Monday, April 13, 2009

10 Months - Long Term Care

Periodically, I think it is good to give a real dose of what it is like in the grieving process from where I stand. I also think it is especially important to give tips to all of you on how to treat people who have suffered a loss like mine. I like to call these Long Term Care tips. 

Just as with any major surgery, there are different stages of recovery with their own challenges. Depending on how major the surgery, the recovery period varies. It will also vary by the individual, based on a variety of factors ranging from how healthy they were before the injury to the dumb luck of which patient gets an unrelated infection or has complications arise. 

The same is true for any great loss. The loss of a child, especially a young child, has particular challenges that span far deeper into the psychological realm than other types of more common loss. It feels like the physical equivalent of losing a limb. Okay so I haven't lost a limb, but losing a child has so many commonalities that I feel as if I have. 

Like losing a limb, after the loss of a child, you are never the same. A child is flesh of your flesh. A young child depends on your for life. As children grow they become more separate physically, psychologically, and emotionally. But that is a gradual process. Young children still feel very much like a part of you in every sense. To have one die feels like a part of you dies. There just is no such thing as being the same after such a loss.

Like an amputee, your wound does heal to a certain extent. It becomes non life threatening. You learn over time to live with your handicap. But the physical healing does not happen as quickly to the psyche. Like an amputee, there are phantom pains that last (as far as I can tell) your whole life through. Perhaps they lessen in frequency, but from what I gather from those I know personally who have lived decades without their child and seem to all the world to have "moved on," those feelings of pain and loss can come back with freshness at a moments notice.

And from my own experience so far I can say that sometimes you NEED them to. Sometimes you need to mourn and feel and know that your child was real. Their reality comes to you in the pain you feel in separation. There is nothing wrong with feeling this pain as the years go by. It is a healthy part of mourning, grieving, and living without someone you love.

Now to the psychological aspect of these wounds. For me personally, this is the hardest part of this loss. I consider myself a strong minded person. But this loss is so much bigger than me. It is like a strong swimmer facing the power of the ocean. In calm waters I am fine to float on my back, but when the winds blow ... I often find myself at the mercy of the sea and its overpowering waves.

Let me highlight a few of the my own waves. First is the wave of anxiety. I am an optimist by nature. But this loss has robbed me of the "things like that happen to other people" mentality. I used to be calm in the face of possible harm. I no longer have that luxury. Now that I live with this pain, I have greater anxiety when reinjury seems even remotely possible. I fight against this. I hate that I feel this. But I do. 

When we were in Cancun we lost track of Sabrina on the beach for a few minutes. I thought she had headed up to the bathroom and after Jon came back not having found her, I panicked. I would not have done this before. But now... well it was as if I was back in that day all over again. All the while Sabrina was just 20 or 30 feet away playing in the sand. That scare kept me up all night. I couldn't calm my nerves. The panic ... a feeling not natural to me ... just wouldn't leave me.

I fight against the heightened anxiety I feel about my children's safety everyday. This is especially true anytime we are around water. I feel my heart race when I see a pool without a gate now. If my spa gate is left unlocked on accident it sets my heart in a panic. If my kids leave a bathtub full after they get out my stress level skyrockets. 

Logically, I know that there is no absolute prevention of accidents. I know this in my head. But this anxiety is beyond my control. I fight it and try not to let it show, but I feel it and I do all I can to avoid being in situations that give life to it.

A second wave is the intrinsic feeling of failure. No matter how well my children are doing, no matter how many times logic tells me I am doing fine as a mother, there is an innate feeling of failure as a mother when you have failed to keep your child alive. This is true in accident cases, even accidents that everyone would agree were unavoidable. It is also true in many cases of natural death as well. A mother's instinct to protect her child can not be underestimated. 

A third wave is the misconception that spiritual truths take away the pain of this loss. Spiritual teachings and faith do give us hope. But, they do not lessen the pain. In the blessing Elder Clayton gave me just after Camille died, he blessed me that I would be able to experience my grief normally and fully. He blessed me with grief sufficient to allow me to heal normally over time, but not above my ability to endure. 

