One of the most beautiful moments on a brides wedding day is the “First Look.” I remember vividly my husbands face when he had his first glimpse of our sons’ bride on their wedding day ten years ago. His eyes filled with tears and he was overwhelmed with emotion at her beauty. The dress, her smile, her mom fussing over her veil and our own five gorgeous daughters surrounding their new “sister” are moments embedded in our memories. Knowing that all eyes will be locked not only on this stunning bride as she walks down the aisle on her fathers arm, but also the guests certainly will be watching our sons eyes to see the expression of his “first look” as she gracefully and lovingly walks toward him.
After talking with many parents who have lost a child, no matter how their child passed we all have one thing in common. We all dread “the look” we get when we see people in the aftermath of our loss. We see them at a distance and smile and then their mind immediately registers the horrific loss we are suffering since losing our loved one. It is an obvious fact that no one wants to be in our shoes or join our club of child loss. It’s a no brainer. Whether young or old, friends or acquaintances, “the look” is what we will see when our eyes meet and a sudden loss of breath for us is what they will see.
For me, this look simply kept me in my house the first 8 months after losing Dani. On top of all the feelings and emotions going on in my own head, I did not need to see someone in public and perhaps feel the need to comfort them as they gave me “the look.” Although we all know, as survivors of child loss, that this look may represent an “I’m sorry” or an “I can never imagine” look, it still is a painful look that hurts us because at that moment we feel pitied and pitiful.
When I did venture out for coffee or a quick trip to the drugstore, and I saw someone that knew of our loss, it would feel as though I was somehow expected to share everything that transpired before we lost our girl. Knowing this conversation may somehow get this pity party over with, I chatted a bit hoping the next time we saw each other the look would not cross their face. Other times, after “the look” and a hug I would directly be asked inappropriate questions or comments that in my own personal grief I could not even process.
“How did she die?” Ummm her heart stopped.. I wanted to reply: “Would you ask that question if she was killed in an accident or had a “real” disease such as cancer?
“Who found her?” Why in the world does that matter?
“Didn’t you see the signs?” Sure, add more feelings of guilt on top of us and making it sound as if we should have known.
“Well, at least you have 5 other children.” Really- Really?? Tell me which one of yours you would either choose to lose or be able to live without?
“Heaven needed an angel.” Well that certainly doesn’t make us feel better today does it?
Yes, all these questions and more were asked many times over and our family learned how to gracefully answer them. However, instead of facing the world with boldness, I chose to retreat to my safe place and stayed home.
Complicated Grief is what one counselor called it. Knowing my husband and our other children and grandchildren were also trying to process this loss, I needed to save all my energy to interact with those closest to me. The thought of dealing with friends or people who were trying to grasp this horrible loss in their life, in a random meeting on the aisle of a grocery store, was nothing my mind or body was yet equipped to handle.
Years later as I reflect on this one aspect of grief, knowing that “the look” is so very rare for me now, my heart constantly goes out to those friends who are in the newness of their grief knowing the journey they are thrown in will include this and so so much more.
If I could take even a part of it for them, I surely would. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt as much. But then again, maybe it would hurt even more knowing what the journey feels like and what each day ahead would encompass.
As we come to a close these last days of Suicide Prevention Month, remember to hold on to your people and grab each and every moment. Tell them how much you love them and if there is a need-do not even hesitate to call 988 for help in a mental health crisis, no matter how big or how small. There is always hope.