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Traversing Through Grief

Written by:
CK Kochis

I look in the mirror and most days I barely recognize myself. The eyes reflecting back at me are my father's; the same empty stare he had as his dementia transformed into Alzehiemer's. Lost, yet aware enough to know of what was going on.

The mascara I wore daily is applied maybe once a week. Maybe. And only if I care what I look like.

The energy to exercise or move my body physically to stay in shape has evaporated. I no longer care what I eat. I tend to seek comfort in the comfort foods that are unhealthy and for the first time in my life I cannot fit into my blue jeans. 

I no longer reach out to family or friends. No one wants to hear my sob story anyways. Maybe that's an illusion I hold. Who knows. Maybe my retreat started when I was asked, when does this crying-thing end? The response the person heard was never. I cannot burden my son Mason. He lost the man who inherited the father-role since 2005, his brother, his best friend and companion. How can I share my pain with someone who hurts equally as much inside? 

My trauma brain is incapable of holding onto nouns - people, places, things. And you can forget about dates and times. That information escapes out the window like the aroma of a fresh baked cherry pie. 

When Jeremiah died April 10th, my existence ceased. Rarely do I share the cause of Jeremiah's death. In all reality, the how doesn't matter. His mother lost her son and one of her go-to guys. His brother no longer has him to show him how to fix things, his father-figure to help him through life's situations and his best friend. His three year old son misses his father beyond comprehension. And the heartbreaking list of losses continues on...

[ctt template="2" link="16ptC" via="no" ]It does not matter the cause of death, the loss of a child bares incomparable emotional trauma.[/ctt]

It's not that I'm ashamed. I simply don't know how to respond to the anticipated questions that typically follow. I've alluded to the cause of him remaining forever twenty-nine less than a three weeks from his thirtieth birthday, but have yet to publicly state my son committed suicide.

[ctt template="2" link="U45xb" via="no" ]Walking through the grieving process has taught me some of the grandest lessons of love and compassion.[/ctt]

People don't know how to respond to me. Ironically I have no idea how to respond to them either.

  • A month after Jeremiah's death, I was in a public place and the woman (her daughter went to school with my son) behind the counter kept asking, "Are you sure you're okay?" I'd reply, "Yes, I'm doing okay right now." Each time she asked, her bottom lip pouted out more and her head tilted to the left a little more. To break the cycle, I stated, "Thank you; I appreciate your kindness."
  • At the grocery store a friend saw me standing in aisle four upset, and turned around and walked quickly in the opposite direction.
  • Last weekend, I mentioned to a friend I hadn't seen since the holidays how odd it is for me to be seen in public without mascara. "Who knew I'd ever let anyone see my naked eyes?" She then admitted she didn't want to hug me and make me cry, and she had no idea what to say to me. I am grateful for her honesty. At least she was willing to talk to me.
  • I feel more lonely today than I did five months ago.

Pearls of wisdom I'd like to share from my experience as a grieving momma:

  • Unless you can bring our child back from death, don't bother asking if there's anything you can do.
  • Acknowledge the mom and/or dad who experienced the loss of their child.
  • Don't ask for the gory details. Truly, we will share the information if we want to. Besides, is it any of your business?
  • Treat the parent as you did prior to the death of their child. We are sad; not contagious with the plague.
  • Listen. I cannot stress this one enough! Damn it, listen to us babble on and on and on about our child.
  • There are days we need to verbalize every experience we shared with our child.
  • There are days when the pain is too severe to talk about our child.
  • Tear triggers are everywhere.
  • Our tears are unstoppable.
  • Time does NOT heal all things.
  • Do not, for the love of God, tell me my child is in a better place. There is no better place for my child to be than in my arms and he's not there.
  • Allow me to be "broken".
  • The damnedest things will set off cascading tears; like the two year old boy standing in the aisle of a store that looks just like my baby.
  • Everything reminds us of our children.
  • Hug us.
  • Don't tell us, "Let me know if there's anything I can do for you, just ask." 1. I don't believe you'll answer my call (especially when you won't answer when I dial your number), 2. three hundred other people told me the same thing and so far no one has followed through. 3. reread the first entry on this list.
  • I desperately want to grab Jeremiah by the shoulders, give him the mother-stink-eye and tell him everything can be worked out...EVERY EFF'ING THING!
  • The human touch is an amazing thing. Very few things offer as much comfort (not even creamy vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup).
  • Don't try to fix this situation. Allow me to feel what I feel in moment without trying to "adjust", "manipulate" or "punish" me.
  • Hug us and listen.
  • Let me eff'ing cry.

