I have never lost a child. I have never even had a child for reasons beyond the scope of this post. I missed that joy. I cannot even imagine how it feels or what it is like to walk through life having lost your child, be s/he an hour old or 35 years old. But I do know grief too well. I cannot and will never compare the loss of my beloved husband to a mother and/or father losing a child of any age. But, I also resent it when anyone proposes the following:
It has been close to five years since the bottom fell out of my life; since dreams of growing old with my beloved spouse came to a halt because four years of daily losses caused by Alzheimer's (the disease of 10,000 good-byes) destroyed our life together. The upcoming anniversary reminds me that I will spend the rest of my years without my partner/spouse/best friend and colleague. Every day brings with it reminders of this loss and I live in a society slow to change their lack of comprehension and respect for traumatic loss or almost any kind of loss or pain or grief.
There is not a day that passes, five years later, that I do not think about, feel sad about and wish for my husband's presence. I guess that means I have complicated grief. Oh, well! It happens when I hear our favorite Mahler symphony come on public radio as I am driving along thinking about something else. It happens often when I cook dinner alone when we always cooked and ate together. Do I fall on the floor in tears? No, but tears may fall. Anyone who has lost a spouse with whom they felt a deep love, oneness and joyous life knows the list, the long list, of what was lost when that spouse died. A parent certainly knows it about the loss of a child. Dreams shattered. Future shattered. So much shattered.
I resent it when professionals (or anyone) decide that my (or those of my clients or any bereaved person) normal feelings and responses to such a loss are a medical issue, abnormal (prolonged, complicated, whatever), and that I (or other bereaved people) need treatment vs support (even treatment by meds that are sometimes harmful). I resent it when professionals negate the reality that we grieve a significant loss forever or when they deny that traumatic loss is defined by the traumatized person who needs only (in most instances by far) to be accepted, heard, felt and supported not judged to be "sick," "symptomatic" and in need of "treatment".
As a bereaved spouse, I choose not to pretend to "move on" (whatever that means) in order to avoid judgment. Maybe it means I forget the many many years and sacred moments spent with him. I refuse to tell others I am "fine" to avoid judgment when I am feeling sadness at a given moment or on a given day. I am where I am and I encourage those I support to do/be the same.
Support? Of course everyone who has experienced a loss needs support...we all need support as we deal with the losses life brings....
I have worked with people in psychotherapy and grief counseling/support for 40 years. So did my husband. I have sat on the floor of my office holding mothers in my arms as they wailed their pain because their child died. I have sat with widows/widowers as they weep even twenty years following a loss. I know people who love touching their spouse's jacket that still hangs on the back of the bedroom door...five years after they died. I am one of them. Accepting the loss of someone who was one with us, be it a child or beloved spouse or someone else is a process...and what does acceptance really even mean. So unique is it! It takes as long as it takes, whatever it is, and that is normal.
Again, I beg you to know that I believe losing a child is the worst of losses, if we dare compare. How can we, really? I know that if I lost a child, I would grieve forever and it would take a long, long time before I could even begin to regroup and go on with some kind of new normal...whatever that may mean. I don't even have words for that. I also know I will grieve my husband's death forever. And I am just fine with that. It bespeaks our love.
I thank you, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, for being who you are, for knowing what you know and for supporting so many who grieve and who are there for others who grieve. I thank you for being a key person is changing the way society looks at and responds to loss and for training others to do the same.