You Can’t Stop A Boulder

Once a week I have the opportunity to talk to other grieving parents. I don’t always avail myself to said opportunity, but when I do, I am stunned at what we have in common. No matter how we lost our child . . . many feelings are universal.

The one that is most often mentioned: guilt. We find a way of taking whatever happened and making it our fault. One mom shared a story with me. The story is of a little boy who was sleeping soundly in his bed. One night a boulder, that had been firm in the side of the cliff for hundreds of years,  came loose. The massive rock rolled down the hill, gaining speed, eventually crashing through a wall. Instantly killing a little boy as he slept soundly in his bed.

How had the boulder become free? A storm, years prior, had caused the river to flood and weaken the earth in that area. Somehow, the surveying team missed the danger when they inspected the area for homes. Four years later, the boys parents had chosen the home because of it’s good school system and close neighborhood. It had taken them a long time to find the perfect place to raise their child. As a condolence, people said that there was no reason for this to happen, it was after all, an act of God.

Those of us who have lost a child know what the parents did to themselves, don’t we?

They blamed themselves for their son’s death. If they hadn’t chosen that house, on that hill, with those rocks that had seemed so beautiful in the sunset, he would still be alive. If they’d never left their previous home then this would not have happened. For the rest of their lives, they will carry the guilt of what happened.

When I listen to other parents talk about the death of their child, I am amazed at how easily events can be described in a way that illustrates their responsibility. As their words spill from their mouths . . .  I want to cry out: It’s not your fault!! Yet, I do it to myself, too. I can manage to weave the recounting of Becca’s death into a tale that makes me the guilty party. Why do we have such an intense need to be culpable. Society isn’t blaming us, we are blaming ourselves.

I’ve heard parents say if they hadn’t sent their child to school that day, they wouldn’t have died in a bus accident. Or if they had kept them home when it began to snow, their child’s car wouldn’t have skidded off the road. If they’d said no to going to the movies, their child wouldn’t have been drinking in the parking lot and  succumbed to alcohol poisoning. The truth is, as parents, we can do everything right, and it still doesn’t matter.

If you are reading this, and haven’t lost a child, please don’t become terrified of allowing your child to live. You can not wrap them in a cocoon and keep them safe. If we are alive, we have to live life. Don’t change that. But, please, if you know someone who has lost a child and is struggling with this massive, and very common, guilt . . . share this with them.

A lot of times we won’t listen to ourselves, but it helps to hear it from someone else. We can let the guilt go.

Our children would want that for us.

 

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Confronting Guilt

Guilt is a monster that demands to be fed. No matter the cost . . . it’s going to find what it needs and take it from you. We are better served by looking it in the face and asking it’s reason for existing. There is always a reason. Often times, the reason isn’t our responsibility. Especially the reason our child died. But, somehow, we still carry the guilt.

The moment my daughter was killed I was sleeping restlessly in my bed miles away. Earlier in the evening, while I was at work, an ominous feeling settled on my shoulders. I tried to shake the feeling of impending danger but I just couldn’t. Even going so far as to tell my manager I wouldn’t be back to work there again. How did my subconscious mind know this? And if it was going to warn me . . . why not go all the way and tell me exactly what was going to happen so I could stop it?

As I lay safely in my bedroom, as my sons slept downstairs, my child’s life was ended by a drunk driver. Why did I go to sleep? How could I not pay closer attention to the feelings I was experiencing? I knew my boys were home that evening. They had no plans. I should have called my daughter and made sure she was alright. I had time. I left work near midnight. She wouldn’t be killed for just over two hours. If I’d acted . . . she might still be alive. If I had demanded she tell me where she was, then driven to get her, she would still be alive. If I’d picked her up and brought her to my home, tucked her into bed next to me . . . she’d still be here.

As her mother, I should have known this was the possible outcome of the night. I didn’t. Was this because I am not a good mother? Or I didn’t love my child enough? I failed her. I cost my daughter her life. And I have to live with this truth for the rest of my life.

When talking to others, and expressing this thought, I’m always told I have no responsibility for her death. (But I do.) I wasn’t the driver who chose to drive after drinking. (But I could have changed the course of events.) Physically, I had no hand her dying. (But I should have known my child was in physical danger.) You see how our mind works? How we can find a way to feel responsible for something we had nothing to do with? The weight of the guilt we carry can crush us and force us to our knees. It lives in our chest so fully we can’t take a deep breath. Our heart beats are restricted and our blood flow is weak. We are dying, ourselves.

Guilt will take what it needs, and we are left to exist on what’s left, unless we confront it. It’s parasitic existence must be ended. In truth, we most likely, couldn’t have stopped our child from dying. In our heads, this fact is acknowledged. Our hearts, however, don’t always know this. We spend our life, our child’s life, keeping them safe and preparing them for a future of their own. We baby proof our homes, walk them to school, get vaccinations and physicals, feed them healthily. Teach them about strangers, lock our doors at night, talk to them about safe sex. Their safety is entirely our responsibility. Except, when it’s isn’t.

I’ve not met another grieving mother who didn’t carry some guilt. It’s part of the whole package. Emotions you didn’t know you would experience. That you don’t know how to deal with. As I’ve said before: you can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge. Find the source of the guilt. Where you tell yourself you went wrong. And look it in it’s eyes. Question it. Examine it.

When it doesn’t have an answer for you . . . tell it to go.

 

 

After

Grief can cloud our world so completely we become hopelessly lost. Lost to those around us. To life and the world. Sadly, also to ourselves. We exist in a place that is shadowy and unfamiliar.

We exist in a place that is shadowy and unfamiliar . . . full of sights and sounds we never knew before. For a time, we stay stuck in the moment balanced between when our child was alive and their death. We try to reach back and find the few seconds before we knew the truth. We lower our heads and weep. When we look . . . the entire world has changed forever. There are some bereaved mothers who never find their way back.

For a time, we cope. There is always a flurry of activity around death, especially in the days just after it’s arrival. People rush in to care for us. Food is prepared to nourish our bodies. Words of comfort are said to nourish our souls.  The wagons have circled and for a time we feel protected.

Then time starts to move away from the day that changed us to the center of our being. The phone falls silent. All the condolence cards we are going to receive have been opened. No more prepared meals, it’s time for us to begin caring for ourselves again. With great sadness (and often anger) we watch as other’s lives to back to normal knowing ours never will.

This is when we realize the rest of our life is in front of us and we better figure out what we are going to do with it. So . . . we try. Remember, we are lost. I liken it to being dropped into the center of a landscape that has been blown apart by an atomic bomb. We see things that we know we should recognize, but we don’t because they have been altered enough to be unidentifiable. In our memories, we know these things should exist, but no matter how hard we look to find them, they can no longer be located. Pieces of what remains are scattered at our feet so we desperately try to put the past back together again. Make it whole. Know this: it’s easy to get lost here, crawling around on our hands and knees trying to find the smallest part of our former life. Not until we realize that this is a futile effort will we be able to embrace the life that we hadn’t planned on.

I think there is a hidden place in every grieving mother’s heart where she hasn’t quite admitted that her child is dead. It’s too difficult. So, there is a small place where our child still laughs. Where we let our minds imagine what they would have been some day. A quietness that allows us to hold them and stroke their hair. We visit this place, but not too often. The anguish is too suffocating. I often visit here. Just for a while, though. When I leave and close the door I know I will be back again.

During my days, I will continue to build my life. I won’t try to replicate the one I had before my daughter died. I’ll never be able to do so. However, the pieces of her I still have, I will carry them with me each day and use her to decorate my life.

Be patient with us, we are trying.