During our daughter's life when someone would outright state or even insinuate that their problems weren't equivalent to what our family was going through, I was always quick to stop them and let them know that it wasn't fair to compare. Everyone has their own challenges and threshold of what they can handle, and it isn't fair to assign weight to them. I always felt that comparing anything besides a comparable life was equivalent to comparing an apple with a pineapple. They share the category of fruit. Diminishing what someone else is experiencing doesn't make what challenges another person any heavier. They both are what they are to each of them.
Being a parent of a child who died is a unique category. (Thankfully) There are fewer (but really too many) members of this group. I have found myself confused and not confident in the role of parenting after a child's loss. For the last 3 years, I have been confused as to what subcategory of life we have fallen into. Are we still a medically complex family? Are we a hockey family? Are we a typical family? Do we have the right to have accommodations made like they once were when we had a child who was medically complex and then dying? In what category do our surviving children fall? After all, children are resilient, right?!
When the world returned to normal after Covid, so did we. As if we didn't experience the death of a family member. Unless you know us from before, or unless one of us mentions it after, you wouldn't know. We blend into life. The kids are in extracurricular activities, we travel, we spend our summers away, Sam and I both work, we smile, we laugh, and for all intents and purposes, we act as if we have the perfect family. Sometimes, but rarely our emotions are on our sleeves. Unless people want to travel the grief journey along with us, they too can pretend that our lives are normal. They can stay far enough away from the unimaginable pain they are thankfully able to avoid and tune into the part of our life that we outwardly display.
Among fellow bereaved mothers, I mentioned my conflict with what is grief? and what is normal? I shared with others the everyday pain, the lack of energy, the lack of motivation, the anger, the frustration, the short tempers, the feeling of being a failure as a parent, the challenges with deciphering what is teen/child typical behavior and what is related to grief. I mentioned that I was torn on if the behaviors my children are exhibiting are typical or if it is grief. Is the grief a cop-out? Is it fair to place the onus on grief? I listed all of the struggles I have felt but didn't want to be told by someone who is not in a similar situation that "of course, it is grief, of course, you're experiencing all of those emotions, you lost a child"
It was at the same moment that I was speaking my thoughts aloud that I started to process the entirety of the last 8 years. The actual significance of parenting a child who was medically complex and whom we knew we would one day bury as a child, but didn't know exactly when. I had a million flashbacks of a life that went by incredibly fast that simultaneously took 4 years 11 months and 23 days of her siblings' lives as well. I listened as a mother responded to me about how she wishes she could surround herself with my bubbliness every day because maybe it would help her feel motivated. I listened as she said she was processing everything I was saying. I listened with tears in my eyes as she said, "but Randi, a cop-out?! Honey, it is not a cop-out, it is your reality, it is your life"
For the last 22.214.171.124 hours since she said that sentence to me I have repeated it in my mind while thinking about all those times, I shrugged off the weight of all we have endured. I have thought about the words while thinking about the fact that 3 years ago our children's ages ranged from barely 2 years old to barely 10, none even old enough to sit in the front seat (and due to height, all were still in car seats or boosters). I think about how not only did we have to deal with Covid, but we also had to deal with the death of a significant family member. We buried a child and sibling who didn't go longer than a month of her life going into a hospital. A child who spent close to half of her life in-patient at a hospital. I have th#ought about it all on repeat. There is no comparison to anyone who has experienced a loss of any kind. There is no it is worse because of "XYZ", there is none of that. But, also, there is no coping out, and there is no cushioning the reality. The reality is that there is no denying that things are different for us and they are harder in many ways, there is just no way to sugar-coat that. There is no coping out because the struggles we have had to face as a family are not normal, they do warrant some extra attention and some extra accommodations, but most importantly, they mostly warrant giving ourselves a little more grace.