Some parents I know were discussing how to respond when someone asks “How are you?” after the death of a child. Though they are really feeling like they are in the midst of a terrible storm or walking around in a fog, many said they respond with “I’m fine” or “alright”. They expressed the desire to tell people how that are really doing. But would others understand? Could others handle the truth of our grief?
One mom says she refers to “putting on the clown mask.” You know, a big smile despite how we are actually feeling.
Here is my response to the conversation:
I understand that with some you may not want to tell all the things going on in your heart, all your emotions. Kind of like “don’t throw pearls before swine.” Our pain, grief, and experience is ours alone, it is precious to us. We do not want to risk sharing it with those who cannot appreciate it. Sometimes sharing it with others would not help them at all, just as pearls would not be healthy for pigs.
I understand the clown mask – the need to appear okay when you are not. Feeling like some of the people around us could not understand our true feelings. They would not know what to do with the information.
I understand not wanting to tell people how much you are hurting and telling them you doing okay.
However, I have had a different experience. I tell people I am doing well because I am … and they don’t believe me.
I cannot go into detail, but the year before Andrew’s death, our family experienced a number of major issues – addiction, illness, self-destructive behavior – with other family members. Each of those people had a radical change as a direct result of The Accident.
God used The Accident to bring good things in so many people’s lives! Seeing the good God brought about helped me heal quickly.
(I don’t believe God caused Andrew’s death to bring about these good things; I believe He uses junk to bring about good things. He is a good, gracious, compassionate God who does that.)
My faith and my family helped me heal.
For whatever reason, my grief was very intense – deep, dark, heavy, exhausting – for a only couple of months.
And then it lightened.
Now I have very rare days of grief hitting me hard. It is rare that I breakdown and sob. I am more likely to smile at fun memories or share a story of something sweet or silly Andrew did. We have lots of great memories and I am humbly grateful for that.
I read posts with sayings like “grief has no time limit” and “take all the time you need to grieve” and I wish it were true. I wish I could take the time I need. I wish that if I need less time than you, you would not think I didn’t care or that I am not really dealing with it! I wish it would be okay to heal quickly, even from the death of a child.
If I say, “We are doing really well. God has been our very present help in this time of trouble” Or “I am grateful to have been his momma for 20 years. That has to be enough for me” Or “I’m doing great! God’s grace is sufficient” – PLEASE BELIEVE ME!
When asked how I am … if I say one of the things listed above … which are true … I get this look – the head tilt, slight smile, small nod – and “but how ARE you, really doing??” The look that says, “oh, sweety, you poor thing. You don’t really get it.” Yes! Yes I DO GET IT! I DO get it! I do know the pain! I experienced it! I buried my son! I know grief!
But my grief will look different from your grief.
Please let me grieve differently than you, even if it looks like less.
And believe me, neither of us is “doing it” right or wrong, neither is more spiritual, neither loved their child more. We simply grieve in different ways, different times, different healing.
The vast majority of the time, I am really well. I laugh, I enjoy life, I go on with things I love. Andrew will be in my thoughts every day until I get to heaven, but God has healed the gaping wound that was there for months after The Accident. God has healed my broken heart. He had renewed the joy of my salvation. We will have moments of sadness, sorrow and grief. But I live with joy, peace, and hope.
These are not platitudes! They are true for me and for my husband. And I have seen them to be true for other bereaved parents as well.
I wish folks would believe me instead of thinking I’m stuffing it or living in denial.
Part of why I want others to believe me when I say God has helped us heal is that it IS TRUE! And if God can and has healed my gaping wound, He can do it for them, too.