Updated: Sep 7
Up until the day my 17 year old daughter died, I hadn't experienced intense grief. I had lost elderly grandparents, whom I felt sadness for, but never have I experienced grief that rips your heart in half and nearly tears your family apart.
While it is a fact that none of us will live forever, death always comes as a shock whether it follows illness or happens suddenly.
Before we lost Katie in a car accident, I had all kinds of pre-conceived ideas about what grief was all about. Like most people who haven't endured the pain of losing a child, I think I had it all wrong.
Here are 18 things I wish I had known:
1. Grief is not five neat, little stages that has an end point. It's more like a bowl of spaghetti that is confusing, ugly, and messy.
2. Grief is for life. I will love Katie forever, therefore I will grieve Katie forever too. While my grief may change with time it will always be with me and a part of me.
3. Grief is painful - REALLY painful. It hurts physically just as much as it hurts emotionally. Symptoms can range from chest pain, to body aches, and exhaustion. This can last a very long time.
4. Guilt, anger, and fear are normal feelings. So are bitterness, jealousy, and blame. Just be cautious of lashing out at others, especially your spouse or immediate family member. Likely they are just as broken as you are and lashing out can push people away and destroy relationships.
5. Your old self is gone forever. I've often said that child loss is like an amputation. I have learned to live my life in spite of my loss but there is a part of me that is gone forever. I have learned how to breathe, exist, and continue without my daughter. It's like learning everything over again.
6. Healing, or managing grief, isn't linear. It doesn't get a little bit better each day. Grief comes in waves and sometimes it may feel like you are right back to the day your loved on died.
7. There is no right or wrong way to manage grief. We are all unique in our personalities and our coping mechanisms, therefore our grieving will be different too. Although you may not agree or understand someone else's ways, try to be respectful.
8. You are not going crazy. It may feel like you are, but this is a normal feeling when it comes to grief because everything feels out of control, including our feelings.
9. Questions like 'why' or 'what if' are unanswerable. No matter how much time you spend trying to figure these things out, you will not. As hard as it is, we must learn how to live with 'what is' knowing we will never have those answers. I admit this might be the hardest part.
10. People will say the dumbest things. Guaranteed. Death makes people awkward, so they end up saying things that will make you crazy. I have gotten through this by acknowledging that no one sets out to hurt us. People just don't know what to say because they don't know our pain. I remind myself that I probably said some heartless things before I lost Katie and try to give people some grace.
11. All the 'firsts' after loss will knock the breath out of you and it's not always the big days likes Christmas or birthdays. Sometimes it can be hearing your child's favourite song for the first time or going to the shopping mall without them for the first time.
12. The seconds and thirds and fourths.....continue to be hard. I thought this part would get easier because I had the firsts behind me. I was wrong.
13. Let people help you. Again, people say and do things that will make you shake your head but truly most are walking on eggshells around us, not knowing how to help us. Before the phone rings or someone asks, have a list ready of helpful tasks they could do to help you.
14. There is no such thing as closure or being 'healed'. We don't wake up one day and say "there, now I'm done grieving." I know some people don't like the word 'healing' either but it's the word I use because to me it's a reflection of working on my grief even though I will never reach an end point.
15. Triggers are everywhere and so unpredictable. Some things may really hurt one day and be more tolerable another day. This is normal.
16. It's ok to laugh and do things that make you smile. The first time this happens you may catch yourself off-guard and feel guilty. I know I did. But please try not to feel guilty. I truly believe this is what our children want for us.
17. The question "how many kids do you have?" will bring you to your knees the first time you are asked. If you haven't already encountered this, prepare now. Say what feels right for you. I always answer two. I answered 'one' only once. I felt so horrible afterwards, so I always say 'two' now. If the person asks about ages or wants to know more, I will say that my daughter is in Heaven now. It's an answer that feels right for me. Take a few minutes to prepare what you will say because it will come up at some point.
18. Connection with other bereaved mothers is a must, whether it is online or in-person. No one can ever know exactly how you feel unless they have endured the loss of a child. Reach out, talk, hug, share, cry, and maybe even laugh.
Despite all that I have learned, I am learning more every day. I'm so glad that I have you to walk with. We are in this together.
Here's a NEW resource I created just for grieving mothers: 3 Things you must know to survive child loss