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The Support I Need Throughout a Lifetime as I Grieve My Son's Death


What is the appropriate amount of time to grieve when your child dies?

Is it a few months? Six months? One year and it all wraps up? A few years? A lifetime?

I guess the more accurate question is, what is the appropriate amount of time grieve outwardly? To show the world you are hurting and to say things exactly like you see them? To decline dinner with friends and not answer your phone when it rings? To write about the hurt and want to visit places that remind you of your loved one? To think ordinary conversations are meaningless, and participating in them not worthy of your scarce energy? To have a lot of good days, and then a few really bad ones with no warning? To appear like a roller coaster of heavy thoughts, and to be someone that is just plain-old-hard-to-relate-to?

You see, to the grieving heart there comes a time when you can feel the tide of change in people around you, a distinct movement away from your unhappy demeanor and a shying of eye contact. Of course we all like to say there is no timeline for a broken heart healing, but there does seem to be a timeline on how long people will wait for that heart to heal. Six months after Lochlan died I felt the shift; no one means to do it, and looking back I can see that it’s not done out of malice — though at the time I surely believed it was. People have a certain capacity for terrible things, and if there is an ability to turn off the terrible, people most certainly will. Life goes on, right? That’s what we say, but you don’t realize the cruel reality of that quite like a person living with loss. It’s so hard to wake up each day without your loved one, but to see the world around you moving on and walking through days so easily is enough to make you retreat under a rock for good.

So what can we do? What can any of us do sitting on both sides of the canyon? The griever, feeling left behind with a mountain to climb and no one to help us up. The family, wanting so desperately for us to be happy again and enjoy just one friggin’ Sunday BBQ without crying. To be honest, I think both sides deserve a win. The task of supporting someone through tremendous loss is a lifetime long. There is no end to the grief and there is no end to the support needed to cope with it. The role of helping morphs and changes the same way the sadness does; over time it becomes less to carry, but remains so incredibly important. There are days that friends can give all their time to help your heart heal, and there are days those same people need a break. Build your support like a well oiled Jenga tower, when one piece needs to tap out and rest on top, lean into the pieces on the bottom that are ready and waiting to give all they can.

Katie holding picture of Lochlan.

The past year I’ve found that I have friends and family who are incredible at certain parts of grief, and not so great at others. And you know what… that’s OK. That’s wonderful, actually. Imagine being terrible at trying to help someone through the most awful event that’s ever happened to them — knowing you were useless and not offering any relief. Well, I imagine that would make you run for the hills, not come back for more. So when I know that one friend can handle hard conversations, and the other knows the best places to pamper me on a much needed girl’s day, we all win in the healing department. My loved ones feel useful, and I feel supported. A wise friend once told me, “Not everyone can help you with all your hard times. Some people are perfect for one disaster and terrible at the next, it’s up to you to figure out who fits where.” Ya, she’s a smarty pants. So when I feel like I’ve used up my sad days with someone, I look to another friend to pick up the slack. I’ve created a circle of support that works in rotation — even though they don’t know about it. Surviving the loss of a child takes everything you’ve got, and one family member or one friend is not capable of taking that on, in fact it’s not fair of us to even think they could.

While some days it feels like the world is moving too fast, and I’m watching my kids literally run away from the age that Lochlan will be forever, I am having more and more days where I can register that watching these days fly by is a gift. Yes, I want people to know that I am forever sad, for some reason that necessity of my grief has not changed, I need to be recognized as a grieving mother. But, I am learning that it cannot be the same people who recognize it over and over again. I have to let the people around me live, too. The way my family chooses to honor their nephew or grandson in heaven is not for me to decide. What I can do is watch as they all tread water to find their own way to love him, and their own role in helping me remember him. Just as I demand there be no timeline in my grief, I won’t demand a timeline for their support. Maybe some friends have finished with what they can do, maybe some haven’t even started yet.

The wonder of human understanding within my own circle of support means that each person’s contributions will move in waves.

Just like my sadness, just like my happiness. There is an never ending ebb and flow to it all.

Follow this journey at Katie Jameson’s blog.

Image credit: Jayme Lang Photography