It’s been seven years since my son died. There’s a sentence I never imagined saying. As the temporal distance from the moment “before” became “after” increases, things have changed. I have changed. It would be a lie to say it is the same as it was the day he died, the month, the year.
In admitting that, it can feel like I’ve failed him. Like my mother’s love isn’t enough to stay in the moment when we were together. I choose the less painful path, focusing on the future. Where he isn’t.
One reason it’s so hard to express that life is easier to manage now than then is fear of invalidating the pain. If the pain to get here wanes or disappears, is it just as well forgotten?
I suppose that’s one option. Close a door on the past, choose to focus on the future. Another option is to hold onto the past with both hands, refusing to look forward (been there!). I’m trying to walk down the middle – one part of my heart in the past, one part here and now. It’s hard to explain, and then the analogies started popping into my head.
My grief is like…
The ocean. When Oberon died I was dropped into it, no lifeboat, and it was storming. All I could do was try to breathe, nothing else. As time went on, rafts were offered, lifeboats, food, fresh water, and eventually I washed up on shore. I have solid footing now, but the ocean is still right there. Turn my back on it, it may knock me down or drag me back out. Keep it in view, I can make it.
Then and Now
Then, my grief was like a piece of stretched glass. On the brink of shattering at all times. When it did shatter, putting the pieces together was all-consuming. I had to start over completely and reform, try again.
Now, it is a rubber band. I can mostly stretch and conform and accept the things that come my way without shattering. I can be challenged and return to myself. Like all humans, stretch me too far and I will break, but that risk isn’t at the forefront of my mind.
What do you use to explain your grief and how it changes?
Maybe you lean into weather analogies, like me. Weather is so massive and it helps me explain how all-encompassing losing a child is. When Oberon died, I was in a blizzard. I couldn’t see a thing. Now, it is a flurry. Still there, covering my world and how I see things, but I can see other things too.
I asked other loss parents to share what analogies they used to explain their grief journey.
JennahRose E. reaches for seasons to help express her grief.
“Summer will come again, lift up its lazy head, claim dominion. Life will stir and move and be. But for now, we fall. Into the autumn of grief. One does not simply go around the valley of the shadow of death – one must go through it.”
Stephanie L. uses drowning to describe early grief, and takes it further.
“Then, I was drowning in my grief – barely able to come up for breaths. Now, most days I’m swimming laps (some days, maybe just treading water), but am generally able to better navigate the pool. I think I’ll probably forever be here – just becoming a better swimmer.”
Kasey S. compares the emotional pain of grief to the physical injury of an open wound.
It was as if at the beginning of grief, right away and for a few months, I was walking around without an open wound. I was raw and everything was painful. Any time someone bumped into me, it just hurt. Over time and with tending to it rather than ignoring it, the wound starts to heal. The open part gets smaller, and the other parts start to scab over and become scars. It doesn’t hurt as badly all the time or even if someone bumps into you. But when they hit it right on the wound it still can be so incredibly painful.
Shannon B. thinks of the beach as she describes her grief.
“To me, grief is you walking along the beach and ever so often a riptide takes you in.”
Valerie Meek shared how her friend, Andrea Miller, described grief as a burden, which has continued to resonate with her on her grief journey.
“Grief is a heavy burden which is laid on our backs when we lose someone. And then we are told to stand up under that burden and walk. At first we can barely stand, let alone take a step. With every step we take, we stumble under the weight. But we keep getting back up, we keep walking, we keep going. Little by little, it gets easier to stand and walk. We go longer between stumbling. Then one day we realize we’ve been walking for so long without falling that it would be easy to think the burden of grief has grown lighter. But in reality, the burden is just as heavy as it ever was; it is only that we have grown strong enough to carry it. I, too, walk with grief.”
Robin I. describes her grief as feeling like the Tasmanian Devil.
“Grief is like the Tasmanian Devil, spinning and whirling me out of control. In other moments it feels like a distant memory, almost like it happened to someone else.”
Rebecca W. uses the Japanese art of Kintsugi – fusing broken pieces of pottery together with a lacquer of gold.
“Losing your child shatters you. Completely and totally. And you look at the sharp fragments of yourself and your life and you wonder how in the hell are you ever going to put it back together. And for the longest time, you don’t. Your fragments lay scattered across the floor. But then, you reach across them and try to gather them up. You slice your hand. You wait to heal. You try again. And again. And again. Eventually, you learn how to handle these pieces without drawing blood. But you’re still not whole. You’re still just a bunch of porcelain razors. And in your search for ways to adhere your broken pieces, you find your liquid gold. You find it in a random act of kindness in your child’s name. You find it in a social media post you share to spread awareness. You find it in memory walks and charity events and speaking engagements. You find it in a pair of running shoes. Slowly, slowly, slowly, you use this golden lacquer to glue yourself back together. You’re still not quite fully whole – and you won’t ever be. Your golden scars streak through you, shimmering and deep. Reminders of who you once were and who you have become.”
Kasey S. really resonated with Cherie Altea of The Jar of Salt’s depiction of grief as a book on a bookshelf.
“Imagine that you are this bookshelf and grief were this thick, heavy and permanent book sitting in it. Over time, that book doesn’t change in shape or size. It just stays there and becomes a part of you. As the days and years pass, your library grows around it as everything you add to the shelf becomes another chapter and dimension in your life. The grief, even if you choose to gloss over it, is an indelible presence juxtaposed with the growing collection of things.
Which of these analogies do you connect with the most? Or, do you have an analogy to describe the grief journey that you use? We’d love for you to share it.
- Coping With Grief: What to Actually Do
- Exhausted: The Life of the Bereaved Mother
- The Body in Pregnancy After Loss: The Additional Weight of Grief
- The Yarn that Holds Hope: Knitting Grief and Longing into the Fabric of Life
- When You Think You’re Doing OK and the Waves of Grief Hit Unexpectedly
- A Baby’s Death Changes You, Forever