After the death of a child, the parent’s whole being – bones, muscles, brain, heart, skin – every cell grieves. There is no part of you that’s functioning normally, without stress or pain. After talking with hundreds of parents, I came up with a description of the grieving parent. Before I begin talking about that description, I need to enter a disclaimer: I’m trying to describe Chaos, so every description will be flawed. I’m trying to organize my thinking about chaos. It can’t be done very effectively. So, I describe a grieving parent as a person who is affected Mentally, Physically, Emotionally, Socially and Spiritually. While you are one being, one whole, I have divided you up into these categories just to help with this discussion. But I don’t think you are actually divided this neatly.
But for the purposes of discussion, let’s talk about how grief affects a person mentally. In my own most severe grief, it was like I was thinking through Jello for weeks after the death. Decisions were too hard to make so I wore the same pair of earrings for months. I talked with a mom who, when it became dinner time, the decision of “what’s for dinner” was too overwhelming. So, for about 300 days that first year, they had pizza. No kidding. In this case, there was also the issue of the empty chair at the table. Dinner time served to highlight in fluorescent green that one child was not there. It is hard to make decisions. Even getting dressed in the morning is difficult because you have to decide whether to wear black or brown socks today!
Mentally, it is hard to remember anything from one moment to another. You can go upstairs and forget what you went to get. You can forget where you parked the car or why you went to the store in the first place. You can forget what you were planning to say between the beginning and the end of a sentence. It is also hard to concentrate on anything, including what someone else is saying. It’s hard to follow a thought from the beginning of their sentence to the end of it.
The one thing you can’t forget is that your child died. You can’t forget what he looked like the last moment you saw him, whether he was living at that time or you saw him in the ER bed after life left his body. That picture takes up all the space in the front of your mind so everything else is hard to remember. You can forget where you are going and forget to stop at stop signs. You can just space out, forgetting where you are and why and what you have done for the last few minutes.
Since you can’t remember anything and you are thinking through Jello, it is hard to be organized. Now, I have little in the way of organizational skills, so someone like me is even more debilitated! But another mom who is gifted organizationally said she was prepared to be sad but not prepared to be so disorganized. You can miss appointments and skip details and forget to pay the bills. Since time moves very differently you can forget it’s Wednesday – thinking it’s just Monday. You lose things, words and time.
Grief affects a person mentally. The intensity may vary with many factors, including how recently the child died and what waves have overwhelmed you lately. I want to ask you all to be careful out there. Be careful driving, since it can be hard to concentrate and make decisions. Be careful doing anything with any remote danger involved, even cooking. Delay as many decisions as you can, since it is hard to follow a thought from beginning to end. Take it easy and be kind to yourself. Slow down your life to the pace you are able to manage in your present state of grief. And know that it won’t always be this bad. Take it from me; your mind is not permanently gone. You are grieving and you can heal.
This is normal grief. I’ll talk about the other categories of your being in the next few blogs. Joe Bayly was a man acquainted with grief, having lost three sons at different times in different ways. He spoke at a BASIS retreat some years ago and said, “whatever you are feeling right now, is normal for you in your present state of grief.” Just know you are normal. You are healing. God is with you.