Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | February 26, 2013

An Unexpectedly Expected Journey

I see grief almost daily. I see it in the faces of parents who are watching their special-needs child not meet milestones like other kids, or who will never hear their autistic child say “I love you.” I see it in the faces of the babies and toddlers who were removed from their parent, as they try and navigate new faces and understand unspoken loss. I see it as I drive by a person’s belongings on the side of the road after being evicted. I see it when a parent has to suffer the unspeakable and unthinkable loss of a child.

Some grief is endless and there are constant daily reminders, as a parent of a special-needs child can attest to, as they face countless losses for their child who is growing up in a less than tolerable world. There never seems to be closure for them. I am often in awe of parents who can find the joy in what is sometimes a heart-wrenching journey of unknowns. But for most, they do find the happiness and are able to live their life and share their love. I wonder how they do it.

Then there is the grief that is supposed to happen, the grief that is natural when someone’s “time” has come and we have to say goodbye. Is it easier to see the “alive” loss everyday, or to long for the person who is gone whom we will never see again? Certainly there is no answer to that question. I know it is true that no loss is expected, at any time, at any moment. Even when it is supposed to happen, it is never easy, and never understandable. The only thing I know for sure is that loss has no answers. It just is.

I am not sure about the saying that “time heals all wounds,” especially as it relates to grief and loss. I think time mostly changes how we feel, and the intensity of our loss lessens. Time helps the sadness go to a place deep down inside so that it does not show itself every day. But we all know that sadness can be unleashed at any given moment. Time hopefully lessens the amount of tears that were shed the day before, then the months before, then the year before. But our healing is a deeply personal and infinite journey, and no one can tell us how to do it right.

Some say it is easier to lose someone you love when it is their expected time to go. While that may be true to a degree, loss is never expected or easy. Even when the natural processes of life take hold, in that moment of saying goodbye, the magnitude of our grief is unexpected, and there are no answers.

When a parent is faced with the daunting task of explaining death or loss to a child, the fear and trepidation that overcomes you is profound. What if I screw it up? What if I traumatize them more? What if it’s all wrong? But somewhere inside you, the spirit of the one you lost rises up and gives you the courage to speak the truth to your child. I always knew this day would come for my own family, but I never knew how unprepared or unexpected it would feel. Telling the people you love the most in the world that someone is gone forever is perhaps the hardest thing I have had to do as a parent. But I know that telling them the truth, telling them it is final, letting them see tears and sadness was needed. The biggest question we’ve heard so far is “how long will I be sad?” Again, no answers to give, just love.

It is certainly natural for kids to ask why and how…..why can’t my brother talk? Why is my sister different? How come she has to wear that brace? Why do people die? I know sometimes I rush to figuring out the answers in order to calm fears, and sometimes I think those fears are my own. In the midst of searching for answers I will sometimes talk too much or too long. I realized recently that not knowing the answers, that being ok with saying “I don’t know, honey,” is good enough. Learning to live in the unknown is hard, and it is not something that is routinely taught to kids as they grow. I think helping kids tolerate ambiguity and the unknown while surrounded by the unyielding love, security, and kindness of family will make it alright for them, and the glorious memories we are so fortunate to have will carry us through.

I thought that seeing grief everyday would make personal grief easier. It is not easier. Having grief inside me, and particularly seeing the heartache and longing in those that I love has helped me see that opening my heart to others, especially to those that I love most, is exactly what I need to be doing more of, today and everyday. Grief and loss is ever-present, at the most unexpected and expected of times, but being surrounded by love without judgement eases it, even if ever so slightly.

Rose On Wood BW

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