Finding Grace - The first year after loss
By Erin Epstein
Trauma affects people in different ways. The trauma after the loss of a child comes with different stages of grief. These stages are not linear, rather ebbing and flowing from each new day to the next. The impact that trauma can have on a marriage, friendship or any interpersonal relationship will vary.
I’ve been told “not everyone grieves the way that you do”, and they are right. I cannot say that I grieve in any “particular way”, as my own stages of grief have continued to change. I remember after my daughter passed, being in a state of shock. I tried to do anything and everything that I could do to keep my mind off of the pain that I had endured. I became super-focused on any charity that I could be involved in, any event that I could take part in and went as far as to create a benefit honoring her memory. I needed to feel as though I was doing something good with my grief. I needed to feel as though I was remembering my daughter by engaging with people who reminded me of her. I needed to feel as though I was doing SOMETHING that held meaning because I didn’t want this experience to be all for nothing. My daughter deserved more than that.
The more time passed, the more some people made me feel like I needed to “forget” or I needed to “move on” or I needed to stick my children back on the shelf, nothing more than a picture and a memory in time. These people not realizing that once you carry a child, once you become a Mother, you are always a Mother. It seemed so easy for people to cast judgement, versus holding the understanding, that once you give birth and look into the face of your child, there is no erasing that attachment. You cannot undo parenthood, you cannot undo creation. Just because your child passes does not mean that they are any less a part of your life, a part of your heart, a part of your being.
Sadly, not all relationships will make it through the “journey after”. They say that parenting is hard, so is losing a child. All of the memories that you do not get the chance to make and the family picture in your mind suddenly destroyed. I remember thinking to myself that I want to be one of the families who made it after loss. I wanted to be one of the “success stories” of people who overcame the unthinkable. I am a success story but no longer in the way that I had envisioned. Just by breathing another day, we all are successful. Surviving child loss is my biggest accomplishment, to lose the best part of you and keep on breathing, that’s the hardest thing in the world to do.
As I reflect on the “year after” I know that I have been forever changed. Some friendships and relationships have not made it through this part of my life. The picture of my life that I dreamed of with my children is no longer the life that I am living. I have endured long days of trauma, of grief, of re-living moments that were never supposed to be a part of my life or my journey.
For anyone who might be reading this & going through both trauma and grief, you are not alone. People will criticize how you “grieve” or for how long, relationships will change, your child will be forever ingrained within your heart and that precious child will dictate many of the decisions you will make in your life moving forward. As time goes on, you will re-discover yourself. Some parts wonderful, others a work-in-progress. Loss will make you question many, many things in your life, relationships, goals and what comes next.
Through my trauma, through my grief and through my journey I have re-discovered myself. She looks very different than the person she once was. She has seen and felt real heartbreak, but she has risen. She has been to the bottom bearing the weight of an anchor and clawed her way back to the top. She has endured criticism and judgement and still, she has made decisions that she could live with. The best decisions that she could make for her family. She has learned the value of self-care, time, healing and compassion, REAL compassion. She has walked a journey that most never have to. She has looked into the face of her child and had to let her go. She is forever changed by the scars that are visible and invisible depending on who is looking. She learned that if she could live through loss, she could live through anything.
Loss will change you. Loss will bring out the good, the bad and everything in between with everyone surrounding you. You will recognize friends you never knew you had and friends you thought you had, that weren’t able to stand the storm with you. Some marriages will flourish and grow through the grief, others will crumble as partners recognize their desires have changed.
My advice, never stop caring for you. Understand that you have battle scars deeper than the ocean. You deserve all of the love and care in the world for what you have been through. Burying a child is not a life event that most ever dream of having to face. You have endured something that no one could understand unless they’ve sat in your shoes. Give yourself grace, celebrate each small victory even if that victory is you getting out of bed. Whenever I look at the sky, my view has changed. I have such a deeper appreciation for life and all things living. I know what the alternative looks like and the lense in which I see the world holds a much deeper meaning.
Trauma and grief will change you, I hope it will change you for the better.