My niece just died. I wrote a blog describing what happened and you can read it here: http://www.susanbadaracco.com/blog/my-niece-is-dead
I wanted to know…what comes next? I have a lot of questions so I reached out to a mom that also experienced the loss of her son.
Julie Brooks has been a fierce advocate for many issues surrounding mental health. From my interactions with Julie, it appears she has channeled some of her grief into supporting other mothers in their turmoil. She’s the kind of expert I’m looking for...
I’m hoping she can help me understand what my sister is going through.
The Pain of Losing a Child is Indescribable (5 12 18) – Julie Brooks
I cannot imagine a pain as terrible as losing a child. What gave you comfort in those early bleak days?
Julie: The pain of losing my child is indescribable! I think that is one reason others, who have not experienced the same, cannot understand how deeply my life has been affected. My life will never be the same. It feels as though I have lost a piece of my body, and now I must learn how to live all over again. In the first 3-4 weeks, I was in a fog and shock. I could not remember if I ate lunch, etc. I, and sometimes others, had to keep reminding me to eat small nutritious foods and keep hydrated. Family and friends are a gift of grace from the Lord.
At the start of this reality, how does one truly live with the full impact of their child’s death? I don’t think it is just me. I think many of us would not face this reality well. During a time like this, friends and family just dropping by to be around is ok, but not to rush me back to being me, better not to saying anything; to bring me comfort by only their presence. My experience revealed such an important lesson to me that those who come to visit must be prepared to let the grieving parent(s) talk about their loved one, over and over, even if it brings them to tears. It is okay for the visitor to purposely share something special the parent may remember about their child. And, above all, mention their child’s name. It will probably bring tears, but we long to hear our child’s name.
Possibly even more important, what are things that brought you more pain? What comments or actions should people avoid saying or doing?
Julie: Things that brought me more pain were statements like, “At least you know Carson is in heaven.” Yes, praise the Lord, he is. But I want to be able to see him, hear his voice and see his shoes sitting by the door. No one likes to see a family member in pain, so they offer their best silver-lining statement, intending comfort, like, “He is in a better place.” or “He isn’t suffering anymore.” But, their desire to move me forward also reflects they just don’t get that my child still isn’t on earth. At four years after Carson’s death, a friend said, “Can you just concentrate on your other four children and six grandchildren?” I am blessed with a large family, but each child is different, and I grieve the absence of Carson, not just 1 of my 5 children. People have told me that after the first year anniversary, it will get better. No! It doesn’t. I will grieve Carson for the rest my life. The second year was even harder because everyone wanted the old me back, the “me” before the Carson’s death. It just won’t happen. Even after almost eight years since Carson’s suicide, I still cry once or twice a week, when a “Carson moment” hits me out of nowhere. I tell moms to go ahead and switch to waterproof mascara and eye make-up, because when I need to cry, I do – no matter where I am. Crying is a release of my pain. I tell moms that crying is normal and healthy part of the grieving process.
Mother’s day is around the corner and I am distressed for my sister. I don’t expect she will ever experience a normal Mother’s day again, am I wrong?
Julie: Mother’s Day will never be the same. It will always bring memories of the child you lost; the gifts and pictures they colored, their special talents – they are an “unrepeatable miracle” from the Lord; just like we all are. People meaning well will ask, “How is your Mother’s Day”? And, my response is usually, “It is difficult without Carson.” They will ask me, “Can’t you just remember a happy memory to make the day better?”, and I will tell them that memories can bring sadness, because I am missing one of my miracles. The Carson-hole-in-my-heart is re-opened to that raw cold chill. My husband, Todd, wrote a blog about what the day is like for me, Unquestionably Mom. Undeniably Committed. Dangerously Surrendered. It is truthfully written. You can read it at: http://www.notadaypromised.com/2015/05/
Someone told me that it will get worse for my sister and brother in law before it gets better again. Is that true? What did they mean?
Julie: Yes, it gets worse before there is any relief from the grieving pain. After the fog and shock of the first 3-4 weeks, reality sets in. There is no denying that your child is gone and not coming back. Jesus was fully man, yet fully God. When he walked this earth, He felt the pain of loss, yet He was God. So, the emptiness I feel is human. Your heart feels as if it has a hole in it that needs to be stitched up. You will often feel the need to isolate yourself from others and to sleep more than be awake. The reality for me was that sleep was a welcome experience. Sleep brought me comfort because I could “check-out” to avoid all the sadness I had and was still going through. Of course, such escape lasted only until you I waked up.
