Monday, December 17, 2012

A Mother's Grief

They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice. In my case that isn't exactly true. But I am getting ahead of myself. 
I have never talked about this in a public forum however the events of Friday sort of cracked me open. It occurred to me that I know a thing or two about grief.

In 1989 I was married to another man, not Mr. StencilGirl John, the rock and foundation and love of my life guy, but another guy with whom I had my first and only child, a beautiful boy we named Nathaniel. He was born early and eager with some physical problems, things that we didn't think would  manifest into anything that serious. He ended up with developmental delays, but once again, we remained optimistic, simply redefining normal for ourselves. 

Life was sweet.

In 1991 a heart defect was found, how it had been missed earlier I simply don't know. My son - happy, playful and engaging - needed surgery to save his life. We located the best surgeon we could find, set the date and proceeded. The surgery went off without a hitch, or so we thought. Yet Nathan didn't bounce back as expected. Over the 24 hour period following surgery I watched him deteriorate into a non-responsive state. The moment of his death I was holding his hand. He had just opened his baby blues for the first time, looking right at me and I thought.......well, you know what I thought, but then......nothing.

Flash forward. John and I married. We were so very very happy. I reveled in my role as step mother to his son and daughter. His daughter a person I would have chosen as a daughter. Same with his son, such a smart young adult, we were certain he was a genius he was so darn clever. In and out of college and the army, with deployments to Desert Storm and Haiti, he had been through a lot and seen things he shouldn't have seen. Add this to his naturally supercharged intensity and we worried about him. We made sure he got the therapy and medication that he needed. We believed that one day he would emerge a stronger healthier person who would be able to share his myriad talents with the world. 

Life was sweet.

Thanksgiving Day 1997 was a big event, my family and John's family together at last, a culmination of my dreams. Michael didn't show up; we were bummed that he missed the frivolity of the day. Call it intuition or whatever you want, but that evening I felt something deep inside and I.Just.Knew.
John found him in his apartment, shot through the mouth by his own hand. He had just bought milk and apples, receipt still on the counter.

What is the purpose of my story?
I guess I want to help people know what to do with people who grieve the death of a child. Before these things happened to me, I never knew what to do and felt incredibly awkward around any grieving person, let alone one who had lost a child. I never wanted to intrude and do or say the wrong thing, consequently I often did nothing. 
Here is my advice.

Grieving people need to be surrounded by loved ones. They need to be left alone. They need to cuddle. They need to run and hide.
Yes, all contradictions. 
But, here's the thing - in the immediate aftermath, emotions splay out absolutely uncontrolled. You simply have no idea how you might feel from one moment to the next. Hysterical, numb, controlled, angry, defiant, calm. Switch the order. Repeat often.

Later on. Now that is the really important time. That is when friends, the true blues, come to light. Everyone else is back to their normal activities by then. But the friend who sends a Mother's Day card. That friend GETS IT. The friend who isn't afraid to bring up fond memories. That friend GETS IT. The friend who tells you they miss your child. The friend who sends a note for no apparent reason. The friend who is unafraid to ask you to attend events regarding their kids. The friend who years later asks how old your child would be. 
Be there. 
Six hours later, six days later, six years later. 
Don't be afraid, be a friend.
Be that friend.




31 comments:

  1. My brother died by his own hand two weeks ago today. Hugs to you, Mary Beth.

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  2. ....wow my friend, you are the bravest woman i know. Thank you and bless you for sharing your open heart.....you are loved beyond belief.

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  3. Mary Beth, everything you said is so true, especially the part about being around when everyone else has moved on. I learned all this and more through my own experiences and those of the people who called the crisis line I worked on for 8 years. Being with someone through the grief process is sacred work.

    Every time you tell the story of your grief, you are allowing yourself to heal just a little bit more. In sharing it, you honour the life that meant so much to you.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Someone will read it and know they are not alone, which really, is what we hunger to know in dark times.

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  4. Thank you so much for posting this. What you say is so true. It is truly the days, weeks and months after the funeral, after everyone gets back to their life that friends and loved ones are needed. You are an inspiration to me.

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  5. what a lovely post, mary beth. xoxo

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  6. Your message is one of those that most don't think about until faced with a similar situation. I thank you for sharing your stories and advice. Bless you!

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  7. I'm so sorry Mary Beth. You expressed it all so well. I lost a grandson 11 years ago and I agree with everything that you said. Big hugs to you!!

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  8. Your story is sad but uplifting, and your advice heartfelt and very sound. May you continue to move forward with love and peace in your heart.

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  9. You are a brave and powerful life liver and lover, MaryBeth. Thank you for sharing your story so generously with us so that we may help one another through loss with morr awareness.
    Bright light and big love to you !

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  10. Wow. Just... wow! So much pain. Thank you for sharing your heart. We have all been blessed by your courage to tell. And we all learn how to better love those around us.

