It has been ages since I have written anything of substance or anything worth publishing on my blog. Sixteen months to be exact. It hasn’t been because I lacked ideas about what to write; thoughts, feelings and words float around my mind every minute of every day much like letters in a bowl of alphabet soup. My problem has been that my thoughts have been fleeting. By the time I take to pen and paper, everything is gone. Thoughts. Words. Ideas. Gone. Never to return again.
The only thing that isn’t fleeing is my grief and, oh, how I wish it was. Grief is the wound that never heals. It attempts to close but the trauma around it is too great; its healing impeded by too many extenuating circumstances. An out of order death. Shock. Planning a celebration of life. Heartbreak. Not having the chance to say goodbye. Guilt. Paperwork completion. Numbness. Empty Promises. Disappointment. New family structure. Sadness. Insensitive comments. Anger. Autopsy report. More heartbreak. Etc., etc., etc.
I have been grieving for nineteen months now. In my former life, that is, my life before my son died, I was incredibly naïve about grief. While I had experienced the loss of loved ones before Dylan’s death, I had never experienced a loss so close, so great, so heartbreaking, so debilitating, so filled with a love that now has nowhere to go.
Grief is a strange and cruel bedfellow. It never leaves. It follows me everywhere I go. It knows no bounds and is very much a torturous beast. I can be in the middle of a store and see something that triggers a memory of Dylan and my grief will sucker punch me in the gut. I can be at work and someone will say something incredibly insensitive about another bereaved mom such as, “she should be over it by now; it’s been two years” and I just want to scream in their face that there is no getting over the loss of a child. Watching a heartwarming Christmas travel commercial can send tears running down my face. Hearing of another loss in the community brings me to my knees in seconds.
I have never known such pain, such emptiness, such loss, such annihilation of my former self as I have come to know these past nineteen months. Some days I don’t even know who I am any more and I am not sure I want to. I am so far removed from whom I was that I cannot for the life of me see the old me, the me who existed before Dylan died. Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, like really look at myself, I don’t recognize the person staring back at me. That person is blank-faced, has lifeless eyes, and has a soul so tired, she feels like she has aged one hundred years. How can she possibly be me?
Yet it is me.
This is my life now. It is measured by the events and experiences and beliefs I had ‘before Dylan died’ and everything that has happened ‘after Dylan died’. There is no way around it; it’s just the way it is. I have become very matter of fact about things. What used to be easily understood grey areas have now become black and white. It either is or it is not. You have a problem? Fix it. You don’t like your situation? Change it. You want more? Go after it.
I can no longer tolerate excuses. Whining drives me insane. Complaining makes me angry. Platitudes grate on me like nails on a chalkboard. Gossiping makes me ill. Unnecessary drama drains me. Going on and on about nothing makes me want to scream.
But I don’t.
I have learned that, just as screaming would scare everyone around me, so does my grief. I have become the elephant in the room. I am the person that people know they should say something to but, since they do not know what to say, they look the other way, hoping that I do not notice. But I do notice. I feel the awkwardness around me just as much as they do but, instead of feeling angry about it, I feel sad. Sad because talking openly and honestly about grief scares the hell out of most people and it shouldn’t. Not one of us is going to make it through our lives without experiencing some form of grief. The loss of a job. A relationship breakup. A catastrophic environmental event. A devastating health diagnosis. The list goes on but the cruelest and saddest truth of all is that each and every one of us is going to lose somebody loved more than life itself, and, when it happens, most will be forced to hide their grief because it will just be easier that way. If grief isn’t acknowledged, then it doesn’t exist. If grief isn’t discussed, then it will go away.
Naturally, this unhealthy view of grief has made me a master of pretending. When someone asks me how I am, I always reply “I’m well, thank you,” feeling their relief instantly. Only those deep within my inner circle do I ever share how I am feeling and, even then, I hold back because the last thing I want to do is scare the bejeezers right out of them about how truly sad and empty and lost I feel. That is, unless you are in ‘the club’, the club that nobody wants to belong to, the club whose only prerequisite for membership is having lost a child. With my fellow club members, I don’t have to say a word because they already know just how truly awful and painful and heartbreaking it is to lose a child. Everything we need to say is conveyed in a simple nod, a knowing look, a warm embrace.
