When I hit the six month mark after my daughter Katie died I remember thinking 'I can't do this anymore, much less for the rest of my life'. The pain was too intense and the long road ahead too daunting.
I will love my daughter forever, so I know that I will miss and grieve her forever as well.
There is a belief that the bereaved go through stages of grief, finishing up with 'acceptance', and then are ready to move on from their loss after a year or so. There couldn't be anything further from the truth.
However, grief does soften and change over time. This process is different for every grieving mother and will be influenced by personality and coping style, the kind of support they may have, religious/spiritual beliefs, and culture.
In the early days and weeks, I found myself in daze. Then came the whirlwind of funeral planning, writing an obituary, and receiving friends and family. And then... came the quiet. People went home and went back to their own lives while mine had ground to a halt. That's when reality hit me like a punch in the gut.
After the shock and disbelief wears off, the deep sadness, depression, and agonizing loss begin to set in. It is common for anger, guilt, blame, and shame to set in as well.
Bit by bit, on your own time you will discover coping mechanisms that work for you.
You eventually have 'ok' days and then a wave of grief can pull you under and make you feel like you are back to day one. You might stay in this feeling of devastation for days or weeks at a time in the early months, but eventually you will find that the amount of time that you stay in this intense sadness will decrease and the time between these waves increases.
Eventually grieving mothers will be able to function again, although they constantly carry the weight of their grief every day. There are still triggers like birthdays and anniversaries or meaningful songs on the radio that can hit you out of the blue and send you back into deep sadness and grief. As time goes by, you will learn how to manage these triggers and become familiar with the ebb and flow of grief.
Another misconception is that the first year is the worst...and then it is over. All of the first without your child are undoubtedly awful but so are the second and third and fourths. Grief is a lifelong journey where we eventually learn to find balance between the good days, the bad days, the expectations, and the triggers. Eventually on a time line that only you can choose you will begin to live with your grief, and learn how to carry it with you daily. Time does not heal all wounds, but time does help.
If grief and the pain of child loss lasts a lifetime, you might be wondering now what? Here are some things you can do to help yourself:
Treat yourself with compassion. You have been through the worst that life can throw at a mother. Be kind and gentle to yourself. Put yourself and your needs first for a change (as moms we never do this). Treat yourself like the warrior that you are - eat well, hydrate, get outside, and give yourself grace when your self-care plans don't pan out.
Let go of expectations. Do grief your way on your timeline. Forget the stupid grief theories or what society or the people around you think about how your grief should be or how long it might be taking you to grieve. Removing expectations is the greatest gift you can give yourself right now.
Allow grief to ebb and flow. Feeling is healing. This is how we process grief. It's not pretty and it feels awful, but if we don't let the feelings come as they may we might never find peace, hope, or healing. Cry if you need to, scream, journal, smack a pillow - do what you need to as long as you are not harming yourself or others. When you notice that your grief has backed off a bit, don't question it. Know that this is just how grief works. Having ok days doesn't mean that you aren't grieving. It means you are working through things. Take those ok days when you can get them.
Reach out for resources and support. Know that you are not alone on this painful journey. While we may all be doing grief in our own way and on our own timelines, we share the knowing of the struggles and pain. It is so important to reach out for help. Find other grieving mothers, connect with grief professionals, read helpful grief books, and find grief programs that are specific to child loss to help you learn and cope.
Walking beside you,
PS: I have created a special 5-part video series for grieving moms that is free. The topics include some of the common struggles that moms face after the loss of a child. You can read more about it here.