And, for many individuals, there is a stigma surrounding certain causes of death. People's first reaction/response is different based on how the child died. I've noticed (during my lifetime) the judgement and level of compassion is based on whether the child died from cancer, car accident or murder versus drug overdose, drunk driving or suicide.

[ctt template="2" link="G8RA9" via="no" ]Have we forgotten how to BE with each other, and not be in the constant fix-it mode?[/ctt]

As a mother said to me days after my son's passing, "Welcome to this unfortunate club. No registration required."

My best friend's son died in a car accident five years ago, and he says the pain is as sharp today as it was on the day the local sheriff deputy knocked on his door.

A young man I've known all of his life, his mother is a very dear friend since high school, lost his life due to a drug overdose. She, too, has told me the heartbreak is as painful years later as it was on that faithful day.

I wish they'd lie to me. Please.

Live Life in Motion

I am doing okay. Truly I am.

The other morning while I was pouring water into my tea kettle, I heard the deep rooted sorrow in my voice exclaim, "I wish I had someone to talk to. I have no one to talk to."

A loving voice within softly replied, "There's one person who loves you dearly who is willing to listen. All you have to do is open up to her and talk." There was a pause, as if my inner wisdom needed to make sure I was listening, and then whispered, "YOU."

An emotional release washed over me, and I sobbed.

I am consciously making an effort to love myself like never before.

This is not the first time I've had to adjust my sails. Each time I experience a situation that depletes me, I learn how to take better care of myself, and actually L-O-V-E me for the me that I am.


23 comments on “Traversing Through Grief”

  1. I wish I could hug you in person. Virtual hugs and my energy of love will have to do for now. There is no timetable on your grief. Keep loving fiercely dear friend.

  2. Thank you for being so real and raw and providing a 'code of guidance' about this Cindy. And while we think people will instinctively know how to react/be in these situations so many don't. Much Love,

    1. Much love to you as well, Sheryl. This article poured from my heart onto the page before me. Thank you for your loving support.

  3. Twenty years ago I lost my brother to suicide. My world came crashing down around me that day. I felt like my life had ended too, and I almost made that happen. But I saw what his death did to my folks, our siblings, his friends. I too felt so very alone. Everything seemed so inconsequential so futile so meaningless without him. I remember when we had to cross the road collect his belongings, and we had to stop for traffic and I wanted to scream at everyone, telling them that they had to stop what they're doing, the worst thing in the world has happened to me, and I wanted every single person to stop and acknowledge this. My world had just ended so theirs should too. But it doesn't work that way. Life goes on for others and all their own stuff is important to them. And yes they have no idea how to respond to someone who is so very heartbroken, seemingly completely beyond repair. Friends didn't know what to say, some didn't contact me again, or even a friend I'd had since earliest years didn't even acknowledge my letter telling her! Not once, even though she wrote back quite a few letters over the years. A simple - I am so sorry, and I know I can't do anything to change it, but I am here - would have sufficed. I walked around in a numb daze for a long time. As I had agreed to a vow to my sister not to end my own life, I continued on, but my body turned on itself and started attacking me, my body was following my thoughts, that I wanted to die, and so it dutifully obeyed and started destroying it's healthy cells. For about a decade of deep deep deep deep depression and will to not be alive anymore, masked within a huge fortress of solitude with walls so high and thick no-one could penetrate them and a workaholic obsessive drive to block everything else out, I finally realised I didn't want to be in pain anymore and one day I chose to live. Slowly but surely I worked through my grief, my anger at being abandoned by my older brother who I loved and looked up to, my physical emotional spiritual agony, and loss and numbed daze, and the deepest despair. I pulled through. It took a lot of effort, but I see peace again, I see love again. I do things now in his honor, in his name, in his memory and I carry him with me and it no longer hurts to remember him. I can remember the good times, the happy times, the fun times, the nuisance he loved being, the big sensitive heart he had. My heart will always be broken, my life will always have a missing piece, my mind will always wish he was here. When I see people his age I try to imagine what he would look like now, and what he'd be doing. But I had to bring joy back into my life, I had to live for myself for my loved ones. I had to choose to want more for myself, for my life, than utter misery. And I had to be here to share with others, to connect, to acknowledge that this is beyond devastating for you and I do understand. People are fallible and sometimes they don't have the strength to be your rock, so they turn the other way, and sometimes they think that to bring it up will remind you (as if you could ever forget!) or make you cry again. But I do know that the right people will reach out to you. The right people will lend an ear and a shoulder. And they may just be strangers, and that is ok. True friendships are those that are willing to take the good and the bad, and still love you for you. Those people will come into your life. And to those reading this who are friends with someone who has just lost a loved one, sometimes just sitting in silence next to us is all we need to find the strength to carry on with our heavy, broken heart. And one day we will be ready to hear about what is going on in your life, and we will be ready to go for coffee, or see a film. And sometimes it will make us cry, and that is ok. All we can do is show up, all we can do is allow ourselves to process this momentous loss, and if you're there we will feel that we aren't quite as alone as we thought we were.

