One of the Hardest Things for Me to Do is Visit My Son’s Grave.
Although it’s been over two years since my son suddenly passed away at 24 years of age, I dread going to the cemetery. I even get depressed just thinking about going. Carrying the grief of child loss, sadness and depression doesn’t end, and going to the cemetery doesn’t help my mood.
The cemetery is a stark and painful reminder that Jacob is no longer in this world. What intensifies my grief is the headstone, that upright granite monument with his name on it. Seeing my kid’s name on that stone is hard for me to bear and, when my husband and I go visit him, I try not to look at it. Instead I look down into my book of psalms and recite numerous passages. Then I look at the grass. Then I talk to Jacob for a while before heading home.
When I return home, I’m grieving for days. I feel sad and angry. I feel sad because he’s no longer with me. I feel angry over the future that might have been. My grief is more than if I had not gone to the cemetery at all.
I come back from visiting my child’s grave with a variety of feelings, none of them good.
I Feel Guilty When I Don’t Visit My Child’s Grave
So I ask myself, if going to my son’s grave makes me feel so grief stricken and lousy, why go? But if I don’t go to the cemetery, I know I’ll feel guilty for not going. It seems that child loss and guilt go together.
Why do I feel guilty for not visiting his grave? Am I afraid he’ll feel upset or slighted? Will he think we’ve forgotten about him?
I know that in reality, Jacob doesn’t care if I go to the cemetery or not. He knows I talk to him when I’m home. I mention his name when doing any mitzvah, good deed or charitable act, and we sponsor projects in his memory. Every Friday night and Saturday morning we place his kiddush cup on the table for Shabbat. I think about him constantly. He knows we haven’t forgotten about him.
As far as honoring his memory, there’s nothing for me to feel guilty about.
Where Can I Connect With My Departed Child?
Am I missing out on some soul connection with my son that I can only get at the cemetery?
Jewish tradition does talk about being closer to the departed at their gravesite. People ask me if I feel Jacob’s presence at there. I tell them maybe a little. His grave should be the place where his soul is most revealed, given that it’s the last place he went. However, I actually feel his presence more in our home where he lived his last days.
Going to the cemetery doesn’t really make me feel closer to him. So, no, I’m not missing out on a soul connection at the gravesite.
A Practical Reason To Visit My Child’s Grave
I wondered if other bereaved parents hesitate to visit the grave of their child for fear of being overwhelmed with grief. I asked people in my grief support group if they find it difficult to go to the cemetery. I got a variety of answers. The one answer that resonated with me the most was from a mom who lost her son two years ago. She said, although it’s emotionally hard, she goes to her son’s grave is to make sure that it’s maintained and so people will see that it’s visited.
So, yes, I want to make sure Jacob’s grave is maintained and that his grave looks visited with rocks emplaced atop the headstone. I want people visiting the cemetery to know he’s not forgotten.
Visiting A Child’s Grave While Minimizing Grief
So here’s my plan to visit my child’s grave while minimizing the tremendous grief that results from doing such a painful activity. For parents who are fearful that visiting the child’s grave will only make their grief worse, I recommend the following:
Making a plan on how to handle graveside visits can help lessen the grief that comes with visiting a child at the cemetery.
First, visit the gravesite less often. I know a parent who was visiting the child’s grave weekly. This is way too much for anyone’s emotional health. My husband and I were going once a month, and even this I feel is too often. Visiting my child’s grave on a yahrzeit and once every few months is sufficient. If a parent can only go once a year, that’s ok too.
Second, spend less time at the gravesite. The prospect of an emotionally difficult time of intense grief is lessened knowing that a small, fixed amount of time will be spent at the grave. Ten to twenty minutes should be enough time to feel comfortable that the visit was made.
Third, go somewhere after visiting the grave. Maybe go to a restaurant or take a walk in the park. Counter immediate feelings of grief by treating yourself to something pleasant.
Fourth, don’t feel guilty for the infrequent and short visits. Our departed children are ‘healthy’ in Heaven. It’s our emotional health we need to take care of now.
That’s my advice to lessen the grief we bereaved parents feel visiting the graves of our children. Now, I only hope to take my own advice.