Posted: 17 June 2009 at 2:02pm | IP Logged
My sister was killed by a drunk driver when she was 21 years
old. The grief that soaked my entire world changed me
permanently in profound ways -- in ways I am still learning
about. That was 11 years ago. And I am still recovering.
I lost a sister. But my mother lost a daughter.
As acutely painful and life changing as my grief was and is --
my mother's grief... well, is indescribable. It's different than
mine. In many ways? In all ways? she was and is more deeply
impacted by the loss of her daughter than I was by the loss of
It's very difficult to compare experiences of grief and loss -- I'm
not saying one should. I am trying to say to you that I
understand what you're saying
because there have been
times when I have watched my mother physically and
emotionally crumble under the weight of losing her child -- but
I do not understand what you're feeling
because I am
a mother who has lost her child.
Everyone deals with grief and loss differently.
Initially, my mother dealt with it by trying to get close to me, her
only living child -- but I shut her out completely because of the
way in which I was grieving. So, then, she distanced herself from
me too. She dealt with her grief by not speaking to me about her
daughter/my sister often. I had to force myself to ask her to tell
me stories -- and she would. She tried. She also remained
involved with a church she had been attending prior to her
daughter's death. On major holidays, when our family says
grace/prays before having our meal -- my mother always
asks that everyone remember those who are no longer with us.
That verbal acknowledgment is significant because my mother is
speaking about her daughter, and in doing so, is exposing the
intensity of the pain of loss she still feels, which I imagine is
therapeutic for her. She attended a grief counseling group. I
don't know if she spoke when she went to these sessions --
perhaps she just listened. I never asked her about her
experience there. She also saw a psychiatrist, who prescribed
anti-depression medication. That helped her a great deal she
says -- she still takes it (so do I). We never needed medication
before her daughter's death -- her passing, I believe, has
permanently altered my brain chemistry -- and perhaps, also
my mother's -- so that I cannot function without a legally
prescribed anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety medicine. My
mother also kept/keeps busy -- very very busy. She busied
herself with working in her garden, for example. She says it
relaxes her. A significant way in which she changed her life in
order to cope with her daughter's death was by retiring from her
job early. Fortunately, she was in a financial position to do so --
I don't presume that everyone is -- and the organization for
which she worked agreed to an early retirement. She is extremely
fortunate to have worked at a place that "allowed" her to do so.
My mother also became romantically involved with a man she'd
known almost her entire life -- a man who had also lost a loved
one to a drunk driving "accident." Her relationship with him, I
believe, has been key to sustaining her. My mother posts
poems/passages (etc.,) about grief and loss around her home. In
the past, she read books about grief, loss, the AfterLife and
spirituality. She really enjoyed Marianne Williamson's books and
audiotapes (I'm a HUGE fan of Williamson's work as well -- check
it out!). She keeps a bedroom "for" her daughter -- with pictures
of her daughter and some of her daughter's things. I don't know
how long it took my mom to part with many of her daughter's
belongings (for example, donating clothing to Goodwill). But
keeping this space for her daughter has been good for her. It's a
bedroom "memory box," the first commenter referred to.
Maybe some of the things my mother did/does will help
**Participation in a faith community
**Participation in a grief counseling group and/or individual
therapy (I highly recommend both)
**Exploring the possibility of whether or not temporary use of
doctor prescribed medication would be helpful to you. Let
me emphasize the words "exploring the possibility" here.
Medication is not right for everyone. Some people passionately
oppose the use of medication to manage challenging, and even
life threatening, feelings and behaviors. Clearly, I am not an
opponent of medication. I agree that medicine is not right for
everyone but I encourage you to explore a variety of methods for
coping with -- and surviving -- the loss of your child.
Medication is one of them.
**Engaging in activities that calm you, soothe you, and bring you
even momentary relief from the emotional and psychological
pain of grief and loss.
**If you work outside of the home and the job feels emotionally
burdensome and you can financially afford to re-organize
your work schedule to better suit your emotional and
psychological needs -- then I encourage you to do so.
**Keep talking about your son; Talk about your feelings of
loss; Reach out to friends and family that provide you only with
comfort and support. Negativity and non-support is not good
for you now. You must seek out and exploit unconditional
support, kindness, and generosity of spirit.
**Create a special physical memory space for you to be with
your son's spirit.
**Read literature, films, and audio tapes that engage the
themes of grief and los- especially that which parents deal
with. I recommend C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed (which I
felt perfectly expressed the experience of loss and grief -- Lewis
wrote it in response to his wife's death), Harold Kushner's
When Bad Things Happen to Good People (which he wrote
in response to having learned that his 3 year old son had a
terminal illness), anything by Marianne Williamson but my mom
read Illuminata: A Return to Prayer, Martin Luther King,
Jr's Strength to Love (which helped me accept why my
sister's life could be so unjustly distinguished in a world, I
believed, was created and watched over by God), and Canfield's
and Hansen's Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul; Stories
About Life, Death, and Overcoming the Loss of A Loved One.
Earlier in this message, I mentioned my mother's verbal
acknowledgement of her daughter in group settings on major
holidays. When she reminds us about her daughter, she doesn't
make eye contact with anyone and her voice is always strained.
She's still hurting -- she's always hurting she tells me. The pain
doesn't go away. She has learned to live with it.
I hope you always remember your son; I hope you learn to
live with the pain of his loss.
That's just it. You've got to find your own way to keep on living.
After all, the death of a child is something that a parent survives.