Wisdom from a grieving parent to a grieving parent

Like many things in life, grief is a rite of passage. While unwelcome, it can be hard to avoid. Running away from it only prolongs its effects.

Someone I know (sorry, I cannot provide further details) lost a child to suicide recently. Every time I hear such news, particularly regarding those near me, my heart just aches.

I lost a child many years ago, my son Evan, who passed at age 3, due to heart illness. One of my older brothers, upon hearing this news, imparted wisdom to me, as he too had lost two young children. I have passed this on to others who are grieving, and it goes like this:

  1. It is okay to grieve, as you have experienced a profound loss.
  2. For days, weeks, and even months: you’ll experience flashbacks – memories of your child’s life and death. The flashbacks will “take over” your thoughts. This could be awkward at work, as you might even stop speaking and appear to just stare. These flashbacks will subside over time, in both intensity and frequency.
  3. Because of #2, you should be extra careful when driving and during other activities. Your thinking and reaction times may be impaired.
  4. The pain will ease, but not the memories. It hurts profoundly, but the pain slowly subsides. Do not fear that you will forget your child. As time progresses, you’ll still have your memories to treasure, and it will hurt less. For me, decades later, I still feel the pull of my heartstrings sometimes, but the sharpness of pain is behind me now.
  5. Do not feel guilt as your life moves on. You need to keep on living and get back into the routine of life. It’s what we all do. You will, in time, smile, laugh, and love again.
  6. If you cling too tightly to your child’s memories, you won’t be able to experience the gradual closure that you and others around you need. You do not need to enshrine your child, but neither do you need to completely remove them from your life. Find the middle ground.
  7. Don’t hate God. The reason for your loss may not be known to you for some time.

It’s also helpful to find someone who can relate to your loss, perhaps someone you know who has experienced a loss like your own.

I have learned through my own experiences that grieving is a process that one must travel through to the end. It cannot be bypassed, but if you refuse to grieve, you’ll be stuck in the grieving process and may have difficulty finding closure. Grieving is painful, but the pain does end. If you try to bypass the grief, you’ll find instead that it will stay with you, and you could find yourself in a serious state of depression.

I have benefited from help from mental health professionals, whether psychologists, psychiatrists, and marriage counselors. Consider these as expert guides who can help you through your grief journey.

You’ll know when you have completed the grieving process when you realize that you have begun to resume living. You’ll discover that grieving is not about forgetting, but about processing the grief and finding a way through it.

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