Simple Steps Through Grief

Simple Steps Through Grief: How to Answer “I can’t imagine!”

Original Post Date: January 1, 2019

2015 was the hardest year of my life for many reasons, many that I will not delve into here, but suffice it to say that the death of my daughter, Joanna, was the hardest part. (Here is the story) Many people said to me, “I can’t imagine.”

I often replied, “No you can’t. And I don’t want you ever to be able to say that you actually KNOW what it’s like.” But some people really DO need more than that. They want to know what it’s like so they can empathize more accurately. Here are some illustrations that may help you put words on the feeling:

1. No resolution comes.

You know that moment when, from a distance, you watch your kid fall from a dangerous height? Or perhaps you watch that car swerve right into you? The adrenaline surges and your heart starts racing. You run as fast as you can. You scream the child’s name. Your heart is in your stomach and you feel slightly nauseated. Usually there is resolution — the child is okay, you bandage the wound, maybe take a trip to urgent care.

When your child dies suddenly, you get the first part of that experience, but the second part — the resolution — doesn’t come. You live in a constant state of feeling desperately like you need to get to your child. There is always a sense that Joanna is in danger and I have to rescue her. I have to constantly remind myself of the reality that “Mama bear” is not needed.

2. It’s a visceral longing.

When I had babies, there was an inexplicable physical reaction I had to the sound of a child crying. I HAD TO get to the child. I could be in a store and hear a child crying and everything in my being, every cell in my body, would scream, “Get to the child!” This was usually accompanied by milk let-down, but that might be TMI for some of you.

After Joanna died, I felt this so intensely, my body actually pumped out the same hormones that it did when I had infants. At the sound of any cry or hint of despair from a child in the store or in my house, my chest would hurt and every ounce of my being NEEDED to make that sound stop.

It’s a soul-wrenching yearning to reach out of the physical dimension to where Joanna is.

3. It’s waiting for your kid to come home from camp.

It’s like waiting for your kid to come home from camp, but that day never comes. It’s disorienting and confusing. Each day you have to adjust your expectations to a different schedule, an emptiness in the house, and future expectations that are suddenly gone.

4. It’s like losing a limb.

It’s like losing an arm (or breaking a limb). You keep expecting it to be there, and every minute you are conscious, you feel like it’s there and you expect it to be there when you go to do something with that limb. But then it’s not. You have to re-learn every move and every thought, every moment of the day.

5. It’s like a break-up.

It’s the feeling you have after a breakup with a boyfriend, or a fallout with a best friend… but without the bitterness (at least for me — by God’s grace I didn’t have to deal with it being someone’s fault, like a drunk driver or something stupid Joanna did). It’s the most profound loss I’ve ever known.

6. It’s like your child has sailed away to the New World.

It’s like having your child leave to live in a place that has no internet, phone, or mail. I imagine it’s similar to what it must have been like in the Age of Exploration, when someone would leave Europe for the New World. You don’t know what that person is doing or experiencing. It’s just a blank page of nothingness. So, you spend much of your time wondering and imagining, and hoping that in some magical way, you will know.

7. It’s failure.

It’s failure. If you’ve ever failed a class or gotten fired from a job, you might have an idea of this. Parents, and moms in particular, have one basic job: Keep your kid alive. Joanna died.

There is a large part of me that feels like the ultimate failure. YES, Iknow all the intellectually correct answers. I KNOW it isn’t my fault. But it FEELS like my fault. I think this is a very common struggle for those who have had miscarriages, too. I can fight it all day long, but it’s always there — this nagging sense of having completely and utterly failed.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15
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