Learning how to lose

In reading about grief, there is a recurring theme from those who counsel people in grief; our society does not know how to deal with loss and death. We are a death-denying culture that does not know how to process loss. We are instead taught to acquire, consume, improve, seek happiness, and to avoid or distract ourselves from pain with activity, food, entertainment, drugs and alcohol. While regular respite from the constant pain of grief is healthy, the grief journey cannot be avoided, walked around, over or under; but must be walked through in order for healing to eventually come. If grief is avoided or postponed, it accumulates with interest as unhealthy coping methods set in, and must later be unlearned as the pain resurges. In a video I watched at my grief support group, they shared an analogy of grief as a severe wound that must be cleaned and treated regularly, which although painful, prevents infection from setting in. So in grieving any type of loss, we must face it and work through it, or we will end up forever damaged, bitter, diminished, and unable to embrace life again.

What does this mean for me? That I must process the reality of all my losses, grieve and feel each one, cry and question, rage and allow myself to be sad. Depression, anxiety, and the myriad ball of raging emotions in grief is in fact normal for my situation, whereas these feelings would be considered outside the norm if I were not dealing with the loss of my child. We learned in our grief support group that it typically takes 5 to 10 years of intense grief before parents stabilize and regain a sense of normalcy. In our case, Fiona’s death was also traumatic to witness, and comes with baggage of guilt, anger and the confusion of not knowing if or what went wrong with the treatment she received during the 14 hours she was in the hospital. If I want to continue to be present for my remaining children, I must learn how to heal from the loss of the one who is gone.

Besides the trauma of losing and missing our beautiful child, the losses that accompany her death are numerous and painful. We are no longer a family of 5, but 4, and my middle child has been ripped away from our happy threesome of girls that I was so proud to have. The age difference between Maisie and Poppy is noticeable enough to elicit comment from strangers; the decision to share why this is so must be weighed and considered before answering. We are no longer a normal family; friendships, social life, activities and relationships have changed. Small talk and socializing in groups is difficult and usually best avoided as the energy to engage is so lacking. Fiona’s friends no longer come to play; we hosted so many play dates and sleepovers over the years; the silence from her room is deafening. She had a full life of activities, school, interests and relationships; it is gone now. All the energy put towards raising and loving Fiona suddenly has nowhere to go; we no longer have that privilege. We have had to adjust and shift that love and energy towards our other children, who definitely need extra tender care as they are grieving as well. Fiona’s room hasn’t changed, but is so empty and devoid of life and the fun that used to happen there. Happiness and innocence as a family has been lost, as well as a good night’s sleep, a normal digestive system, normal energy levels, the ability to enjoy the things we used to, and income from a job I am no longer able to perform. I’ve lost my role as Fiona’s mom. We’ve lost being able to say her name and get a response.

Although I have anger and doubts of God’s goodness and love for us because we lost Fiona, I would most likely not be able to function at all without His presence and strength within me. I can’t deny that He is the reason I can get up each day, love and care for my children, go to the gym or for a run, offer encouragement to a friend in pain, keep up with household chores, and perform my new job at my church. I am aware of how weak, powerless, and fragile I am, every moment of the day. My only hope is for what God may have in store for us; eventual healing from our deep grief, a life eternal with Fiona in it, a purpose for this life yet to be revealed, and His presence along the way. While we have such tremendous loss, God does promise that there will be new, good things to come in time.

My friend sent me this photo that she felt depicts how God is working in our lives during this time. She feels Jesus is carrying our family; we are the sheep on his back, and the other sheep are fellow believers that are walking with us during this time. I told her Jesus has an awful long way to walk. But He appears determined and strong.

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