There is no formula for grieving. Everyone does it in his/her own time and in his/her own way. The most important point is that we do it. Grief has its way with us whether we pay attention to it or not.
For me, there is no other way to be with grief except to allow it to flow through me each and every day.
We lost our son, Christian, to suicide almost seven years ago. Losing a child is not quite like any other loss, and suicide carries a social stigma that can paralyze those experiencing the fallout.
Unlike the manuals and mothers’ groups that teach you how to raise your child, no such thing exists for the loss of your child. Each day carries me to a new place of memory or to a deep canyon of mourning. I have learned to embrace each moment whether I care to board the grief train or not. It finds me and drops me at a different destination each day. Unfortunately, there is no ride back to a happy place where I can pretend my loss is only a mistake. I am always left to find my way back to the normalcy that defines my life now. The reality of my life without my son.
Fortunately, I believe my life has a reason, and I feel blessed that I was Christian’s mom. He was a joy to raise. He made me laugh every day, and he was one of the kindest souls created. I have come to understand that there are lessons I can learn from his short life.
And his life was short. Life never prepares us for the brevity that defines it. We are told to embrace each day because that day will never be with us again. We will experience new days, but the one we are in at the moment is fleeting.
So what’s the point? It is much easier to be lulled into thinking that each day will be like the next and we have time. Why would we live our lives anyway, just waiting for a catastrophe to break the chain of normalcy? I think that we don’t live expecting disasters. We try to live life as fully as possible to make it the rich, full experience that it should be. Embracing life means that we also need to embrace death. As death is the opposite of life it, too, deepens our understanding of who we are and why we are here.
The loss of my son has humbled me. I will never be the same person I was before his death. I take each day now and ask for a greater understanding of who I am and who I might still become. I ask each day to make me kinder, more patient and less judgmental. I want to take time to pet the passing dog on my walks, see the color of the sky and talk to a stranger. Only grief has made me aware of how important each day is and the gifts it brings awaiting my discovery.
Grief can break us and steal our spirit and even our love of life.
I will not allow it to create a bitter, broken person in me. I ask grief to teach me the lessons of loving and letting go and of believing I can become a better person because of the gift of my son.
This is not a journey I asked for, and it is not one I wish for anyone else. However, I have come to understand that for some reason, it is my journey and I can only take it one step at a time, one day at a time.
Casey Goodall, retired from Penn State, is a 40-year resident of State College. This column is coordinated by www.ltlwys.org whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.