Five years into mourning the loss of my son to an overdose, I find grief has never left my side.
As much agony as his death has brought to me, my grief consoles me. It has shown me questions I needed to ask, things not everyone knows—at too high a cost, for certain, but still, I want to know.
Ripped open, I can’t look away.
Unlike many causes for grief, the loss of a child is a certain kind of grief that takes a part of you away that you never get back.
There is no recovery or end—no “new normal” or “moving on.” Child loss is a grief that a mother will never stop feeling. Something unnatural has happened; life is out of order and nothing can right it.
Grief takes us deeper.
So many people, including therapists, will tell you that you will find a “new normal”—this is because your world has been shattered and will never be the same, so what else is there to say about that?
Surely, you cannot stay there. After all, if you form a new life, you won’t be “stuck,” right? Stuck in the unhealthy world of grief.
Being in grief does not translate directly into you needing to find a “new normal,” but no one knows that except you. It often stays the same; you stay the same; “normal” doesn’t exist anymore, and “new” is a poor word to use when the alternative is “old.”
“Old” had your child in it, alive.
We want, we need, to keep them alive, not different or new, but the same son or daughter we still hold space for in our heart, always, never changing.
The loss of a child stays with you and does not change, it does not end, and there is no “recovery” from it. Sometimes our grief is here to stay, and sometimes it can help us survive and stay afloat.
In a world where everything has been broken and all you feel is chaos and shock, only grief remains consistent, and grief won’t ever let you down by leaving abruptly. You can’t lose the grief of losing a child—at any age, or by any means. This is not a death sentence, no pun intended. What is happening to you has always been in you; it’s not new—it’s just deeper.
Grief takes us deeper into the nature of love.
Grief is not the enemy.
Almost every loss in life we can eventually heal from—we can forget the trauma and pain to a good extent, like losing a job, a pet, or after a breakup; eventually, we do look to create a new life minus the loss we no longer hold onto. We may have a scar, and we have memories to hold us together and adjust.
We recover; we move forward, and there is little to no loss of self or other that remains—we find our wholeness again one day, and we can start again, new.
While this may be the commonly accepted “standard” for overcoming grief, it cannot be applied to every type of grief. In our society, death is never a welcome subject, and those who find themselves in the vacuum of loss and all its implications and side effects are often misunderstood, avoided, and even criticized by well-meaning people who cannot themselves realize the devastation death can bring to a person.
This is a secondary loss; people leaving the grieving person. These changes do not, or don’t have to, signal “new life” or even the end of the “old life.” For a mother who has lost a child, time stops, and newness is the enemy of the desperate and natural need to hold on—to our lost child and to ourselves.
Change can be met with more trauma. Staying where you are, even in deep grief, can be your comfort or your very survival. We don’t “get over” losing a child; we carry it inside us, sometimes in great sadness and sometimes with memories that feel warm inside and alive, even while we grieve.
Grief can be an anchor.
Losing a child creates an empty space inside, and it has to be filled with something. Often frantically, even unconsciously, nevertheless, all too real, we fill it with never-ending tears and the pieces we can pick up that fell around us when we shattered.
We will never be the same; we will never be whole; we will not get over it; we will not be normal in newness, and we most certainly will never move past it. We will never get used to being without our child; the pain of that loss will stay forever—it will run us over, and it will fall on us from anywhere. It will knock us down, and it will never make sense.
We have to let grief in.
We must make some peace with it because we will never lose the grief like we lost our child. The grief is the loss of our child. Peace may take a lifetime; peace may never come; peace may be just another word for accepting we cannot control our grief. We cannot simply choose to stop grief from being present at any time. Accepting the grief, we can anchor ourselves in an ocean of turbulence and find our compass again.
Grief can keep us alive.
So how do we stay here, alive, and get up every day to face this bottomless loss? In my experience and my circle of other mothers who are living in the same “sur-reality” that I am, we stay because we have no choice, or we have other children, or we choose to try to help others or to live a life our child can never live.
Once a child lies in your heart, that child has a space that nothing else can fill, and normal never comes back, and that space remains exactly as they left it. A mother will honor that, even cherish it. A mother will wrap the empty space in even more love and devotion and hold it in place, right where he or she, who has died, truly belongs.
It is the maternal right of any mother to never let go. She must grieve as long and as hard as she needs to or wants to. Being here is torture without her child, a child she must accept is never coming home. There can never be anything”normal” about that. The world will never be “normal” again.
Grief doesn’t transform into anything else.
It would take a good deal of convincing to get a mother of child loss ever to find a positive that comes out of the death of her child, but people try—”He is in a better place,” “He finished what he came for,” “He was too good to stay here”— No, no, and no.
Out of ashes, mothers find bits of gold left for them from the cord that binds them across dimensions to their own child. Maybe it’s not the end, maybe picking up the sword or pen will make his life still relevant, and his death will have counted for something. She will keep sending her love into the ether and her hope into her unseen child’s hands, clinging to a belief he feels it. It remains, always—impossible to fully accept the loss of a child.
Grief is a blanket.
I am still a mother; I am still his mother. I am the carrier of endless love and every memory ever made; I carry him still, and I crave to do it. I have my son as a filter in my mind and heart constantly. I can now sort the important from the trivial, the worthy from the unworthy, and the direction to go in is often more clear.
My life and what remains will be an honor to him and to myself as a mother, and I shall never ever let go of him, not the love, nor the grief that comes with loving so greatly.
No great moment will come or gradual change occur that moves me beyond or past or into a newness that does not bring him with me—so why pressure myself to find it?
Better to find a small peace with grief. An acceptance not of loss, but of grief that remains and is welcome—because it affirms our love with every ache it brings; with every sorrow, it will keep us connected forever to who we have lost, just as much as striving to focus on the good memories. Gathering our pieces into a functioning person, piece by piece, one day at a time, one hour at a time, grief will bind us to our loss, to our child, and never let us down in that.
We can never make peace with the death of our child, but we can find a sort of peace in our grief. Our grief is our maternal love we cannot see returned anymore; it is our devoted heartbeats seeking a harmony that is lost—grief is a blanket for our empty arms.
Grief will never let you down.
Grief is a mirror reflection of love—it is the other side of love, it is a part of love, a price, a reminder that love still exists, that death cannot take everything from us.
If grief is your comfort, hold onto it tightly, and recognize it as all the love you have to give that has never, and will never, die.
Grief will never let you down if you need it. Don’t let anyone tell you that’s a bad thing. In a world where people seek only happiness at any cost, perfection at any price, more of everything, and what matters only for them—there are things that go deeper than that, and when you have been down there and seen the deepest depths of grief, and of the truly unending love just beside it, you will see it is not a promise of pure joy, it is so much more than that.
Grief = Love.