As mentioned in the Mother’s Day #2 post, I have read a short book called Life After The Death Of My Son: What I am Learning by Dennis Apple. This father lost his 19-year old son due to complications brought on by mono. He died in his sleep on the family room couch and was discovered by his dad. It was a totally unexpected death of an otherwise healthy young man. He wrote this book 17 years after the death of his son and I have found much that validates my own feelings/experiences with gentle guidance for the long road ahead.
On the grief journey:
- First year was a daze - living a parent's worst nightmare.
- Second year, facing painful reminders on the calendar, "we knew we were in this for the long haul."
- Parents who have lost a child are in a fog, like waking up from general anesthesia, for years, not days.
- "Bereaved parents feel as though they're on a long, sad march but have no final destination. We feel as though this overwhelming sadness will be with us forever."
- "Bereaved parents are also learning how to play hurt, but the casual onlooker has no idea how badly they've been injured or how long it will take to recover."
- Grieve until the "cup of sorrow is fully drained."
- In the author's case, it was five long years before he and his wife were ready to move forward with their lives.
Although it is daunting to think that my grief journey is in it's infancy, I don't shy away from this truth. Deep in my heart and soul, I know it will take a very, very long time to recover from or be reconciled to Josh's death. How long? I don't know. Why so long? Apple gives some answers.
Why the death of a child, in particular, is so hard:
- Losing a child is like "having your heart ripped out of you, without the aid of an anesthetic."
- It is unnatural - summed up in this saying: "When I buried my parents, I buried my past; when I buried my spouse, I buried my present; but when I buried my child, I buried my future."
- A child carries the parent's DNA. Everything connected to the parent that was in that child dies as well: physical features, mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, etc.
- This death is unique, creating a cascade of other losses: future birthdays, graduation celebrations, first job, wedding, first home, grandchildren.
- Parents grieve over these additional losses.
I've learned that losing Josh has been a compound loss. Loss upon loss upon loss. Like dominoes - one falls and so they will eventually all fall. One event that builds upon itself. This is why it has been so overwhelming.
Why it will take as long as it takes:
- "As a parent mourns the death of her child, the mourning itself provides the connection between the parent and the child....an invisible umbilical cord that keeps the two connected. To cut the cord would be abandoning the child. Few grievers understand this truth, and it is the reason we become resentful of those who try to hurry us through our grief. To us who grieve, it feels as though they - the buck-up-and-get-over-it people - are trying to separate us from our child."
- In fact, people who try to push grieving parents towards a quick resolution, show that by doing so, they have not suffered this loss. Fellow bereaved parents know better.
- A good response for those well-meaning people: "People close on houses, not the death of a child."
The whole concept that mourning Josh maintains my connection to him is not something I could have articulated prior to reading this book, but it is true. And even the thought of someone saying "I should be over his death by now" makes me angry. I hope this is never said to me.
Why it means so much to keep up with Josh's friends:
- "Grieving parents keep a mental record of the age of their child, and they carefully watch whose who were friends of their child as they continue on."
Aha! This is why I like receiving emails, calls and visits from Josh's friends. Why I am happy to accept a friend request on Facebook. Why I know what college choices have been made. Why I have graduation photos in small frames on a table with Josh's pictures. Why his friend's sports photos are on my fridge. Why Tim goes to see his friends play football, basketball, baseball and lacrosse. We still want to know what goes on in these boy's lives - those who are the same age as our Josh would have been.
Do you ever get over it?
- This author's answer, seventeen years later: "No, you never get over it. It gets different, but you never get over it. For us, the first five years represent the worst of the nightmare. We'll have a big scar on our hearts forever."
Surely Josh did not know this would be the consequence of his fatal action. But I wish he did, for maybe that knowledge would have saved him.