Sunday, March 24, 2013

How Are You Feeling?

When someone asks you how you are feeling, whether it is one month, one year or 20 years since your child died, what is your answer to them? Read the responses I received from some friends who have lost a child, and think about what you would say if asked. Perhaps some of these bereaved parents will give you ideas in answering for your loss. My response is at the end.

I typically do not share my feelings with others. However, if the person is sincere, I tell them it is a daily internal struggle. I try to be positive but some days it is hard to hold a good thought. I long to see my son. The angel of death has visited my home twice, and I hate this long distance relationship with my family. I am grateful God blessed me with the time I had with my son and husband. I know it will be a glorious day when our Lord re-unites us in the kingdom of heaven. Until then, I try to find joy in my daily activities. Ever so thankful am I to God.

I answer this question differently, at different times, depending on who is doing the asking, what environment I am in, and how honest I want to be with my feelings at that particular moment. When it is asked by a friend that I feel safe with, I usually am pretty honest about my pain and sadness if, in fact, that is how I am feeling. On the whole, I usually say I am doing fine, as I normally do feel good. Unless it is a holiday, anniversary, birthday, etc. which, of course, then I say “I’m okay, but I feel very sad. Thank you for asking.”

As time passes the insensitive remarks don’t hurt as much. I am prepared for meaningless pleasantry, “How do you feel?”, “Nice to see you.” People feel as though a certain amount of time must pass and then you will be over it. No matter how many years have passed (almost 16 years for me), it doesn’t work like that. This pain will stay with me for the rest of my life. Some say, “I don’t know how you do it.” I answer, “I don’t remember being given a choice.” I am stronger now. Support groups gave me the tools to work with. The conversation with my true friends runs a different course. My friends aren’t afraid to talk about my son and they are aware of my grief process. I am grateful for my close friends.

My response depends on who is asking me the question. If it is someone close to me, I answer honestly. If it is someone I hardly know and is just being polite, I give my standard answer: “It is very hard to go on after your child dies. But what choice do we have? We either move on with our lives or we might as well lie down and die. I choose to live the best I can in this horrible situation, do what I can for others in the same circumstances, and keep the memory of my son always in my heart.”

It has been almost 30 years since my daughter’s death and 7 years since my son’s death. No one asks anymore how we are doing. We do, however, talk with a cousin of the fun times that we all had together. My daughter’s third grade teacher also lost a child that same year. This year she sent us a Christmas card asking how we are now doing, after losing two children. I wrote back and told her that this was our first Christmas at home since our children died and that we finally put up a Christmas tree. Normally, we go somewhere else at Christmas to keep the heartache at bay.

I often wonder how really interested the person is who asks this question or whether they are just being polite. I doubt they want to hear my answer, but just feel obligated to ask me. So I answer. I try to explain what I’ve been doing since my daughter died two years ago, how her death has affected my whole life, how I have changed and what is important to me now. I want them to understand this is a life-long process, and I will never recover…that the grief will always be there, but that I hope, with time, it will be a softer grief. Then I thank them for asking.

I know my friends really care, but my grief has not been long enough to access whether they understand my hurting so badly or they are just asking what they think a friend should ask. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate when they try to comfort me, put their arms around me and try to tell me everything will get better eventually, but I don’t believe that someone who has not lost a child can ever understand how we really feel. The support group I go to twice a month helps a lot, and these people know exactly how I feel because they have been there too.

I tell people who ask that losing a child is like cutting out part of your heart, something you’ll never recuperate from. You’ll change from this loss, but know that it can be a good change in the end. I’ll always keep the happy memories of my son in my mind and heart and that has kept me going. I believe God has a plan for us all and we will eventually learn what that is. In the meantime, I try to honor my child, my precious beauty, who died far too young.

I tell people the truth when they ask me how I am feeling. I say, “I have good days and bad days, but I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances.” I then thank them for asking and that I appreciate that they care enough to ask. The reason I answer like this is because a few months after my daughter died, my husband’s business partner came up to me and asked the dreaded question. I quickly said, “Oh, I’m fine.” She turned to me as she worked, stared at me, searched my face and finally said, “You’re not fine and don’t ever say you are.” I decided she was absolutely right. I’m not fine and never will be again. So now I tell it like it is and try to be truthful.