A parent whose child has died has an excruciatingly painful look in their eyes. There are no words that can truly comfort — no experience to share that will ease their despair.
All I’ve ever had to offer is my experience with others who’ve gone before them and a space where they can talk freely about whatever is in their hearts. Rage. Blame. Guilt. Sorrow. Fear. A deep core realization that life will never be the same. If it’s a couple, treading the very difficult path of one’s expression of grief being very different from the other. There’s already an unfathomable loneliness. Add that your partner is not grieving in a way you can understand can make that loneliness even more deadening.
I have sat with many who know this unchosen, unspeakable loss.
Only time can make a difference. And it takes a very, very long time.
“How long will I grieve?”
Theresa came in several years ago. She looked at me with a familiar, empty despondency in her eyes, as she told me that her grandmother and two of her children had died one night while she was at her job. Her children were very young, toddlers strapped in their car seats, their car hit by a drunk driver. As she talked, tears would trickle down the well-worn path on her cheek. Then suddenly, her eyes would dry up, as if she realized she was drowning, and was automatically reaching out for anything to grasp to keep her from going under. She’d look at me as if I had an answer to her very agonizing question.
“How long will I grieve?”
For weeks and months after the tragedy happened, she didn’t know whether she wanted to live or die.
But she had other children. So she had gone on.
Her story was very fresh. Very raw. Her pain — palpable in the room. I assumed the accident had occurred within the last year or two. When I asked, her answer shocked me.
“It was fifteen years ago.”
Some of you know this kind of pain.
Parents Left Behind
“You know the second that it happens, you feel your heart rip open and you know that everything’s changed and you’re just never the same again. And so… we call it a rebuilding. You spend your time rebuilding your life after the death of your child because the life you knew beforehand is gone,”
These are the words of Dr. Susan Averitt whose daughter Cameron was killed in 2006. When she was ready, which required many years of rebuilding, pasting together a life where she came to speak of Cameron as her angel daughter, she formed the support group Parents Left Behind. That group is having its fourth annual support seminar Saturday, August 25th, from 9:00 to 1:30 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
I wish Theresa could’ve attended a support group like this, when she was ready. It’s hugely beneficial to know that others are still breathing, still putting one foot in front of the other, still making discoveries about their grief and what it has taught them about life.
Theresa had to give herself permission to not die along with her sweet toddlers who’d died such a horrible death. Her other children, who were grown and having her grandchildren, had urged her to come into therapy. She smiled in our last session. “I’m glad I came. I simply needed to tell my children’s story and realize they wouldn’t want me to stop living. I’m not the same, but I can live and enjoy what there is good about the now.”
If you’re in the Northwest Arkansas area, please consider attending. If you’re in another part of the country, please look for other similar groups. Some are run by churches; others by non-profit organizations like Parents Left Behind.
But please look for support.
If you’re looking for ongoing support, Rev. Steve Sheely offers a grief support group the second Monday of the month, at Rolling Hills Baptist Church, 1400 Rolling Hills Drive, Fayetteville, Arkansas. The hours are from 6:00 to 7:15 pm.
You can hear Susan talk about her own personal story by clicking here.
You can hear more about grief and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly blog posts and podcasts!