Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Death Changes Everything

I feel like I am stating the obvious when I say that death changes everything. Not only death, but more specifically, the death of a child.

In my reading, I have "graduated" to books that deal with parental bereavement, not specifically related to suicide. I say, graduated, because these books did not interest me in the past. I only wanted to know what survivors of suicide had to say or what their experiences were. I am now ready to look at the feelings and experiences of a broader group of unfortunate parents, those who have lost a child - at any age, by any means.

I have found much in the book, After the Death of A Child: Living with Loss Through the Years by Ann Finkbeiner. According to the introduction, the author lost her only son at age eighteen via a train accident. Her motivation in writing the book was to determine the long term effects on parents when their child dies. This was of personal interest and yet, little research or articles/books could be found. So she decided to interview a number of parents and write her own book.

Two major things were learned.

First: Letting go of a child is impossible. No matter how long it had been since the death of their child, none of the parents had "gotten over it". Yes, the pain of the death had receeded, but not the loss itself. A psychologist named Dennis Klass wrote: "The bereaved parent, after a time, will cease showing the medical symptoms of grief, but the parent does not "get over" the death of the child. Parenting is a permanent change in the individual. A person never gets over being a parent. Parental bereavement is also a permanent condition" (pg. 20).

One mother described it like this: "When other people die, it shakes you but you stay right side up. When a child dies, it flips your world over completely" (pg. 152).

Second: A child's death is disorienting. Words that parents used to describe this catastrophic event: inexplicable, unattributable, unnatural, senseless, wrong, unfathomable. And because it is so unnatural, accepting the finality of death is difficult. This book suggests it takes a year for the reality to sink in while the finality takes hold in the second year. This explains why many parents find the second year worse than the first. This scares me. How can anything be worse than the first year?

So parents have to live with a reality that does not make sense, while always carrying around the memory of their child. A tall order. One mother put it this way: "There's always this sadness. Even when you're happy, you've still got this sadness. I'm just dragging around this little bit that's sad. In a way, it's a handicap that we've got. It's there, and I think it always will be" (pg.201).

I think so too. An analogy that comes to mind is amputation. If one loses a limb, such as an arm or a leg, this is a permanent change which will require adjustments for the remainder of life. The loss is ever present. Affecting everything. A handicap that never leaves. One must find the strength, stamina and will to live with it and in spite of it.

A child is part of a parent's heart and soul. Losing a child is like being subject to an internal amputation. Perhaps not visible, but the loss is always there. In fact, when I look at myself in the mirror, I see it. A hole. An emptiness that only Josh could fill. A mother whose eyes can fill with tears within seconds. With all the tears that I have shed, it is surprising that I am not a dry, shriveled up person. Or maybe I am - on the inside.

We are in our second year without our beloved Josh. Parents interviewed for the book said that it took 4, 5 or even 6 years before they began to feel somewhat normal. This makes sense to me. It is so hard to describe the devastation felt - it is like our "Ground Zero". Nothing will be the same. As Tim says, "All we can do is to take one day at a time."

Thanks for the continued thoughts and prayers. I am not ashamed to say that we still need them.

God Bless.


carlalaura said...

Sue - Your comments and the book excerpts you've shared have been so helpful to me. Thank you. In return, I wanted to share this. There was an interview with Michael J. Fox on NPR's Weekend Edition this morning, link: He wasn't talking about the death of a child, but he did discuss the process of loss. He said a few things that resonated with both my sister and me. He said something like this: "... loss creates holes and holes aren't vacuums. You have to give the loss space to fill itself, and be open to it filling up (not forcefully fill it up) and let life come in to fill up the cracks." I just wanted to share the idea with you. Carla xo

Roxanne said...

Thank you for all that you share about the books you are reading. It is always so helpful and makes some kind of sence to all of this saddness. I too can not imagion anything worse than this past year. My prayers are with you every single day. I pray for you to feel love and comfort from any the blooming dogwoods or the sunshine on your face or to see the flowers you and Josh planted blooming...just anything possible to help you feel encouragement.

All my love ..Rox

Biggie-Z said...

We will be with you to support you every step of the way.

switch0457 said...

Dear Sue,
First let me say how very sorry i am to hear of your sons death.My heart is hurting for you and with you.Thank you for sharing your son with us.Im sorry he thought this was his only way out.And thank you for sharing parts out of the book you are reading or have read.It was so helpful to me.I lost 4 babies.And it has been over 37 years for my twins and going on 34 years for my only daughter and 32 years for my son.And people seem to feel i should be over it by now.Again thank you for sharing with us.Please know i will keep you and your family in my prayers.Loving hugs to you always.I pray for peace in your loving heart.And remember he is with you always.Love Linda (angel mom of 4)