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This article appears in the current issue of HOPELine Newsletter (a publication of HOPE FOR BEREAVED, a not-for-profit community organization providing hope, support and services for the bereaved in Syracuse, New York). While the author's intended audience is the bereaved parent, I think her words speak eloquently to all of us who are mourning the death of our loved ones:


by Carmen Brining, Indianapolis, Indiana

Through the years, as my children were growing up, I observed and listened to mothers with children older than mine. That way, I had some idea of what to expect as my boys grew and I could consider ahead of time solutions to situations before they came up. You see, I always liked to be prepared.

No one told me that, while running with friends, our healthy, fourteen-year-old son would suddenly die from what would later be determined an undiagnosable death. I had never considered preparing for this!

What do you do? How do you go into an emergency room and see your strong, handsome, lanky son lying still forever? How do you hug him, stroke his hair and say goodbye to him and to the future as you expected it?

When Tom died, he took away the sunshine and storms that all our days used to have. Life is altered. The zest is gone. When he died, something, some part of us, died that day also.

The rest of the world is the same, but we are different. We have been thrust into an existence that we neither asked for nor wanted.

How do you cope? How do you live with the pain? How do you go on with your other life when your inner self is shattered? How do you make sense out of nonsense?

Am I doing this thing called “grieving” right? What is the right way? There are no right ways because each person must find his or her own way on this new journey in life.

When we called family and friends, they knew immediately the immensity and finality when we told them, “Tom is dead.” Yet its full impact eludes me still. I have become accustomed to his absence, but from time to time, gently or like a thunderbolt, comes the reality: he is not here because he is dead. Then I recognize his gone-ness will last for the rest of our days. That reality is still overwhelming.

I find I am not quite ready to have my son dead. Not yet. He is my son. I am his mother, and I am not done being his mother. So, I live over and over again our talk in the car that morning, picture him practicing basketball in the backyard, his self-confident grin, his tilting back his chair at dinner. No, I cannot allow him to be gone.

A psychologist who spoke at our Compassionate Friends meeting said it takes several years before you can emotionally release your child. Yes, that is where I am. Right now, I’m in no hurry to release my son. Not yet, thank you. Maybe not ever. I don’t know.

I find coping is a struggle. In the beginning, I tried to keep life as normal as possible. Tom was gone, and that couldn’t change, but we were alive and must go on. I did so beautifully. It seemed I came to a quick peace at what was. Partly, it was because I was in shock. Because I still woke up each morning, I went about the workday and tended to the rest of the family. Partly, it was a struggle to keep from being pulled so far down emotionally that I would never be able to come back up.

Incomprehensible? Yes. That is a good way to describe the death of a child. I cannot fully comprehend what it means for Tom to be dead. One day, a few months after Tom died, I called my friend to announce I was going to be sad. I was finally ready to acknowledge that, for us, life would never be what it had been. I realized I needed to mourn, not only for our son who was gone, but also for life as we had expected it to be.

Since then, I have been able to allow the intensity of grief to run the course it must. I find I stay away from some parties and functions. I cannot attend just now. Nine months after Tom died, we had three different events over one weekend. Although I felt fine about going, Sunday night when we drove home from the dinner theater, I burst into tears. It was overload.

My many thoughts and feelings confound me. They are confusing. They isolate. They hurt. Even as I allow these feelings to run their course, I wonder why I feel this way; why do I think this way? Yet I know this also is normal.

On the outside, I appear the same as before; but, oh, how different I am on the inside. What is certain on this new journey in life is that it is impossible to predict if and when a deep sadness will swoop down and take residence for minutes or maybe days. I find it better to allow these feelings to happen. There is something right about it, although I don’t know exactly why.

It’s amazing how much pain there is. It isn’t a physical pain, yet it is. It weighs me down and wears me out. Sometimes when the pain is so intense, I feel it has an energy all its own that goes beyond, far beyond, me. I think surely it must reach out so far that it touches Tom, and through that we are united once more. Surely. So I will have my pain.

Oh my, this is such hard work!

My husband and I attended a presentation by Dr. Alan Wolfelt. It was good – oh so good! His comments assured us that life is and will be different. Lately, I have sensed an undercurrent to close the door and get on with life. Yet, there is something in me that stubbornly resists. I am torn by the messages I receive from others and by my own deep down feelings. I am dealing with enough. Do I need to cope with this conflict, too?

There are some comments that have helped us:

“When a child dies, part of the parent dies.” That is what we instinctively knew, but how good it is to hear that being acknowledged.

“You will never get over this.” Oh, thank you. How refreshing this is to hear when we are pressured by others to put the tragedy behind us.

“Grief and mourning are not the same. Grief is the inner pain and turmoil, and mourning is the sharing of grief outside oneself. Grief needs mourning to begin the healing and reconciliation. Go ahead and cry and grieve and mourn.”

Now I can understand why I have such a need to share some of the confusion and pain. Not only is it normal, it is necessary. Thank goodness for all these snatches of information that help us on this journey.

I realize it was not only the beginning, but now, months later, that I need listeners who allow me to talk about what I am experiencing, who listen but do not judge, who do not say what I ought to do.

The problem is, I find it harder to find listeners. Life has gone on for others. In their concept of time, Tom died long ago. They hope I have come to some resolution by now. I am not angry about this. Until last June, I thought that way myself. Oh, how I appreciate those friends who recognize my needs and are there. I am also grateful for having met other mothers whose children have died. We can talk to each other. Without these companions, I fear I would not know what to do with the hurt and pain that lives inside me.

Now I know that mothers and fathers whose children have died can and do return to the everyday routines and even joys of living. But scratch the surface and there is a wound deep in the heart that is always, always there.

~ © June 1991, by Carmen Brining, Indianapolis, Indiana. Reprinted with permission from Bereavement Publications Inc., 888-604-4673, www.livingwithloss.com.

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