When someone close dies, it is easy to distort our world and accept lies about our self.
As a military psychologist who works with returning warriors dealing with the effects of losing someone close to them, I found that stages of grief are a myth.
When my own son was killed, I lied to myself. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross got close when she talked about the characteristics of grief being denial, anger, depression, and bargaining. I have yet to find complete acceptance.
Grief research does not support distinct stages but suggests that grief is a combination of feelings, actions, and biological changes.
So, let’s look at the 10 biggest lies that you may hear or tell yourself about the death of a child:
1. You will stop grieving after the year anniversary.
I wish it were true but it’s not likely. Everyone is on a different timeline. When my son died, I didn’t want to feel better. The one year anniversary was an extremely difficult time and yes, I felt relief, but I continue to grieve.
2. You are crazy if you are seeing dead people.
No way. Seeing your loved one means you are missing them. Possibly, you have unfinished business with them or possibly, you were not prepared for them to leave.
Seeing them means you care. No one knows how this happens because no one has the answers to life’s most difficult questions.
A corollary to this is, "That superstitious stuff is weird." Not so. Hearing your name called, finding a dime, seeing a butterfly, or hearing a special song at a key moment is not superstition.
It is a relationship, a way of continued contact that fills you with hope. As a psychologist, I can explain it away, but as a father, I don’t need an explanation.
3. Stop crying, you will feel worse, and you look weak.
Wrong. Crying, regardless if you are a man or woman, is a healthy function that purges your body of toxins.
It may seem unsettling to see someone cry but it is their way of dealing with the pain. Let them.
4. No one knows your pain.
Not quite. I feel a bond with others who experienced the loss of a child, as if we are part of a unique club. It feels good to be around them because they know that words are sometimes meaningless and a hug is what I need.
I also have friends who don’t even have children, and they also understand. While no one knows exactly what I am feeling, when people try, I feel validated.
5. You need to get right back up on the horse.
Forcing yourself back into a schedule is not always the best thing to do. I tried to return to work but I just wasn’t ready so I found other ways to be productive.
Returning to my previous schedule was disastrous for me. I changed and I didn’t want to go back to my old world.
6. The world is unfair.
Not really, but the world isn’t fair, either. The world just is. And it is up to you to decide what you are going to do about it.
Are you going to drink yourself silly? Are you going to seclude yourself in your house? Or are you going to recognize how short, precious, and meaningful it is?
7. You are selfish if you want to die.
This was a tough one for me. It is not uncommon to want to be with your loved one. You hurt, you want the hurt to end but more importantly, you want to be with them.
Your apathy about life does not always mean you are going to try nor does it mean that you're selfish. Life has just been extremely hurtful, it makes sense that you would not want to be hurt again.
It does mean that you need to talk about it with someone who understands.
8. You shouldn’t be angry with God.
Wrong. God was angry when his son died and he was angry when my son died. You can be angry too.
It takes time to work through your anger and recognize that with the freedom God gave us came the possibility of bad things happening.
9. Praying is pointless because they died anyway.
Wow, I totally get this but it’s a lie. I didn’t pray for months but when I did, something happened. I started to connect, I started to feel grace. I started to forgive. I started to deal with my anger.
I talked about it, and now I reach out to others. Now I have a story.
10. You are not getting better.
This may be the biggest lie. Look at where you are today compared to yesterday, compared to last week or last year. Small steps. You will have set backs but you are getting better.
And here is one lie I put in a class all by itself: It's my fault."
It's natural to feel responsible. Sometimes it's called survivor guilt. Sometimes it's called being a parent. Often the people who do the most good feel the worst guilt.
It should be the opposite, but the people who are the closest tend to feel the greatest pain. Regardless of the situation, we often feel that somehow if we did something different, the person would be alive today, even if we are not even in the same state.
We do not choose death, it chooses us.
The Truths that you need to remember are these two:
- I will never be the same: True. This is not a myth, but it is your choice if you want to be better. And it will take time. Give yourself that time. Yes, you may always have a hole in your heart but seeing new life, and seeing growth in the world around you will give you hope.
- I have a purpose: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. You now have a story. And the world needs to hear it.