It has been almost a decade since my daughter Nina was killed on a freeway in Florida, not far from the ‘Magic Kingdom’ that she enjoyed so much, from her first visit as a young child, to her last visit there as a 15-year-old the day before her sudden senseless death. Since that time, barrels of tears have been cried and soul-searing pain experienced since that horrific day in May. Through my almost ten years of grief work, I have met and listened to other bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents I have met through our chapter meetings and trips around the country to TCF conferences, I have heard their many questions, echoed by my own, of ‘why’, ‘what if”, the “would’ve-should’ve-could’ve’s’, and hundreds of other cries of grief that burn inside each of us. But the one I hear time and time again is the frustration with the myth of “closure” or when will we be ‘over it?’
Using the term “closure” trivializes grief; it says that we can easily put a lid on our feelings, wrap them up in a neat little package, and put them away and behind us, just as if our loved one never existed or mattered. My former boss asked my best friend two months after Nina died why I wasn’t over her death yet! My friend nearly gasped and said, ‘This wasn’t her goldfish that died; this was her daughter!’ Those who can use “closure’ and ‘getting over it’ so freely obviously have never experienced the depth and pain of grief.
After almost ten years since Nina’s death, I realize many people think that I should be WAY past “over it” and have attained ‘closure” by now. But equal to my aversion to ‘closure”, I have always disliked that “it” part. “It” happens to be our precious children, whom we loved and always will, and nurtured from the day we learned of their very existence. To me, the word “it” means a “thing” – not a beloved child or grandchild or sibling. Therefore, lies one of my big problems with being asked if I am “getting over it.” Do we ever get over the loss of our child? Do we ever have a day where we don’t miss them and don’t wish with every fiber of our being that they were back here on Earth with us, loving, laughing, hugging, smiling? That is a complete impossibility!
That being said, however, it does get more bearable with time. I stop short of saying that it gets “easier”. When our beloved died it was if someone reached inside of our chests, literally ripped out our hearts and stomped on them leaving us with a void impossible to fill. This is not the natural order of things. Our children were never, EVER supposed to die before us.
When I say bearable, I mean that we learn to live without our child and learn to live with some measure of pain and longing every day. Because we loved so much, we hurt so much. I know that sounds grim to most others who are not bereaved, but to those of us further out from the death of our child, I think it is an accurate description. We have been left with a gaping wound; for example, like an open fresh laceration on our arm, it bleeds and hurts terribly for some time and then is replaced with a scab. Then something happens to remind us of the day of their death, or something happens to tug at our heartstrings such as the milestones they missed (i.e., first day of school, graduation, marriage, and/or parenthood) and the scab is pealed away and we are left with the open wound again. It will still throb and hurt some, but not to the extent as when the injury first occurred. This same process happens over and over again, and finally we are left with a scar where there had once been that lesion. That scar will be with us forever; there is much less pain, it is not as apparent to the outside world, but it is there–and we are acutely aware of its existence.
Does that scar make us unable to function on a day-to-day basis? Of course not. Do we occasionally have those grief days (though much fewer and far between then early on in our grief) where we need to curl up away from the world and have a good cry? Yes, occasionally, and that day could be our child’s birthday or anniversary of their death, one of the major holidays, or just about any day for no apparent reason. Do we find laughter and joy again? Absolutely. But will we ever get over “it”?
No way ..nor should any of us be expected to! We will find meaning again in our lives, but we will love and miss our child, brother or sister, or grandchild forever.
Getting to a place like this in our grief does not come easy. It takes a lot of work on our part… sometimes blood, sweat and lots of tears. It may take being involved with a support group, such as my lifesaver, The Compassionate Friends. Maybe it is a faith-based group that works for you; journaling, the numerous excellent books available regarding child loss, the support of faceless friends giving grief support through a chat line on the Internet, or a good understanding grief counselor. What it boils down to is that, whatever it takes (short of harming us or someone else) to get you through the endless days and nights of early grief, do what works for you. I know you have heard it many times, but there is a reason that it is called grief “work”. Because that is what it is: the hardest work we have ever done. We can’t go over it, around it, or under it. We have to face it head-on. Only then will be able to discover a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and reinvest in life again.
Get over “it”? As one wise bereaved mother, for whom it had been 9 years since the death of her child, wrote: “…Not in 9 years, or in 90, or in 900.”
With gentle thoughts,
Cathy L. Seehuetter
~reprinted from TCF/St. Paul, MN Newsletter Feb/Mar/Apr 2005