I experienced extreme sadness and devastation when I lost my father, on Valentine’s Day, at the age of 30. He was 52 and it seemed like the most catastrophic event of my life. I believed nothing could hurt more than losing my hero. I was wrong.
14 years later I found myself standing in front of the mirror, looking at myself thinking “this is what a grieving mother looks like”. I lost my 19 year old son in a tragic unexpected devastating earth shattering suicide.
The hours, days, weeks and months that pass can only be explained in one word “unpredictable”.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced exhaustion, as I experience through the emotional outbursts of grief. There are the outward demonstrations of grief which are visible to everyone around you, and present themselves in different intensities. Then, there are the inward struggles, which are just as paralyzing because keeping it all in, doing the best you can to keep it together is an absolutely exhausting process. If grief was to be depicted in a pie chart, this inward section would have the largest slice, because this is the reality of the battle we face all day, every day.
I equate grief to an earthquake.
First you get the tremors which don’t last too long. They are mini inward or outward bursts which come randomly. They also pass quite quickly. You may have one a day, or 10 a day. Driving in your car, listening to a song can cause a grief tremor. Going through photos, and being reminded of a sweet memory, can cause a grief tremor. Eating your child’s favorite food, can cause a grief tremor. There are many triggers. And on some days those triggers will activate the tremor, and on other days, those same triggers will bring a smile to your face. So yes, there are tremors of sadness, and tremors of joy too.
Then, you get the earthquake which has a moderate magnitude of intensity, but is not earth shattering. These seem to last a little longer than tremors and are felt in every fiber of your being. During that time, you seem a little numb to the world around you as you deal with the vast emotions and thoughts consuming you. After you’ve pushed through, dried your tears and survived this outburst of sadness, you slowly get back to life as you know it.
Then, you get the earthquake that happens deep within the core of your being, which causes major emotional shifts, creating a catastrophic build up to a tsunami. A giant intense emotional wrecking wave hits you, sucks you in, takes your breath away and leaves you gulping for air. The thoughts, memories and regrets that go through your mind are like the debris in the wave, smashing into you from every direction. Your emotional state is drowning, as you experience unbearable pain rushing through your body, heart and soul, leaving you feeling completely wiped out. You tread the water and do your best to keep yourself afloat, without any collateral damage. The grief rush continues at a great speed. Tears, (inward or outward) screams, uncontrollable inconsolable crying becomes you, and then, finally the wave subsides. You are exhausted. Mentally, physically and emotionally. It feels as if you have been washed up on shore, totally and utterly drained.
You get up, and stand there, looking around you trying to understand how you got there.
The aftershock, after such a grief tsunami is the grief hangover. You feel sick, light headed and drained. And every now and again, the aftershock shakes your world, reminding you of the painful truth you live with everyday.
Then the rebuilding begins. Rebuilding yourself, replenishing your energy, picking yourself up, and finding reasons to replace the tears with smiles, the fears with peace and the anxiety with tranquility. Slowly you find yourself again. And you revert back to your new normal.
The love you have for the child you lost continues. Love will never die, and for as long as you are alive, the tremors, the earthquakes, the tsunamis and the aftershocks will continue. You need to welcome them, and be kind to yourself through them all. But with every negative, there is a positive. Just as you experience the worst of grief, there are the sweet beautiful memories which can bring warm waves of sunshine to your soul. Embrace those and do your best to have a good balance of both the bearable and the unbearable side of grief.
Stand in front of that mirror again, and tell yourself you are a surviving functioning grieving mother. Whilst you didn’t chose to be on this long and lonely road, you are embracing your grief journey. After all, you are not doing this alone. Your child is with you every step of the way.86