Before I became intimately acquainted with grief, I presumed it followed a linear path. A difficult first period, which would gradually ease until reminders of a loved one lost eventually brought smiles rather than tears. Reaching that point would mean grief was over.
Perhaps some grief does work like that. My grief doesn’t. I don’t know anyone who has lost a child who identifies with that pattern of grief. They do identify with people expecting that pattern of grief from them. They do talk of friends and family urging them to “get over it”. There does seem to be a time period when deep grief is allowed and after that point the hard and dark grief is deemed “unhealthy”. Grief stays with a person, changes them, as uncomfortable as that might be. Exercising “tough love” and demanding they try harder to return the person they once were will not help.
There are those whose grief is complicated, who cannot move on from the darkness, where joy has completely left their lives and they are unable to find a reason to continue. It’s not a position anyone wants to be in. Those in the grip of complicated grief need support and understanding.
Sometimes you make choices about your grief, and sometimes your grief makes choices for you. There have been days when I have quite purposely avoided grief – I have pushed thoughts of Xavier aside and I have taken myself away from support groups. I have needed the rest. There have been other days when I have chosen to stay with my grief. To understand it better and to immerse myself in my son gone too soon. These days are harder but necessary. These are the brave days that help me heal. You have to go through grief – there are no shortcuts. Then there are the days when I don’t get to choose. When grief over takes me and hijacks my chosen path. In the days coming into Xavier’s second birthday, I was paralysed. I couldn’t do simple tasks. And I was so angry about it. So devastated to be back in a place I thought I had long left. I did not choose it – this regression. It was not what I wanted. I was not indulging myself or holding tight to grief. Sometimes grief just takes over.
In the dark and terrifying months after Xavier died I desperately wanted to feel better. If I could have made that choice, I would have. But grief isn’t a choice. Grief is the searing pain that follows when someone you love is ripped away. After time, it becomes a scar. Not deep and angry and weeping as it was at first, but a scar nonetheless. Sometimes the scar flares. It’s not a scar I chose to bear, nor is it a scar that I can control. At times, I can hide it. Sometimes, it is so faint that I can almost believe it has gone away. But it will never truly heal.
Bereaved parents can be protective of their grief, holding fast to it as a tie to their child. And that is completely understandable. I do not think grief is my only tie to Xavier. I do not think that deeper love is expressed through darker grief. Although, I worry that perception is there – that if my grief lightens, others might think the love I have for my son has lessened. Grief and love are linked, but I do not believe that they are an echo of each other. My grief has lessened, whilst my love has intensified. I have no choice over that love. What parent does? The unconditional, completely wondrous, absorbing love that takes a hold of your heart when you become a parent. And just as that love has a life of its own, so does its darker cousin, grief.
If you are struggling with grief, be gentle with yourself. If a loved one is in the grip of grief, be gentle with them. There are times when you simply just cannot choose.