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Why I Find Grieving Parents Are the Same, Yet Different

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I find parents who have lost their children use many of the same words, metaphors and analogies to describe their experiences. Externally, we seem to be so different; our situations, ages and life experiences vary enormously. The circumstances of our children’s deaths are wide-ranging. I won’t go into the litany of causes — that’s not important.

What is important is that all of us — no matter who we are, where we are, how old we are and what the events surrounding the passing of our precious ones may be — can have the same reaction. Feel the same emotions. Walk around in the same fog, stand on the edge of the same desolate sea, have the same waves crash over us, the same hollowed-out feeling; we grope through the same darkness.

We alternate between agonizing heartache and total numbness and every shade in between. We seek to find meaning in a seemingly meaningless universe, one that has taken our lives and turned them inside out in an instant. We are all ripped apart, devastated, crushed, dreams destroyed, futures stolen, hearts shattered into a thousand shards, nearly unable to go on. Somehow we do. Despite our dissimilarities, at the core our grief can be the same.

And yet, we differ from one another in the myriad ways that humans do. The key difference here is that I have lost my son, Jake, but he wasn’t your son. In the same way, your child wasn’t my Jake. Each of our children, no matter how old or how much time we had to spend with them, is an irreplaceable gift. We each had a special and unique bond with them. In this way, our grief is completely different for every one of us.

Jake and I had a lifetime of experiences together. Our conversational shorthand spoke volumes with few words. We shared many interests and could talk about the most diverse subjects, moving from one to another without a hitch: photography, science, technology, (although he was miles ahead of me there), books, art, machines, cooking, cars, food. The list goes on.

I always looked at him through the lens of his entire life. I could always see all the Jakes, from the moment he was born, through his toddlerhood, childhood, tweens, teens and on into young adulthood. All 24 years simultaneously. The millions of images blended into the picture of the person who stood beside me. No one could ever replace that; it would take a lifetime to re-create. Really, it’s impossible because each one of us is unique. There will never be another Jake. Just as there will never be another of your beautiful children to replace the ones you have lost.

We express our grief in different ways. Some of us write, some paint, play music, knit, find counseling, go to meetings, grief classes. Some of us withdraw, some strive to reconnect. Some seek out companionship, others shun it. We all cry. There is no right or wrong way to do this. It’s intensely personal and what feels right for one can be abhorrent for another.

This is another place where, in spite of our fundamental sameness, we differ from one another. We each have to find our own way through this maze and discover what works for each of us. What is similar is that our lives will never be the same. There is no going back to the “before,” only the forging of the new way to be in the “after.” The tools to do that are available to all, but each of us wields them in diverse ways.

I’m still learning how to use those tools. I have a long way to go. Knowing you’re all on this voyage with me is scant comfort, but comfort nonetheless. We can share our knowledge of what works and what doesn’t as we learn together how to craft a new and different life.

Like castaways, together we have to build a life raft to get us back to civilization. It’s a daunting task. We have so few things to build with; there are so many missing pieces. But somehow, we have to learn to sail the “Ocean of Heartbreak” or remain stranded on the bleak and lonely shore.

Follow this journey on The Infinite Fountain.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: April 18, 2016
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