Shortly after Owen died, we learned that people would begin to have unrealistic expectations for our grieving hearts. That after some magical time period, chins would be expected to be up. Smiles adorned. Other babies wooed over. A hop in our step, whistling while we walk, while we ‘move on’ to a happier place with them. We did not want to believe this.
Not even 6 months on, and we can see it happening. We are still supported, loved. We definitely feel the care from our community. We do. We also know this will dissipate, that this elusive ‘time’ will prove an enemy to our support. That it will not serve us, nor offer any respite.
I understand that, while our lives seem to have stood still, life has continued on for those around us. That with life, comes struggle. That people handle grief differently, some opting to avoid it entirely. I have acknowledged that we are not taught how to grieve. However, at the core, I’d like to believe that we are all human. To be human isn’t just to live, to exist – it is to remember our roots. The reasons why we live. Love. Community. Support. For a parent who has had their child die, human gestures can look as simple as a note to say you are thinking of the person, placing a rock at a very special memorial garden, remembering important dates, or mentioning the child’s name knowing how much it will always mean to the parent. The smallest of efforts can mean the difference between a good day and a not-so-good one. Even several months, or years, later.
There is a general sigh of relief when a semblance of positivity comes from the bereaved. A quick ‘job done’ dusting of the hands, followed by a turn to walk in the other direction along a smoother path, away from your ever-present sadness. You are more than welcome to join them, but, really, you should not talk about your child anymore. You do not want to be alone, but your child is all that you think about, all that you want to talk about. Of course. However, when you slip, when you have a tear, or mention your child’s name, you see the ‘I get that you are sad, but really, haven’t you moved on yet?’ expression on their face. Unfortunately, this look arrives far too soon for some people. It should not have come at all.
The timer that some have placed on our grieving is ticking down. The quality and quantity of this time is different for each person encircling the bereaved. The reality being that time is not the answer when your child has died. That you may learn how to better manage the pain, but it never goes away.
Some never bothered to invest in a timer. Not out of any wisdom knowing that you cannot put such confinements on these things; that grief does not come in a neat and simple package. Simply out of a complete lack of care or understanding that their inaction might be hurtful, causing additional sadness. Unfortunately, these people do exist. People you expected, or hoped, to have an inkling of care, to respond to one of your many attempts of reaching out. The people who are unlikely to be reading this. It is difficult, but these people do not deserve the little energy you have.
Some set it short, with a hint of well-meaning intention, but their effort pretty bare. They are just too ‘busy’ with matters of consequence. These are not true friends. These are selfish people. People who would like to believe otherwise, would like to believe they have been there for you, but really just lacking in the essential human traits of compassion and empathy. People who would rather invest the energy into themselves, into happier things, because it is just too hard to be around you, to face your pain.
Some have the best intentions of setting it for longer, but after a period of time find the ticking to be a bit of a nuisance. They are there for you, but so desperately want you to hurry up and be happy again. These people force the dial towards its goal, holding steadfast until they hear the ding. The magical sound that indicates relief, that it is ok to move on. We are welcome to join them, but they are willing to leave us behind.
Some people get that it will continue to tick for a long time. They know that a sad, terrible thing has happened to your family. They feel for your loss. They will always think about your child. But, sadly, for the most part they will move on, and we will understand. Life does continue on, but we know they will always be there at arm’s length should we need them. These people will always help you to keep your child alive through memory, willing to sit with your tears and a good cup of tea. These are not selfish people. Keep these ones around. They have the best of intentions. They are not too busy for you. They will never forget and will not hesitate to mention your child’s name. They do care.
Then there are those who know there is no need for a timer. They know that time will pass, but that it will not heal you. They will always be there, selflessly and without hesitation. You never need to ask, they just know. They actively reach out and help you to remember your child. They understand this is you now and they are okay with that. They do not expect you to ever be the old you again. After all, you are different, and you are a pretty amazing parent to a special little child. These people love you for who you are now and who you were then. They were there for you before your child died. It is understood that they are needed more than ever, that your vulnerable heart needs protecting. They understand the gravity of your loss. They recognize that you are a bereaved parent who is sad because you love, and that you love because you are human. You and your child live in the hearts of these people. Cherish them.
There are expectations for the bereaved, but we have expectations too. We expect that others will give us the time and space we need to grieve the death of our child. We expect the grace to allow our sadness to simply be, and a faith – a patience – that does not dwindle with time. We expect that our family and friends will be there for us and that their words, or lack thereof, will not cause additional sadness.
We do not expect anyone to truly understand how we are feeling. We do not expect to be told how to grieve or for how long it should last. We do not expect to be told what we should or should not be doing, or how we should or should not feel. We do not have our children physically with us, let us have our grief.
People will move on. They will think about your child in some way, but life will carry on for them sooner than it will for you. A sad reality that we are learning. We hope that these people will want to carry the memory of our children with us. Some will, some will not, some simply do not realize how much it means to you. It saddens us, but somehow we have to learn to let go of the relationships that whither, and hold onto those that flourish.
Grief is love. It is a precious time to spend with the person who has died, in ways we had not anticipated. It is not easy, but it is time. I refuse to have my grief, my love for my son, moulded by the expectations of those around me.