The gospel does not take grief away from us. Rather, it gives us hope through the grief and it teaches us to look to the Savior to help us walk on the water when the tempest is raging. My husband was counseled to be patient with me in my grief. It is different for him than it is for me. Everyone finds their own path through grief. We all enter from different places and have different obstacles along our way. 

Because of this, we simply cannot judge another's grief process. We can only love them, pray for them, listen to them with as much understanding as we can, and know that they are ultimately in the Saviors hands.

So now let me turn to the DOs and DO NOTs of how to treat people at 10 months out.

Do expect that we are still grieving. Maybe not as often as before, but don't be surprised if we break down in tears once in a while. Know that this is normal and natural and don't be so worried that this needs to stop. We ought not to rush past our grief. Certainly the Savior did not.

Do be patient, open, loving and supportive when we feel like opening up. If you haven't been through this, you cannot understand. We know that. It is easier to talk openly to someone who freely admits they are not going to understand but will be supportive no matter what than someone who wants so much to understand that they try to put themselves in your shoes and judge the way you are grieving.

Do be gentle with us. I have particularly appreciated how gentle my bishop has been with me. He has not felt this himself but is mindful that this is a long journey through healing. He lets me know that I am welcome to come to him when the grief gets hard. He knows it comes in waves over a long period of time. He is mindful and watchful of me at times he thinks things might be difficult for me. I very much appreciate this.

My family is gentle with me as well. This is a great blessing to me. We all process this loss differently. For some it is easier not to revisit the past or to think much about Camille. This is simply not an option for me. I allow those in my family who would rather avoid that right and am not offended by it. We all get through it any way we can. They in turn do not judge me in my grieving process. They don't put a timeline on when I should be "better."

There are times that I get feeling really heavy with the grief and feeling very alone in my suffering. Last month I had been feeling this way for weeks. I felt unable to express it and did not want to have to explain it. One night I stayed up till 4 something in the morning spilling out my feelings to a sister in law who is acquainted with grief. She lost her mother very suddenly when she was in her early twenties and still single. It isn't the same as losing a child and she knows that, but this sister in law understands what it is to grieve. 

I hadn't planned on this impromptu therapy session but her open, non judgemental, accepting attitude made me feel safe revealing dark emotions I had a hard time admitting even to myself. The best part was I felt so much better after having talked to her. Sure I couldn't function very well the next day due to the lack of sleep, but many of the dark emotions that had been weighing on me so heavily felt lifted just in my expressing of them. 

Perhaps these dark emotions will return again. I am learning that often issues you think you are done with do find a way of returning through one trigger or another. I am glad to know that I have safe places to turn to express these dark emotions without fear of judgement or worry that I am not getting "better." 

Another DO -- Do anything you can to help ease the psychological stumbling blocks that trouble us. Family especially should affirm over and over that we are doing okay as moms. I do this with my own kids affirming over and over that they were good sisters to Camille and that she appreciates them and loves them. We need to hear this. 

Do try to help them avoid situations where anxiety is bound to be high. We had only had our spa for 5 days when Camille drowned. I wouldn't let anyone near it and asked my father to handle the matter of getting a gate put around it. I know a gate is not a cure all answer. But that gate provides me with a great source of peace of mind. 

Be patient with our paranoia. I hate paranoia. I hate it in others and I hate it especially in myself. But here I am stuck with it and it isn't going away so I am having to learn to be patient with it and accept that it is just a part of me for now. We may forgo certain activities or events because of our paranoia. Don't take it personally. Just realize some events are not worth the anxiety or return of grief they will cause us.

Do not worry about us. I know this is hard for those who love us most. Mom's want to "fix" their kids hurts. But some hurts are unfixable. Limbs lost will not be restored until the resurrection. We will miss and mourn the loss of our limb till then. But we mourn with hope and we are learning to function fairly well despite the loss. Your worry is an added burden, your confidence in us lightens our load. 

The Savior has confidence in us. He walks beside us with perfect understanding. Even through the darkest hours He is with us. Even for those of us who are angry at Him, He stands patiently beside us waiting to help us. Oh that we all could be like Him, the grievers and those who love us and are trying to support us.