I suspect that almost every single person reading this post has lost someone close to them. If you haven’t, you are in the minority… and unfortunately you will.
How many of you have heard that moving on or gaining closure is important? Is it society’s way of “helping us” tidy up the perceived mess that death is and encouraging us to get our lives back to normal?
We are often advised to seek counselling or psychological support to get over the trauma of our loss. ‘You really should talk to someone’ they told me.
Fact #1 Not everyone who experiences a significant loss needs to get
(or benefits from) psychological help.
Let me clarify Fact #1 by saying that it IS important to find someone or a community of people (that have been where you are), to communicate with, but it doesn’t have to be in the form of psychological treatment. The power of communication and connecting with others who get it, is more to provide a sense of ‘you are not alone’, and confirm that you are also not crazy. It is NOT designed to help you get over or forget your loss.
If you read my recent post The Storm you may recall the story of a mum who visited her daughter’s grave on her ten-year anniversary. She was told by another mother that after 10 years she would be ‘over it’.
Losing Ben and my own journey with grief has taught me many things. So let me tell you probably the most important thing just in case you stop reading here.
Fact #2 You NEVER ‘Get Over’ Losing a child!! EVER!!
I have been fortunate enough to follow in the footsteps and learn from some amazing mums who inspire me and who are further down the path of grief than I am. These mums have found purpose after the death of their child(ren), but they don’t feel their loss(es) any less.
Losing a child cannot be compared to any other loss and was like nothing I have experienced before, nor ever want to again. Ben’s death was sudden and shocking and I still find myself occasionally asking, ‘what wait… how? Why? NO!’ It doesn’t matter whether the death of a child is unexpected or the heartbreaking gradual decline in health due to illness. Both present a constant ache in your heart, sometimes physically felt in your chest, that remains with you forever.
And maybe it should stay with you forever. I have said that I don’t ever want to get over losing Ben, in the same breath as I don’t ever plan to stop loving him!
There is a sense of isolation and aloneness that comes with losing your child. It can stay with you long after everyone has returned to their lives, after the first twelve months, after the first five years, and many years later. When people expect you to find closure, it can heighten this sense of aloneness and diminish the magnitude of what has happened. It also implies a false sense of expectation.
Even more so, if some of us did want to get over it, how would you get closure on something like this?
Let me be clear…
Fact #3 Closure implies a false sense of expectation
that at some point this experience will end.
How do you get closure on something like this? And what is closure anyway?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines closure as:
An act of closing, the condition of being closed, or an often comforting or satisfying sense of finality.
Cambridge dictionary defines it as:
The feeling or act of bringing an unpleasant situation, time, experience, or something bad to an end.
In the case of losing a child, neither is possible. Closure does not happen. And if we think more broadly, there is a part of us that actually accepts and understands this concept.
All over the world, countries nominate certain days and call them national holidays, to honour soldiers (sons and daughters) who never returned home from war. October 15 is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
All over the world monuments are erected as a sign of respect and remembrance of loved ones lost. Think of the 9-11 memorial at the site of the World Trade Centre in New York or right here in Brisbane Australia. Surrounded by native plants, overlooking a university oval is a bench dedicated in loving memory of Ben Shaw.
There’s a part of us that knows that acknowledging and remembering is the right (and natural) thing to do, yet sometimes when we get down to the specifics and saying their name – Ben, Toby, or George, or her name, Catherine, Lili, or Maddie, people shy away or put their head down to avoid making it worse.
Fact #4 Going on with life is NOT the same as getting closure.
A woman meets an old friend she hasn’t seen for years. The friend comments on how great she looks and how she follows her online and admires her courage and transparency. She expresses how great it is that ‘life is good’ for the woman now. She assumes she found ‘closure’ from the tragedy of losing her son a few years prior.
They finish up the conversation and each walks away, the woman turns around and calls out with tears in her eyes, “You know I still miss him more than I ever imagined was possible”.
Grief changes over time and I have described it as a horrible gift that keeps on giving. The intensity of our loss changes but it takes nothing more than a date on a calendar, a sight, a sound, a smell, a song, a place, or an event – a birth, wedding, or a funeral to instantly transport us back to a moment of overwhelm and uncontrollable tears. Time doesn’t matter. Time does NOT heal all wounds.
Fact #5 The journey of grief changes but it does not delete or lessen the experience,
nor is it supposed to.
The wound of losing a child does not disappear no matter how much time has passed. It remains a part of each person’s life forever. We never forget despite well-meaning people not wanting to talk about our child for fear we will ‘remember’ or worse, get upset!
With every step, the grief journey does get different though. Whilst the heartbreak does not get smaller, and we never get over it, (or get closure) we can and do learn to build a bigger life around our loss. We can become driven to make our time count, to make a difference, and we can develop an overwhelming need to find purpose.
Moments are permanently etched in our minds and some feel like they are perfectly paused forever. Memories are guarded with our lives and are all we have left.
The strength and determination that comes with the experience of losing a child is more powerful than any other I have witnessed. And it is the very lack of closure that allows us to keep their flame burning fiercely and brightly and empowers us to find that strength to purposefully make it through another day without them.
Dalya xx 💙