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  11. Mary Beth, I know these 'life experiences' have to be hard to re-live but your words are so beautifully written and your ability to transfer your pain into words of wisdom for others is so much appreciated. I am grateful for your posting. I have a dear friend who recently lost her young son and I have been trying so hard to figure out if I am doing the right thing; saying the right thing; acting the right way, etc....and your words are helping me understand part of this puzzle. Thank you for your strength and for sharing this with us....it helps in so many ways!

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  12. MB - i want to hug you big right now. you are super deluxe for sharing, and living, and bringing such beauty to the world - the inside kind, and the art kind.
    Linda E

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  13. Thank you for this, for sharing your wisdom,, your grief, your strength. It felt eerie this morning when I arrived at my elementary school to await the arrival of all of my little students.

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  14. MB... you are the best. Thanks for being brave enough to share this with the world. I've heard you tell it before and I know what kind of strength and trust it takes to begin the story. Somewhere, somehow, I believe that Nathaniel is telling you to share this because he knows how much you love him and how this will help someone else. xoxoxoxoxo

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  15. Thank you for the gift of this post, shedding Light and loving wisdom on a very tough subject. You have blessed us all by sharing this tender part of YOU.

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  16. Anonymous4:15 PM

    May Peace be with you Mary Beth. What wonderful advise for those of us who did not know what to say or do.
    Nancy Connelly

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  17. Anonymous5:24 PM

    What a wonderful way to help those of us who are so awkward when it comes to approaching those who have received bad health news, news of the death of loved ones, such tragic events. I am so sorry for the loss or your precious son and your stepson. You are a brave and loving person and I love and admire you. Carolyn Avellone

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  18. Just goes to show that we never know what other people are dealing with on a daily basis. My heart aches for you and admires you. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for sharing. This reminds me to extend grace to others. xo

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  19. I'm sitting here not knowing how to respond or if I should, but thank you for opening your heart to us, Mary Beth. You are truly amazing; how blessed was your son and your step son to have you in their lives for any moment of their lives. God Bless all the little angels that have gone to heaven. I believe we are the ones that are truly left to suffer. Your lovely words help you each time and any others surrounded by the grief.

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  20. Mary Beth, you are an incredibly brave, strong, and wise individual. I am so sorry for your losses. But I am grateful that you opened your heart to share your experiences and offer us insights to help us know what to do for people who grieve the death of a child. I truly admire you, too.

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  21. Thank you Mary Beth. Our son, Jeremy died in August 2009. He was 36 years old and an only child. He lead a full life and was loved by young and old. He lived on an Island and one night he climbed into his loft, fell asleep and didn't wake up. My heart was broken, but each day I find new ways to celebrate who he was and I work hard at making new memories. I love it when I get the opportunity to talk about him, share his life and his photographs. Our children will be in our hearts forever. You wrote with such grace, feeling, compassion and wisdom. Bless you.

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  22. Thank you so much Mary Beth for being brave enough and loving enough to share your difficult story and help us all to be more aware. I have had lots of loss but never a child or friend who lost one, and grief does splay out and come up at the oddest moments and it is your true friends who share it all with you. Bless, hug, thanks. xox

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  23. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us all - how brave of you and how true that we often feel unable to do anything for those who are suffering, not knowing "the right thing" to do - when the right thing is just doing something to show you care.

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  24. OH MB - you are brave and dear. That you are a person of such love and light in the world is a miracle - truly. xo

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  25. thank you for sharing, Mary Beth, all great advice shared from the heart of someone who has been there. xoxo

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  26. such good words of advice~i had a friend lose a child then more recently 2 aunts lost their sons. I learned from the first how to be a better friend/family member later-sometimes it just helps to have someone around.
    so sorry for the losses you have had~maybe your words can help someone else know what to do~

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  27. I'm so sorry. Big hugs. Thank you for sharing so much.

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  28. Mary Beth, I'm so terribly sorry for the loss of your boy and John's. Thank you so much for sharing and for the sound advice on how to help those who have been placed in such dreadful positions.

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  29. Blessings to you Mary Beth for sharing your sorrow. And may your close friends always be there for you. A similar feeling continues through life when a family has a handicap child. He is like the 'ghost' in the room no one wants to talk about. Me, the Mother, never 'gets over it.' We all want our children to grow up and have a normal life. We want them to marry and have children of their own, and when life seems to be so unfair, it is a great sorrow. May you keep the sweet memories of your first son and of Michael. Only those who have been through these terrible tragedies can truly understand the grief of heart a mother and dad go through on a daily basis. Your description of the 'back and forth' roller coaster emotional ride a person experiences from such losses, puts it right into perspective. Thank you for sharing your hopes, your dreams and your losses. And when I gave birth to my Down's son,(21 years ago) people said 'Oh, Teresa can handle it.' Like I was some saint that could get through it...no...it's not like that at all...I survived...but I will never be the same again. Yes, some days you hide and then the next day you put on a big smile, but the pain is always there.
    love and hugs,
    Teresa in California
    http://amagicalwhimsy.blogspot.com/

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