I have also mastered wearing socially acceptable faces. In order to avoid certain questions (“Why don’t you smile more? Why are you so sad? Why are you always lost in thought? What’s wrong?”), I have developed a work face, a grocery shopping face, a running errands face, a meet and greet face, a ‘I am happy to be here face’, etc. My many faces, all necessary coping mechanisms, were created in order to avoid the multitudes of unsolicited advice that well-meaning people think they need to give me … it’s time you moved on … you need to let go … you should get out more … you need to have some fun … you should … you need … you should … you need. For the love of God and all things holy, if I am told one more time about something I ‘should’ be doing, I think I am going to lose my mind.
Which brings me back to what I really want this post to be about. I want to begin a discourse about grief. Part of my reason is selfish: I want to bear my soul, as raw and as scarred as it is, so that I can make some semblance of my grief experience. I am tired of pretending that everything is okay when it is not. How could it be? My child died, my child whom I loved before he was even born, my child whom I would gladly have changed places with so that he could live and grow into an old man and experience all that life was supposed to offer him. Yes, that child. His name is Dylan James Bradley and his life mattered.
My other reason for wanting to bring to the forefront an open and meaningful dialogue about grief is because I want to help others. Thankfully, at least one of my belief systems survived the annihilation of my former self. I have always believed that it is only through the sharing of our stories, the good, the bad and the ugly of our experiences, can we truly help others.
I cannot help but wonder what would happen if we were encouraged to talk openly about grief? Wouldn’t it go a long way in helping each of us heal? Wouldn’t there be less to fear about death, about grief itself, if people knew they would not be alone in their grief journey simply because they could talk openly about it? Wouldn’t it make the grief experience more honest for all of us and somewhat lessen the burden of hiding it for the bereaved? Isn’t it enough that those of us already swallowed whole by our grief have enough to deal with without pretending to be someone whom we are not? And, if we could really say how truly awful grief is and how truly heartbroken we are without making everyone feel uncomfortable and awkward, wouldn’t that help us move forward without fear of judgment? After all, isn’t that what our family and friends want us to do anyway?
Grief, you see, is complicated. There are so many layers and components to it that it is impossible to simply ‘get over’ in the allotted amount of time that many think our grief journey should take. We all grieve differently just as each of us are born and live our lives differently. There is no set timeline for grief because no one person can possibly know how grief will affect them until they have fallen deep into the abyss and are in danger of being swallowed up whole by it. Unless you have lived it, you cannot possibly know how every minute of every day is spent just trying to survive it.
In addition, grief is not only a primary experience. It involves many secondary losses. In my grief experience, I have been grieving the loss of my former self. The moment I received word that Dylan had died, the old me died right along with him, as did my hopes, dreams, and everything I had hoped to see him experience throughout his life. Upon hearing those two words, “Dylan’s gone”, they not only smashed my heart into a million pieces, they hurtled me into a collision course with my thought patterns, my belief system, my new and terrifying emotions, and with the new beginnings of a life I had not planned on living.
I have also been grieving the fact that I am not the same wife whom my husband, Mark, came to know and love. I grieve the fact that I am not the same mom that my surviving sons, Ryan and Liam, once knew no matter how hard I try. I grieve the loss of friends who I thought would always be there but who have walked walk away because they find me too sad or maybe it’s because I am not moving quickly enough through my grief journey or maybe I just don’t fit into their world anymore.
I grieve that I no longer trust the way I used to. I grieve how I have lost confidence in all areas of my life. I grieve the loss of my ability to focus on the tasks and hobbies I used to enjoy as well as grieve the loss of energy it takes to even think about them. I grieve that I no longer experience joy, that real true joy I used to feel in every fibre of my being, the kind that made me want to jump for joy after receiving good news or after attending a beautiful and moving celebration. I grieve how I no longer seem to fit in anywhere anymore and how I always feel like I am on the outside looking in at my life. I grieve. I grieve and I grieve some more.
As I come to the end of this post, I realize that I have also been grieving the loss of my beloved words. By not writing anything substantial over these past sixteen months, my grief has been piling up, festering almost, to the point that the pile seemed almost insurmountable. I cannot help but smile and be encouraged by the fact that my words came pouring out today. The relief that accompanies these thousands of words is indescribable.
And, hope. Yes, hope accompanies them as well. Hope that my words will not only soften the sharp edges of my pain but others’ as well and hope that my words will become an instrument of some much-needed peace in my broken heart.
Happy tears are rolling down my cheeks …… finally.
From the ashes I rise.