Dear Surviving Parents,
Your world has completely stopped, but at the same time, it is spinning wildly around you. You can’t stop sobbing. A sound is coming from you like you have never heard. Your knees are buckling under your weight, and you are falling to the floor. You may be physically sick, vomiting until your stomach is empty. You watch professionals take your child away and wonder what he or she will look like when and if you see him or her again.
You are being asked to make decisions about what comes next for your child’s physical remains, but you are not able to decide. Your mind keeps going back to the last time you saw your child alive. You replay your last words with them and wonder if you hugged them and told them you love them. Then you go further back and think about the signs you somehow missed and how this must be your fault. Your mind will also go back again and again to the last time you saw them dead.
You will stand in the grocery store with everyone moving around you like nothing has happened. You will want to scream out, “My child is dead!” so they understand your pain. It will be like a movie playing in front of you.
You will want answers. Maybe your child left a note that gives you some solace. But the note’s content will not be enough. There are always going to be more questions. You are likely never going to understand completely why this happened. You will spend a lot of time thinking about it. You will go through his or her room, backpacks, notebooks, and computer files, looking for more information or a special keepsake he or she left for you. You may or may not find it. Either way it will still not be enough.
Some of your friends won’t know what to say, so they will stay away. Others will try to find the right words and will say something hurtful without meaning to. Some will research the right things to say to someone in your situation. Some will send you cards and e-mails months from now, and you will be grateful they have not forgotten your loss and pain. Some will offer to sit quietly and hold you.
You will have a hard time making decisions—not just big ones, like what to do with your child’s belongings or room or what the headstone should look like, but rather little ones, like what to have for dinner or what to wear.
The first few months will be a blur. You will have memory issues where chunks of time are missing or you cannot remember conversations. Your work will suffer.
You will not enjoy socializing as you once did. You will hide behind closed doors and pulled shades so you do not need to interact with others. You will avoid phone calls and texts. You will turn down invitations that you would have once happily accepted. When you do find the wherewithal to go out, you will come home exhausted and emotionally drained. It will not be because people are unkind. It will be because interacting with others will enervate you.
Some of your friends, family, and coworkers will want you to get over it and will tell you so. Your grief will make them uncomfortable. You will give yourself deadlines for feeling better. After the holidays. After the child’s first birthday that he or she is not with you. After the first anniversary of his or her death. But you won’t get over it. Grief does not have a timeline.
You might consider going to counseling and then decide you don’t need it. Go anyway. This is not a journey to travel alone.
You will be changed. But you will not always feel as hopeless and helpless as you do right now. Things will get better, but it will take time and effort.
Please. Take the time to connect with resources especially developed for those who are traveling this road. Check out Facebook and online survivors’ groups. Go to meetings. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. You will connect with people who understand your journey, who will say what you are saying is exactly how they feel. You will feel at home, especially when home feels so empty now.
You are not alone.
Peace, love and light to you on this journey.
Kimberly Starr lost her 16-year-old son, Tom, to suicide in March of 2015. She started writing as a way to process her grief and come to terms with her son’s mental illness and suicide. The writings have been complied into a book called “457 Days: A Mother’s Journey along Grief’s Path” which will be released in early summer 2017.