after-death possibilities. Privately, I dwelt on the seduction of suicide, and the fear of sleeping and having to wake up to the reality of Daniel’s death every day, and… well, you know. I sat on his bed sniffing Daniel’s pillow for hours, crying, fearing I’d someday lose or forget his smell. People grieve differently, even two parents of one boy.

Today, I’m married to a man who is a great partner for me. He is emotionally available and kind and supportive, and though he never knew Daniel, he gives me the grace to be able to share my memories if I want, and he goes with me to the cemetery where my son’s body is buried when I want company there (so often, I do NOT want company there, and he understands that, too.) But even this well-intentioned, loving man can say the dumbest things. For example, on Mother’s Day, he said, “I know you must be thinking about Daniel today” as a kind reminder that he remembered my grief.

I replied, “Yes, I thought about him today, just as I do every day,” and he smiled and I smiled too, and the moment passed. But secretly, I resented him just a tiny, tiny, tiny bit for not getting it that I miss Daniel every single day, not just on special occasions. It reminded me that while he knows I still grieve, he doesn’t understand (can’t comprehend) the depth of the grief. Nor should he.

It is a scar I carry with me, a process I will go through every day for the rest of my life. I am functional, I am able to laugh and to feel joy again (a huge accomplishment) and to hope for silly things again in the future, and for great things as well. I’ve learned to take a memory into the future, instead of a beautiful living, breathing boy, and I imagine what his life would have been like, had he lived. I never left my son behind, to be “remembered” — he’s with me every day, in my heart. I will always be his active mother, actively loving him and caring about him, and bringing him forward. I don’t think a parent can ever bury a child, and that’s what other people really don’t get. We can’t bury them. We bury their bodies, yes, we understand we can’t avoid doing that without threat of being locked up. But we don’t bury them.

Thank you for talking to each other as well as for listening when I blog. I think the best I can say sometimes is nothing at all, but rather I stand back and listen in as you talk and support each other. Together, we make a safe place to talk about our grief and our loss and our fears and our dreams and yes, also our loves.

And we can hold one another up and hear with an open heart and mind because the person speaking and the person listening … both do know what it’s like.

Mother’s day down, Father’s day looms. We’re with you, Richard (thanks for the great comments you post here) and with all the bereaved dads out there who will ALWAYS be a dad.

We get it.

Jody

 

 

Posted by: jodyglynnpatrick | 04/29/2014

“My child died two years ago. When will this torture end?”

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It’s been two years since Anna lost her son and, like a mother who recently posted a comment on this site detailing a host of physical and psycho-social dysfunctions long after the loss of her son, Anna is stuck in the bottomless mire of her grief.

While a bereaved parent never “gets over it”, most do eventually assimilate the loss of a child, regaining a sense of a new normal over time that accommodates a bearable routine and even laughter and joy. It isn’t a moving on, but rather a moving beyond, and it’s a biological response – this resilience. Without the ability to sustain and survive intense mental trauma, without the hope of the pain becoming physically bearable one day, the human race would have snuffed itself out long ago, after historic cycles of influenza or famine. Pioneer mothers, we know, were lucky if three of ten children reached maturity, and they loved their children no less than we do. Bereaved parents can endure. Eventually.

To do that, we establish and eventually find comfort in the new world we create out of our chaos. A parent eventually may be shocked to realize that a day passed – and then days — without tears or even a thought of the deceased child. That’s as natural as if the child had established their own life, moved out of our house, and beyond the confines of daily contact. Eventually we allow ourselves to live without guilt for living when our child is dead – that’s what it amounts to — and this adaptability, too, is biologically necessary for our mental survival.

I have explained the mechanics of bereavement to Anna, but it is of little comfort. Anna cannot yet imagine a life without her son, and certainly she cannot imagine enjoying a night at the theater ever again – something she much enjoyed in her past. Before the crisis, she performed in many community theater projects. No more. A woman who can hardly pull herself out of bed, who suffers now from a litany of unexplained aches and pains, and who sees no reason to live on beyond the obligations of raising a surviving daughter, will not be able to find the energy or focus to go to rehearsals to learn lines of a play that seems silly and even meaningless now, in the scope of things.

Instead, she daily reviews her victimhood status and all of the wrongs that she has endured. Anna now pairs her sorrows – big, small, it doesn’t matter – with people to hold accountable, to explain her pain, and so she no longer trusts anyone. She’s lost faith in God, faith in her family, faith in friends, and even faith in herself. Even I have a hard time reaching her – the one person she has come to admitting she needs help.

Your grief might have mirrored Anna’s grief at one time, but you’ve managed it. Unfortunately, Anna suffers from a condition known as Prolonged Grief Disorder, which means she’s suffering from severe grief symptoms lasting longer than six months, and she is literally stuck – and likely will remain stuck without clinical help. Her focus is laser sharp on her loss. Symptoms include severe depression and circular thinking – she can’t concentrate on anything beyond the loop replaying in her head — sleep deprivation followed by sleeping for extended periods, and irritability with the world at large.

Antidepressants have not helped at all; she pines for her son as if he died yesterday, and her bitterness is sharp for other family members whom she irrationally holds accountable for the separation in some way in which even she cannot explain or fathom. The disorder is isolating her from the people she could most depend on for comfort.

Her disorder also is isolating her from hopes of recovery because she cannot establish a new normal until she finds the strength to let go of the old normal – the world where she felt secure and grounded, before she was uprooted and dumped somewhere else, without a map or GPS to get back. She’s been told her former life no longer exists, but her mind can’t accept it. All she knows is the desire to return to… to a world that no longer exists. A world in which her son is still alive.

Anna really believes that life holds no meaning or purpose, and she’s agitated because she has the responsibility to ease her daughter’s pain when she sees no point to encouraging her dreams. Anna no longer thinks her daughter’s interests are interesting or important, and she now holds her daughter up to the saintly status the son achieved in death – and the daughter falls short, for which Anna cannot forgive the child.

Anna’s condition makes her more susceptible to cancer, hypertension, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or overuse of prescription drugs, and sleep impairments. “Drug addiction is the least of my worries,” she says and she’s right. I’m far more worried about the seduction of suicide in her case.

Anna’s condition is not yet condoned as an insurable diagnosis, but I expect that to change, since drugs like Paroxetine are showing some promise for Prolonged Grief Disorder, and clinical researchers are exploring new psychotherapy treatments. My role is to be a bridge to the most effective and affordable help we can find; someone who specializes in the treatment of traumatic stress disorder, and can bill an insurance company accordingly.

Meanwhile, I posted the comments of another bereaved parent, as I said, who shows similar symptoms. She follows this blog, meaning she’ll be emailed this entry.  I asked Anna if I could share her story with all of you as a cautionary tale, in the hopes of reaching that woman, too.

What I want to say, with Anna’s help, is that it’s not uncommon to feel like you are drowning in grief, but the reality is that some people do drown in it. Reach out while you still have the strength to trust someone on shore to throw you a lifeline –and then accept the help.

As Winston Churchill advised, “When you’re going through hell, keep on going.” Don’t stop to sniff the rot. This isn’t what your child wanted for you — to hurt and not stop hurting. This isn’t a memorial, it’s a nightmare.

 

 

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