Living In An Intense Stage Of Grief
It’s been a bit more than two years since my son passed away at age 24. During that time I’ve gone through the gamut of grief – intense sadness, sadness, anger, depression, and overall agitation. Whereas the intense sadness, anger, and depression have subsided, at times I still find myself agitated and miserable. These moments are usually the result of a physical or emotional trigger like being unwell or stressed out. Sometimes, it doesn’t take any particular trigger. I just start thinking about Jacob. It’s at those times that I wish my son were here to talk to me, give me his usual good advice, or just cheer me up. It’s at those times that my mind travels back to the past, reliving the morning he passed away. Then, the tears start to flow again, as King David said: ‘…place my tears in your flask, are they not in your record? (Psalm 56:9) In those moments, I return to the intense stage of grief all over again.
I’ve met parents who continually suffer from the intense grief stage of child loss. Years after their child passed away, they relive the first moments of their loss over and over. These parents haven’t really accepted comfort from anyone or anything over their loss. And at those times when I relive the nightmare of my son’s passing, I’ve not accepted comfort either.
What Does Accepting Comfort Mean?
Accepting comfort means to focus on the present state of our loved one as they are now. When I accept comfort, I change the way I think. It means to live in the present, not the past.
Rethinking Child Loss
Rabbi Asher Resnick in his post Understanding and Accepting Nechama discusses the meaning of nechama, or comfort. Citing various passages from Tanach and quotes from our Sages, he describes accepting comfort as the act of rethinking a previous thought. Nechama means to alter a decision, ie, to change one’s mind.
Rabbi Resnick says that when I accept comfort for my loss, I’m changing how I view my loss and I proceed to a new way of thinking which evolves into a new way of feeling.
Right now, I keep thinking about the past. My mind keeps going back to the morning he passed away, flashbacks of his lifeless body, the emergency people, the hospital, the cemetery, etc. But I know Jacob is happy in the next world. I’ve even had dreams of him where I see him smiling. I’m a firm believer in the importance of dreams Do Dreams About My Child Have Any Meaning?
If I truly want to change the way I think about my loss, I need to live in the present. It’s sad living in the present without Jacob, but I need to be happy for him as he is now.
Child Loss Is Not Really Loss
I can rethink how I view child loss in the following way. The phrase ‘child loss’ is really a misnomer. If I lose a physical object I’m agitated, maybe even angry, because I don’t know where it is. My son isn’t lost because I know where he is. He’s living a happy life in the next world. But I can only relate to the physical and I’m scared of what I can’t relate to. It’s hard for me to envision what his life is like, but I know that he’s only separated from me, not lost.
What good does it do me, or him, to be holding in an intense stage of grief? Am I sad for him or am I sad for me? It’s like he’s at this wonderful party, having such a great time. Then I show up and tell him how miserable I am. What a downer for him. I’ve just thrown cold water over his happiness. I’m tired of doing that.
To change how I think about my departed son is crucial to living a life of positivity. I need to look forward, not backward.
The Caveat Of Accepting Comfort Is Time
There’s an important condition to be met before a parent can accept comfort over the loss of a child. That condition is called ‘time’. A person must be capable and willing to accept comfort in order to receive it and act on it. During the first year of mourning, when the loss is still so fresh, accepting comfort may not be possible. The time it takes for a person to rethink their loss and accept comfort will vary. For me, only now do I feel somewhat ready to accept comfort, and I’m taking it little by little. And it’s been two years.
Accepting Comfort Doesn’t Mean I’m Forgetting My Child.
I can still be sad over the fact that my child is no longer with me, can no longer perform mitzvot, and can’t have a life in this world. I recently attended the birthday party and upsherish (hair cutting ceremony) of my grandson. I was sad that Jacob wasn’t physically there to celebrate with his little nephew, but I know that he was looking down from Heaven with a big smile on his face.
I pray that parents who have suffered child loss will find a way to accept comfort and find the joy in their lives they so much deserve.