“There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Do whatever feels comfortable for you, and don’t do anything you don’t want.” That advice was given to me by a grieving mom farther down the road in her own journey after losing her son. She shared with me her experience and the immediate pain and shock in the aftermath of that loss. She shared of the outpouring of love and comfort offered by friends and family. This became a welcome gift that helped me get through my most vulnerable and surreal moments those first hours, days and weeks.
Although there are so many ways to react when you lose your child, these reactions are not always the same for every parent. Some will shut down completely. Some will never stop for a moment, trying to hide or forget their greatest loss. And some will throw themselves into their family, a project, a job or a charity to help hide or ease the pain. In all these scenarios, the common denominator is grief.
For me, immediately after losing Dani, I reacted in a way (probably due to my character trait as a people pleaser) to make sure everyone around me was ok. My kids were my first priority by making sure, as far as it was within my power, that every need they had was met. We gathered together and instinctively meshed our grief. I also did my best, especially in those early days, to make sure that every person who reached out to me via text, email or phone message got a reply from me – even if just an emoji. As odd as it sounds, something inside made me aware of their own need and why they had reached out. In my mind, it boiled down to the grief that they were experiencing themselves. If I chose not to reply to them, I felt that I was somehow not validating their own loss. I would read a message from someone close to Dani such as, “I’m sorry for your loss” and I would reply, “And I’m sorry for yours.” If they had known Dani, I was absolutely positive they must also be grieving for the huge hole in their own life without my special daughter.
“How can you do that at the most devastating time of your life?” That question was asked of me at a time where I could not yet analyze any of the feelings that were swirling within me. Of course, my feelings would change rapidly and somehow I realized the feelings were just that – feelings – (I believe a therapist could identify a deeper reason for that) that needed to be expressed somehow. Ironically, during that same time, I was completely unable to actually verbally “talk” to anyone about what happened or how I was handling my loss. I did not let anyone, aside from my husband, inside my circle to verbally share my deepest pain. If I actually said it out loud, would that somehow make it real?
I recall the moment trying to tell Dani’s sister the devastating news about losing her own sister. As I looked in her eyes, I literally couldn’t speak. “Use your words!” she said. Yet I had none. The devastation of that moment was overwhelming. To then have to share that news with another piece of my body and soul, those babies I carried, held, loved and raised, seemed impossible and the words just weren’t there. Since then, I have learned that my most comforting messages – both received and given – were just that; “I have no words.”
The way the shock of this news reverberated through my husband, Dani’s older brother and four younger sisters along with her extended family and friends, showed me that grieving is very different for each and every one of us. Each of us had our own “relationship” with Danielle and, because of that, our individual grief would be felt and expressed differently than anyone else’s. None of these expressions of grief is right or wrong – it just is.
Grief is not something you hang on to. Grief is not something set aside for only you. Grief is not measured by any time table determining how long it should last. It is not measured by the number of tears shed or cards received. Even though I may have been “the person” for Dani as her mom, I have learned through this journey that grief is a feeling (or is it an emotion?) that is sprinkled upon each and every person who was blessed to have experienced the joy of Dani – her life, light and love. If you were honored to hear her infectious laugh, see her beautiful face or feel her love, you are now familiar with the experience of this grief.
I am slowly learning to embrace it, knowing I may not be able to predict exactly what grieving will be like for me at any particular moment or with time. All I do know is I love, I lost, I grieve, I smile and I am blessed to share it with you – however it impacts you, too.