    1. Iamhere, I send to you my unconditional love and support. I commend you on your strength and courage to share your story and pearls of wisdom with us. I am getting back into 'living life in motion'. It is through my son's death that I learned the depths of my love, an intense appreciation of compassion for another person's choices and it is up to me to make me happy.

      Many blessings.

  4. I'm so very sorry. Everything you wrote is true for me, too. 25 years later, I can say that the days of suffering are (much) farther apart, but, when they come, it is like they never left. Eventually, I came to see that I honored my daughter by trying to heal, but that realization took a long time to take root. I'm so very sorry.

    1. I'm sending unconditional love and support to you, Jennifer. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. I love you too, Barb. You are an amazing support person. I feel so blessed to have you in my life. Thank you for everything.

  5. My dear courageous, beautiful Cindy, Thank you so much for dropping this truth bomb on an issue that so many of us are clueless about. Your list of wisdom needs to be printed, laminated and distributed EVERYWHERE. I am sending you hugs and so much love. Keep speaking your truth, grieving in your own way and pace and being the awesome mama and human you are.

    1. Sweet and beautiful, Rachel. What would I do without you? You are one of my "rocks". You hold me accountable and love me for who I am. Thank you for always listening. I know the conversation is not always easy to hear, but I feel heard when I am with you. Much love, my dear friend.

  6. Thank you for your open-ness. I can't imagine your pain & heartbreak. This can't have been easy to write, yet sharing your grief so that others may learn from it is so YOU. You are always thinking of others, even when you yourself are hurting. Your words will help friends & family who have lost someone know what to do, but more importantly, what not to, do to comfort their own loved one. I wish I could give you a tight hug that wouldn't break until you pulled away from it first. ❤️

    1. Beautiful, "Kindness Junkie". What would I do without your wit and humor? You are an amazing friend and another one of my "rocks" to keep me sane. Thank you for always being there for me. Much love, my dear friend.

  7. I am so deeply sorry that you lost your son to suicide. I lost my husband of 37 years to suicide 6 years ago as did a former classmate who has now become one of my closest friends. We both have said the only thing worse would be to lose a child and so you have had to endure both... having a child die by suicide. Devastatingly heartbreaking. I feel gutted, I can't begin to imagine what you are feeling. Our grief experiences and journeys in life are all different with a few commonalities. I could never speak to the loss of your son as it is unimaginable to me and I have not experienced that and hope never to. You are wise to seek out your friends who have been through that experience. But I can speak to losing a loved one to suicide... the emotions are huge and come in waves... from horror to anger to guilt to devastating sadness to just plain feeling sorry for yourself. And that's okay. The waves continue to come although they do seem to get a bit smaller over time. For me riding the wave and accepting whatever the emotion is and expressing it to myself or to someone else who is also surviving a loss to suicide helps. You don't feel quite so alone. I do find that a lot of my husband's family members aren't able to include me in their lives anymore... and maybe I don't want to be included anyway as there are life-long toxic patterns in place. But there's another loss. And so I forgive them for my own peace of mind. I find my friends and some of my family members have a difficult time seeing me in so much pain and so don't always know what to say or how to listen or they don't understand something they have never experienced and hope never to experience. I bet I've done that before... I've learned to forgive them and forgive those who can no longer spend time with me and I cherish those who do want to see me through this even though they don't know exactly how. They (and my dogs) are helping me to find bits of joy again.They have learned that it's okay if I cry and they don't have to fix it... just be there... just listen. It helped me to join a survivors of suicide group so that I could express all of those emotions to others who have experienced similar things due to losing a loved one to suicide. I have learned to be a better listener and more compassionate person although I am still a work in progress. I am braver now. It has helped me to see that I will have some lasting effects to navigate... like the wall I've built around my heart, like worrying excessively about other people's mental health, like crying whenever and wherever I'm triggered and not being embarrassed by that, like reliving the horror of finding my husband or reliving those terrifying last months of his life, like having to withdraw at times, and so on. The pain never goes away, but little by little becomes a bit more manageable. You will find a path that is right for you to help you navigate through this huge and painful loss. I think you've already started to take some of those baby steps forward and probably a few backward as well which is all normal. Thank you for being brave in expressing all that you have been through. You have opened up an important conversation about suicide. My heart goes out to you and I wish I could hug you... (I am Katt's sister.)

  8. Thank you for sharing this with us. Maybe your writing will help you connect with support in a way that works better than "in person." Sending lots of love your way.

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