Own Your Feelings

From about two and half years after The Accident. —

In the past thirty-one months I’ve heard many parents who’ve lost a child say things like:

We will never be happy again.
None of us can ever get past it.
We all know how you feel.
We have all felt the same way.
We all feel angry.
We all feel guilty.
We all feel sad all the time.
We all feel shame.
None of us knows what to do about…
We all struggled with…
We all did…
We all think…
Well, you get the idea. And often when I hear these statements I want to say, “No! We don’t all feel that way! I don’t think that way!”

May I respectfully suggest that we don’t all feel or think the same way? Maybe my experience is vastly different than yours. Maybe I handle my grief differently than you handle yours.

Our children were unique. Their lives were unique. Their deaths were unique. We are unique. Our grief journey will be unique. And we are each in a unique place in our journey.

My grief is very different from that of a first-time mom who had a miscarriage or stillbirth; she may face fears I have not faced. Losing my twenty-year-old son in an accident was very different than having a five-year-old son die slowly and painfully of brain cancer. The driver died; my situation is very different from those facing the criminal trial of an impaired driver who survived the wreck that killed their daughter and grandchildren.

My point is that when speaking or writing of our grief journey perhaps it’s better – and more helpful to others – to own our own feelings. And to let others own theirs. By owning my feelings, I am not placing judgement on theirs. I’m saying, “This is how I feel.” Not “This is how you should feel.”

Yes. I believe that in Christ healing, peace, and joy are available to all. But I know that your journey to healing may look very different than mine.

In sharing my story, I write in first person; I’m sharing my story, not telling you what your story should look like.

It’s okay to be angry or sad.
It’s also okay to not be angry or to be happy again.
It’s okay to keep your child’s things. And it’s okay to give them away or use them with the next baby.
It’s okay to take a long time to recover.
It’s okay to heal quickly.
It’s okay to struggle.
It’s okay to feel good about your decisions.
It’s okay to take time off from activities.
It’s okay to go right back to work.
It’s okay to have a hard day or a good day.
It’s okay to see a counselor. 
It’s okay to not seek outside, professional help.

When sharing with other grieving parents, it may be more helpful to use “I statements” instead of assuming we all experience the same feelings and thoughts.

I understand what you are saying. I felt that way, too.
I feel…
I did…
What helped me was…
I find it healing to….
I struggled with…

When trying to help another grieving parent, share your own journey without making sweeping statements about all grieving parents, without imposing your feelings, thoughts, or struggles on the other person. Share without judgement. Share what helped you or what you feel, owning your own feelings, then listen to the other person.

Often, what we need most is to have someone listen to us, to really listen without judgement or lectures. I find it helpful to share my thoughts, emotions, and needs and then to listen to others as they do the same. And I’ve found that by listening to others, I learn new ways to deal with my own feelings. And together we may find that true healing can occur.



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