“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” —-Elizabeth Stone
I cried at work on Saturday. No, my job was not terribly stressful. Nobody was being mean to me. We were having a lovely, sunny Saturday at the farmers market when one emergency vehicle after another began to go by our street. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many sirens. My manager persona was on the alert, ready to leap into action if an emergency vehicle might need to get through the market.
Fortunately, the fire trucks and police cars went right on by our street, but they didn’t go far. People began speculating, “Someone must be in the river.” One of our vendors came walking toward me and asked the question that put my heart in my throat, ” Is anybody missing a kid?” He had walked over to the accident scene and heard that a kid had been spotted in the river. My heart started pounding and the tears welled up behind my eyes as I frantically located the kids that I knew had been at the market with their parents and grandparents. They were all at their booths. Still, just the thought of anybody’s kid going into the river made it hard for me to hold back my tears.
The person who was rescued from the river turned out to be a man with mental illness. Four days have passed, but I still find it hard to shake that horrible feeling of what it would be like to have a child fall in the river. I shared my upset state with some friends down at the market. They admitted to having similar fears about their children around fast-moving water. That’s reassuring, but I’m not convinced that my reaction is completely normal. I think the exaggerated grief is like a post traumatic stress disorder reaction. Whatever it is, it wiped me out on Saturday, leaving me shaken and fragile. Hearing stories this week about the tornado tragedies in Oklahoma brought me to tears once again. I should probably be honest and say not just tears but violent racking sobs.
When somebody loses a child, I grieve for them and with them. I also grieve for myself, reliving or revisiting aspects of my own loss. I’m not sure how long it takes the average person to recover from a major loss. I don’t want to look it up because it won’t be helpful to compare myself to a statistic. I think it’s just important to remember to be gentle and good to ourselves. When I speak of recovery, I don’t mean that you will ever be the same as you were before the tragedy. I may always be a little fragile. I will definitely always be extra compassionate. The alternative to this emotionally connected compassion would be to stay numb, not really feeling either sadness or extreme joy. No thanks. I’ll take the ups and downs and enjoy the ride. Over time, the tears do get less frequent. The joy does get more pure.
If you find that the tears are winning most of time, definitely seek out a good therapist. If you are like me and have occasional ups and downs, seek out a good friend. Talk to other parents who have lost children. Find a retreat center that specializes in Grief and Loss. Faith’s Lodge was one of the most healing things that I did three years ago. It’s a retreat center for parents and families who have lost children. I still keep in touch with many of the other families that I met there. Don’t be afraid to share your deepest fears and strangest stress responses. You will probably find that you are more normal than you think. Grief is a long, strange process. Going through it can make you more open and more compassionate to the grief of others. Though I don’t care to cry any more at work, compassion isn’t a bad thing.