Grieving the loss of a child different for every one of us. It is a unique journey that forever changes your life. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how old your child was when it happened. The loss of one’s child is a traumatic experience and each parent will experience this loss in their own way and their own time.
It is the same in that we are experiencing a grief like no other. The loss of a child is a pain that never really goes away. Even if, like me, you find a way to regain your balance on most days, there will always be moments that knock you on your butt all over again. Moments that take the air out of your lungs and the ground from beneath your feet. There will always be moments that take you right back to that initial pain .
It is different in that no two people will move through the pain in the same way or in the same time frame. For me I went into shock at first. The pain was so massive and intense that my brain shut down. I recently asked a close friend if there was anything she could share with me about those initial days that would help me in constructing my book and other writings about our loss. Her first response was “You scared me the worst. You shut right down and it was as if someone had taken my best friend and replaced her with and emotionless replica of her former self. It was as if you shut down and went on auto pilot” I found it interesting that she used that term “auto pilot” because I feel like I lived for about 3 years in that state.
I didn’t have normal emotional reactions to anything because I couldn’t. My emotional self had shut down, hidden, gone so far into a cave that many of my friends feared I would never recover. I was in so much pain that some days it felt like that was all there was or ever would be.
Then slowly I somehow climbed out of that deep dark hole that I had fallen into. Slowly the walls came down and my emotional self came back. I cried a lot. I cried what felt like ALL the time. I cried so much sometimes it felt like I would dehydrate or run out of tears. It felt like anything and everything could set me off.
At first my husband and I had what we called “Ashley Days”, where anything and everything was just painful. It hurt just to breath or blink. These eventually turned into “Ashley moments” and we had numerous ones all day long. Suddenly one of us would just burst into tears or run out of a room for what appeared to anyone else to be for no reason. The first few weeks people expect this, but anyone who hasn’t been through the loss of a child doesn’t realize how long and deep this grief truly is. These “moments” came for months and months. Over time they came less often but still for the first few years they could still be 3 or 4 times a day.
It took a long time before I stopped trying to add a plate on the table for her and then suddenly I’d see what I’d done and burst into tears. It took a long time before I stopped separating the cookies into 3 piles or pouring 3 cups of juice. Our two boys were good at never telling me I’d done it, but when the third pile or cup goes untouched you realize and that would send me spiraling. I couldn’t go into the little girls clothing section in the department store without collapsing into tears. I couldn’t listen (and still can’t listen) to her song without becoming hysterical.
Waking up was the worst for a long time. So many nights I would dream about normal daily stuff that included Ashley, only to wake up to the reality that she really wasn’t within the reach of my arms any more. I would dream about hugging her, holding her hand, playing with her. Only to wake to the reality that she was gone. In my dreams she would crawl in bed and I would snuggle her. Then I would wake to empty arms. I hated sleeping and I hated waking. I prayed for dreamless sleep.
Some days I can talk about my loss, my pain, my journey of grief without too many tears, but then other times, like right now, all I can do is cry. It’s been 13 years and there are still mornings I wake up from a dream about her to a fresh set of pain. On the flip side there are mornings I wake up so glad I got to spend some precious time with her, even if it was just a dream.