The tar-mountain of parental grief
31 July 14
A parent’s worst nightmare is usually the possibility of losing a child to death. All parents carry this grief with them; most of them only know it as an unopened package that they briefly examine in dark times, in sympathy or in fear. Others — like me — have experienced the reality of a child’s death and know what it feels like to move into and through the huge tar-mountain of parental grief.
Most parents have imagined some scenario for a child’s death and their response afterwards. We see it lurking in dark shadows, high trees, bath-tubs, solitary walks, careless moments of play, traffic accidents, raging house-fires, plane crashes, allergic reactions or medical beds.
That imagined loss looms large on the horizon as a huge mountain of horribleness, like an inverted tar-pit of despair. Once you cross the threshold of your child’s death, you’re surrounded by a dark morass of emotional pain, and it’ll take you an unspecified length of time to wade through to the clearer skies on the other side. There’s no way to make it through grief without becoming stained by the tar of the loss, and remnants will stick to you for years to come — probably for the rest of your life.
This is the reality for a parent who has lost a child. The tar-mountain of grief does exist. There’s no short-cut around it, and the darkness must be traversed in order to move into a different phase of life.
All people move through their grief-mountains at different paces. The pace varies; some stumble and fall in one spot for a while before picking themselves up and racing to brighter skies. Others pick a steady pace and clear the grief in the right time for themselves. Perhaps some never fully reach the other side.
There’s no way of truly conveying hope to a parent lost in grief. Even though others who are experienced in losing a child may say, “It’ll get better,” to a parent who is surrounded by the sticky morass of pain, loss, regret and shattered dreams, that doesn’t actually bring a glimpse of light. Until each person absorbs or fights the pain for themselves — processing it properly — they cannot move out from under the mountainous burden of their grief.
The future is always dotted with extra piles of sticky grief. It rises unexpectedly — in the form of another child the size of our dead one, in the places we shared happy moments, in the location of their death or remains, or in a memory that unexpectedly comes to mind. Each time, the parent must start wading through the sticky morass again, using the strategies that they discovered works for them — distractions, love of others, work, chemicals, meditation, or others.
My personal experience of the burden of parental grief — including with the public arrival of it and my honest working-through and true processing of it — is that although I have moved through the main mountain of my own emotional pain, others may not acknowledge my position because their own (theoretical or real) grief-mountain still looms large in front of them.
When others look at my life — available in static form because I’ve recorded it here — it’s easy for them to project their own burden of grief onto me. How is it possible to survive the death of my beloved only son at the hand of his father, my partner for sixteen years? How can I smile at a funeral? How can I forgive my husband? How can I move on with life? How can I give a baby away after losing one to death? As a person tries to imagine how they would cope if they were dropped into my scenario, it’s impossible for them to gain my perspective if their own grief mountain fills the sky with its hope-sucking darkness.
Everyone processes their grief differently. Some never fully step out of the darkness and retain gooey strings of deep pain hanging off their psyches for years. As an observer (to my life and to others’), refrain from projecting your own expectations or experience of what a grief-mountain looks and feels like onto other people. Just accept where a person is and offer assistance if they desire it.
In my own personal experience, my unwavering faith in spiritual realities gave me the tools to consciously process my grief and loss very rapidly, although remnant pain surfaces now and again to remind me that my work isn’t complete. My children, too, have been given the space, care, love and assistance to help them work through their own emotions surrounding our family’s experience with death and loss.
Two years on, my daughters and I have moved through our individual grief-mountains. If you meet us, you’ll see that for yourself. Until then, just accept it as being so. We are living on the other side, participating wholeheartedly in a joyous, adventurous life.
If you’re still moving through your dark morass of pain, I know your burden too. You have a future — bright with a new phase of life. I hope you see it soon.