You say it’s time for me to move on in my grief. Perhaps you’re right, or perhaps you just don’t realize what you’re asking. So why don’t you try this little exercise and maybe it will help you get a better perspective on what I am going through.
To make this really hit home for you it should be practiced for at least 24 hours. The longer the better; but, we do not have that long, so we will do it for 10 minutes. Don’t blow this off as a stupid idea. It works along the same lines as blindfolding yourself to experience being without sight.
First of all, think about your child. I want you to try to imagine the worst thing in the world….. that your beloved child died. Whatever age or stage of development, whether he or she lives with you or not, just imagine you won’t ever see that child on earth again. Let me explain to you the reality…try to imagine, if you can, never seeing your child again, never hearing his/her laugh, never hearing the sound of their voice, never smelling the scent you have come to recognize as your child…. never hearing them say “I love you”…nothing – just silence, emptiness…..Now imagine never seeing your child’s smile, never seeing him upset or happy, never watching him sleep…missing them so much that you are twisted up inside and the pain stays with you 24/7. You smell their pillow, their clothes, you look at his pictures and can only cry – what happened, why?.. You have never felt longing like this in your life! Longing to hear his voice, to see his face again,…and to know deep in your soul you cannot fix this. Now, imagine every single thing that used to give you joy and pleasure turns into hurt and despair overnight. Not a gradual thing, but going from pleasure to hurt, from happiness to sadness, from peace to no peace, changing overnight. Every thing you loved now hurts like hell…
For example: music. I used to be a band director. Music was a big part of my life. Now it’s hard for me to listen to it It sears me like a red hot knife with the pain of losing my child, it cuts me wide open.. especially rap music……my son loved rap music. Almost every song reminds me of the void in my life without my child. I am not unique in that pain – if you lost a child you would know. That is just one little example of how your life is affected by the loss of your child. Just ONE example!
Now imagine calling all your family and friends to tell them your child died.
Next, go to a funeral home and discuss caskets or cremation, headstone, burial plots, etc. Pick out a favorite outfit for your child to be buried in and the flowers that lay at the alter. Sit down and write out the obituary for the newspaper, pick out the music to be played at their memorial and picking out pictures of them to put around the funeral home. Get in his closet of his room and hold onto his clothes that he wore and cry until there are no more tears. Then repeat this until you think you’re losing your mind and your gut is wrenching.
If you made it through that part you are ready for the next step.
As good parents, we were always able to fix things or make things better for our children.. this we cannot fix, we cannot make it better. So; on top of everything else you are feeling, you also feel helplessness…out of control hopelessness…and this is universal. Every parent that truly loves their child will feel this. Are you starting to imagine now how it feels?
Just think you are doing this exercise for only 10 minutes, imagine . . . really imagine, feeling this way 24/7, day after day, month after month, year after year and no matter what you are doing or who you are talking to; memories of your child play over and over in your mind. Your child when he was a baby, a laughing happy little boy, a handsome young teen, a wonderful young man/ woman and it always plays in your head and you do not want to forget even a single second of your beautiful child’s life . . . but; that is a fear you have. You fear that as time passes, you will start to forget . . . so now, please add FEAR to the list of emotions. This is what it really feels like. A part of you has died…. don’t just read the words, FEEL them—DIED . . . gone forever . . . a real, beautiful, living part of you has died… and you are still living. Left behind to try to pick up the pieces of your shattered life and not having a clue where to even begin. No wonder a high percentage of marriages break up, parents have breakdowns, turn to alcohol, drugs or a destructive way of life.
During all of this, remember that the world hasn’t stopped. If you have a job, you will have to return to it. The power company and everyone else still wants their payment each month. You may have doctor’s bills, ambulance bills, and attorney fees if an accident was involved. If your child died at the hands of another, there will be a trial and publicity.
If you were blessed to have other children, you will have to deal with their grief as well as your own. They will still have homework, tests, reports, projects and the class bully. You feel the loss with every thought, every emotion. The loss bleeds into every aspect of your life. Even with your other children . . . you still love your other children just as much as always but, as hard as it is . . . even they hurt you now because when you see them, you feel the LOSS, the loss of the child who died . . . not being with their siblings. It doesn’t fit. There is a piece missing. Your whole life doesn’t fit anymore. Everything that felt right now feels wrong. And of course there is always the missing, the horrible gut wrenching, out of your control . . . MISSING . . .
Next comes the firsts. First birthday without them. First anniversary of death and at first, you count the days, weeks, and months since they passed. Your first Christmas without them, etc. When everyone is singing tra-la-la and jingle bells, you won’t be. Your heart will be too heavy. The hurt will be so intense you will marvel that you can get out of bed each morning. Every morning when you take your other children to school you’ll be reminded that you AREN’T taking one too. You’ll see their friends going on with their lives and it will cut you to the quick. When they all graduate from kindergarten, middle school, high school . . . your child won’t. When you start getting wedding invitations in the mail for these other children, you’ll be reminded again of your loss.
Don’t forget that when you go shopping; you’ll see things that you wanted to buy for your deceased child and many times you will still buy them anyway. You’ll see places the two of you — USED to go and sometimes sit in the parking lot and remember that special day.
At home when you prepare a favorite meal of the child who is gone; it won’t taste the same to you. The pictures, cards they made for you or sent you, the toys and other possessions of your child . . . will be both harmful . . . and helpful. They are a link to the past, a way to remember more about what you’ve lost and at the same time; they are a link to the past and a way to remember more about what you’ve lost.
Remember that family portrait you were always so proud of? Well, it will take on a whole new meaning now.
A part of you does not exist anymore and it is scary as hell. That is why they say the loss of a child is like no other loss—you cannot compare it to another loss. With other losses you grieve and you are of course sad, but when your child dies, a part of you ceases to exist. Gone just like that. Gone. No warning, JUST GONE.
And the life that you knew, the things you always felt, the things in your life that made sense, that you held on to, that make up who you are—are gone! That is why when parents who have lost children hear, “I want the old you back,” or “It’s been a year (a month, 6 months-whatever), don’t you feel better yet?” or “You are doing this to yourself, you’re making it harder on yourself,” or “Grief can become a selfish thing, you know,” we can only shake our heads and feel sadness and hopelessness, because there is no way our lives will ever be like it was when our child was alive. No wonder bereaved parents isolate themselves; we are just trying to hold on.
So, were you able to imagine for 10 minutes what it must feel like? Even 2 minutes is too long to imagine the unimaginable, to feel the pain. I would not wish this on anyone. But did you get a sense of how life-changing it is? Imagine you feeling this way 24/7 without getting event a moment of relief from it!
Now, go on and put in your favorite CD to listen to, enjoy the music. Go home and hug your child. Listen to them laugh, watch them smile, smell the scent that you know is his or her and please do not tell me how I should feel or that I am holding onto this. I know that my friends/family must be tired of watching me go through this, because if you haven’t lost a beloved child of yours, you haven’t got a clue.
When you hear these words “The presence of his absence is everywhere,” will you finally understand?
Didn’t mean to ask too much of you. Believe it or not, I could write dozens of things for you to imagine. Fortunately for you, it’s only an exercise. But I live it every day.
IF you have had the guts to stick it out to here, remember that this was just a little exercise. I don’t think you will be so quick to utter those words now. Not if you really did imagine.
In the memory of my son, Crawford Alan Carnahan
August 21,1988 to May 11, 2007