Does It Ever Get Better?
by: Denise Hankins and Ken Druck, Ph.D.
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“Please tell me it’s not going to always hurt this much,” a bereaved Mom pleaded at her first support group. A silence fell over the group until another parent responded, “I still have my bad days, but they’re not as bad as before. It always hurts but not like it did in the beginning.”
The reality of our child’s death takes hold inside our minds and hearts—and the pain is excruciating. Only those who have experienced it can understand the worst loss. The pain is unlike anything we could have imagined or prepared for. It persists to the point that we can’t ever imagine feeling better.
Trying desperately to survive, we quietly fear we will not be able to hold up, or that we will give up. Our will to live has been diminished. Life has lost its luster. We being to ask ourselves, is there any hope for relief, no less for peace or joy in the future? Is there any reason to go on? We just want to know, “Does it ever get better?”
When parents ask that question, a Families Helping Families bereavement facilitator will often re- spond, “it doesn’t get better, it gets different.” But what exactly do we mean by that? Consider the following:
• Surviving the death of a child involves setting realistic expectations about grief. The pain is going to be there. How could it not be? We love and miss our kids deeply. We learn to cope by mastering the emotional pain management in the ways that are best suited to us as individuals.
• It is not necessary for things ‘to get better’ for them to get better. Forget about better! Things get different. For life to go on, for slow healing to take place, for faith to be restored, for some measure of peace, for you to open your heart and see beauty again, it is only necessary for things to be “different.”
• We need to help ourselves to relieve some of the pain. Learning and practicing self- compassion and self-care is part of the work of grief. Judging, blaming, criticizing and tortur-ing ourselves with guilt are dead-end streets with absolutely no positive outcome. The presence of emotional pain is not a sign of failure, a character flaw or the result of improper grieving. Pain is a sign of love. You love and miss the person you lost dearly, and you hate the fact that they are gone.
• We are forever broken and perhaps more whole than ever. Now that our lives, hearts and homes have been shattered, and our children lost, we feel worthless. While it may be true that we are lost and broken hearted, paradoxically we are more full hearted, compassionate and whole than ever before. We now understand that society’s picture of the perfect life is a fairy tale and we can choose instead to live with a keen sense of what is really sacred.
• The pain gets less emotionally and physically debilitating. The pain becomes a familiar companion. In the beginning, it’s a terrifying intruder. We simply try to survive. Over time, we come to expect it, just like day follows night. We learn that there will be setbacks. Like football, we get tackled, pushed back and thrown for a loss. Some days, we can barely make it back to the line of scrimmage. But slowly our pain becomes less debilitating. Even though we’re hurting terribly, we learn how to deal with it and move through the day.
• Grief shifts from something we’re going through to something we learn to live with. The death of our child, while still incomprehensible, is part of us now. We learn to live with our hearts broken, to see through our tears and feel a wave of sorrow with each joy. The reality of our loss is forever woven into the torn fabric of our lives. Yet, our sorrow ripens into love, compassion and a deeper appreciation for all that is irreplaceable and precious. There is room in our hearts not only for pain and suffering, but for joy and peace, as we discover the connection between these feelings.
• We do begin to live again. Looking into the rearview mirror at how we were, we see how far we’ve come. One mom describes it as, “the fog that has lifted.” She explained, “I don’t feel as hollow or empty inside. Pain isn’t triggered by everything. I can concentrate, work longer hours, go out and even laugh with my friends.”
One of life’s great miracles is that somehow, in some way, we survive the death of our children, however unbelievable it can seem. That is not to say that we don’t die. We do—part of us passes on. But the rest of us sprouts leaves, branches, buds—and blossoms again in the spring. Our new life begins. Perhaps it is the enduring light of our children, now angels, that illuminates and warms our path.
Whatever it is that allows you to go on, please stay open to the idea that your life is still unfolding before you. Your journey is not yet complete. There is more life to be lived; more love to share. Remember, it’s never better—just different.
A program of the Jenna Druck Center
2820 Roosevelt Road Suite 200 San Diego, CA 92106 • 619.294.8000 • www.jennadruckcenter.org
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