You will experience the tendency to isolate yourself, sleep too much or not enough, not eat well or not at all, not shower or change clothes, find it quite the struggle to handle normal simple daily tasks, all of which are signs of possible depression and anxiety setting in. Your health is so important in this trying time. These symptoms are probably not normal routine for you. I recommend a visit to your local family doctor, just to check in and share what you are feeling. Your family doctor understands such symptoms, and may be able to provide clarity to your fuzziness, encouragement, and most importantly, prescribe temporary medication to help you resume a more normal daily routine.
What did you do to help you sleep?
Julie: I was so exhausted. Todd and I stayed up later at night. I was not only grieving Carson’s suicide from unstable bipolar illness, but also caring for our youngest son, who was struggling with bipolar and was not doing well at all due to the bipolar on top of the grief of losing his brother, perhaps the one most understanding of his struggles. Thankfully, around that time, we found the psychiatrist he has seen for the last seven years. He is in a stable state at present, which is not the goal but such a blessing to be out of the constant crisis stage. The goal is to move even past stable to his identifying and living with purpose. This goal is real but very illusive for one dealing with a chronic mood disorder.
You may not ever recover to what or who you were before the loss of your child, but you will find and develop new routines, which will help or eliminate the depression and anxiety. Nothing will be like before. New routines help us all form and stay on track. But, it is important for a caregiver, a close friend, that true love comes without condition, the grieving Mother must be allowed to grieve. You must work to find a happy medium and let the Mother help determine the pace.
I know that people grieve in different ways. Can you think of things that would represent an unhealthy way to grieve? Things that should worry me for my sister?
Julie: People do grieve in different ways. I think some things don’t help but can exacerbate the grieving process; i.e., drinking alcohol or using non-prescription medicine (an attempt to escape the pain of loss), purposely forcing oneself to not cry, not wanting to get out of bed, wanting to sleep, not wanting to sleep, refraining from proper hygiene, etc.
But, crying is to be expected. Learn to be comfortable with the grieving parent’s tears. And, sometimes you may feel like crying too. ☺
I would like to add my opinion, based on medical facts, that self-medicating with alcohol and/or marijuana has no positive long-term affect. It can have a short-term tranquilizing effect, but use of such can result in long-term negative effects on the liver, the brain, the heart and other vital organs of the body; in other words, you are fighting your pain with that which will ultimately bring you more pain. Whereas, properly prescribed medication is intended and proven to replace biologically necessary chemicals that assist the rest of the body in regulating and facilitating proper functioning of the miracle body God has given us.
If their grief includes active comments regarding their willingness to stop the pain forever, wanting not to wait to be with their loved one in death, evidence of their giving away very personal and important items that they’d never think of giving away; in other words, they are suggesting they may take their own lives by some form of suicide, you must escalate. Which is why today, you should begin educating yourself about suicide prevention. The statistics of suicides today are so very sad, with rates climbing 50% plus in several age and gender categories. One helpful website is: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Is there a point in time when you feel normal again? I know you will always have a missing piece of your heart…but…how long before you go an entire day without wanting to die yourself or having to squeeze your eyes tight against the tears that just keep trying to escape?
Julie: You will never feel like your old self again. But, after about a year and one half for me, I could feel some joy with our kids and grandmiracles. There will always be moments when I just need to cry; then I feel better. It will be eight years this July 12th. I always tell others who have lost children, it is absolutely OK and healthy to cry! The same endorphins are released in your brain when you laugh or cry.
Can you think of specific things I can do to help?
Julie: What I have done for others who have lost a child is to send them a care package every month for one year. At least then they have something to look forward to each month, during such a traumatic period of their lives. I have a sterling cuff bracelet with “Carson Brooks – I love you” an exact replica of the same on a note he wrote to Todd and I before he died. It is such a blessing, a comfort and an infusion of joy for me to randomly look down and see his handwriting memorialized on this hand-made bracelet. My daughter reached out to a friend of our family, who crafted the bracelet for me, and pendant of the same for Todd. I wear it every day.
You’ve talked to other mothers—what do people do to keep their sanity?
Julie: I think in a month or so, whenever she’s comfortable, what would help is if your sister could find someone else that has lost a child, an individual that is further in their journey of grief. There is such a bond between Moms because we first are nurturers, but more importantly, kindred spirits because we’ve both experienced the real loss of our precious child.
Do you recommend support groups? Where do you find them? On-line? Any particular ones?
Julie: There are groups like Compassionate Friends.org and GriefShare.org (they have global locations).
One more thing...Julie wants to explain the picture of the jar...
I am going to send you a picture of a big jar that I keep all of Carson's cards of condolence that were sent to us. several hundred pictures of Carson and his family--even his retainer and bracelets he made out of embroidery thread. You can get them at Walmart for $12 or Crate and Barrel for about $50. I have given them to friends that have lost a loved one, but mainly those that lost a child. Then I know everything is in there and safe.
I'll be posting Julie's story (in her own words) about her son Carson tomorrow.
I love you Nancy.