I have received quite a few emails from parents who have just lost their children and every single one of them agonizes about how they will cope with their loss. I replied to them all, but unfortunately, I do not have a push button answer. It pains me to think of a parent in this unenviable position and all I could do was tell them how we’d handled our loss.
Most bereaved parents experience guilt for having outlived their child as it is not in the natural order of things. One mother told me that when she heard the news, she was so stunned that she thought her heart would stop beating. She couldn’t breathe. She wrote about the hurt of losing her child which knows no age barrier and the number of years lived didn’t make her child’s death any easier. She wrote about her devastation. “I found that there was no one for me to talk to. My friends didn’t know what to say and my family didn’t want to upset me. I was expected to deal with an unimaginable catastrophe. How does one deal with all that pain? I could not make sense of it. As a counselor, I had studied the grieving process and helped others through it but what I did not know then, was that one day I would have to deal with the same kind of loss. A lot of time has passed and I know know that eventually, the grieving process will lead to healing, but I have to reach that stage. The process requires self-examination. Today, the sky seems more precious than ever, bluer somehow. I hear birdsong more and appreciate nature in a different way. Maybe I am getting there, but I know that many ups and downs await me.”
But the above process takes a long time. In our family, when we were reeling from our son’s death, we had to pick up the pieces and begin to put our own lives together again. We kept asking one another, but how? We spoke a lot in the family circle. We assured each other that we would always be there for one another. And most important of all, we realized that we had only two choices open to us … to sink into a depression and give up on life, which was not a scenario we wanted to face, or, to slowly start the coping process. We had to try and start living without the shadow of schizophrenia hanging over us. But, we would always miss, think about and talk about our son.
I think that this was one of the hardest things we’d ever had to do. I felt as if I had one label on my back saying; She’s the one. She’s David’s mother, the lady whose son took his life and the previou label was, she’s the one whose son was in a psychiatric hospital.
I have written about the stigma accorded mental illness, then had to add that there is even more stigma accorded suicide…also, a total lack of understanding. We heard things like: it’s a cowardly thing to do, he wanted to die, time will heal, you have other children. Even though we were in mourning, we had to be the patient ones and explain a whole lot about mental illness and how difficult David’s life had been.
As a family we had promised one another that we would do all we could to get our lives back on track, more or less. And so, another coping process began, and always, I bore in mind that … it’s not what happens to you in life that counts, but how you deal with it.