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How Grief is Like a Desert
*Trigger Warning: Please be aware this post contains content that may be considered an emotional trigger for some people who have lost loved ones. Please don’t read if you are at risk.
Grief Isn’t A Season
I once said that grief was a season. I suppose that was foolishness and ignorance before I had to say goodbye to a part of myself. Don’t misunderstand me: the deaths and losses of a best friend, my grandparents, my in-laws and even my dog were all excruciating occurrences in life. But, all of that paled in comparison to what losing a child did to me.
You gain knowledge that you wish you didn’t have when your grief is so painful that it dries up; when you learn that grief isn’t like a season and you realize how grief is like a desert.
I know there are people who think I’m so strong and that the way I’ve dealt with losing my child is so inspiring. Others may view it as me grieving so lightly that I must not have loved my son enough. And all of those opinions are just fine. I don’t mind whatever anyone thinks about me or the way I grieve. However, none of that is fair if you haven’t ever lost a child.
Alternately, the majority of society says I should have healed by now. My child has been gone for a year and a half. The popular public consensus is that after a certain amount of unspoken time has passed, people shouldn’t talk about their grief when they aren’t asked because that’s just asking for attention or playing the victim. No one likes someone who is negative all the time or who wallows in their misery.
Not being able to talk about my son without crying would have some other people saying how I need therapy and medication. Yes, they are right. I need both.
I suppose most people think I shouldn’t talk about my son at all, really, because it makes others uncomfortable when they don’t know how to reply. So basically, there is no right way to grieve in the eyes of others, which is also completely unfair. But, the opinions are not the reason that I try to hide my pain from others.
What Is Grief Like?
Since losing my teenager I have learned that the comparisons of grief being like waves in the ocean, coming and going, being rough and then calm, is far more correct an analogy than that grief is like a season. There certainly are calm times and tough times that flow in and out like the tides: I don’t dispute that. However, I have also come to realize that grief, for me, grief is far more like a desert than like an ocean.
The dry desert sand isn’t able to soak up water quickly, so heavy rains can produce flood conditions very quickly and without warning. Dry channels, ditches and lake beds will fill quickly and the water can be strong and violent — sometimes creating a wall of water 10 to 30 feet high.
During the grieving process, when the initial shock and the ocean of tears dried up and life had to resume, the surface of my heart was left stripped. It’s lonely, cracked open and desolate. And just like the desert sands, when the first sign of rainstorms (or in this case tears) appear, it can trigger an outright flood of emotion where the water is too murky to see. It’s strong and violent.
The times that come late at night when I’m tucked into my bed trying to sleep; when a Facebook memory notification of my son arrives; if I’m caught off guard by a randomly discovered lost sock of his; when his scent suddenly and mysteriously wafts around me from out of nowhere; if I dream of his beautiful smiling face and wake up to realize that he’s really still gone; when I drive by the last place I stood by him and gazed into his sparkling brown eyes; when I have to turn my head as I pass the cemetery where his coffin rests or as I pass the road where he died …. These are the times that I can’t control my grief and it scares me.
Avoiding the Memories
I hide my grief because I have to. My grief stays privately tucked inside one of those desert cracks upon my heart most of the time because, along with the first tears that creep down my cheek with thoughts of Cole, also comes the flood of flashbacks.
Suddenly, in my mind, I’m not in my chair, or at my child’s ballgame or in a store shopping. Instead, all of my heart’s wounds are ripped open again. Then, in an instant inside my mind, I’m a mile away from my house laying on the side of a mountain highway and rolling around with my face in the gravel while I scream his name.
I hear myself from afar, I see his empty car sitting there in the glow of the police lights flashing and I feel the rain on my hair.
Quickly then, I’m somewhere else. I can smell ‘hospital’ and see my own feet walking down a winding corridor. Then I’m standing in a cold room. My beautiful son lay there, motionless, upon a silver table.
The room starts to spin, I get nauseous, my chest feels heavy, my throat feels tight, my eyes burn, I get short of breath and my heart is being crushed. I feel like now, I might die, too.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
I’ve been told that what I’ve described that I experience is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And in addition to all those images and experiences that happen over and over again in my mind, I also have a hard time dealing with any other stress.
I startle easily. My anxiety soars when anything goes wrong. I obsess over the conversations I had with him.
I blame myself. I can’t focus.
I can’t look at his pictures without feeling like I might pass out.
The entire world is dark and hateful. I feel like I have to squint to see daylight but the sun burns my spirit.
Don’t Judge What You Don’t Understand
So, when you see me writing here about something besides my son and my grief, or if you see me out smiling, laughing and going on with my life now; if you wonder why I don’t share things about him on Facebook every day anymore or wonder how I can be so helpful to others like me – you should know something.
You should know that my grief has dried up like a desert.
Even though I might sound strong or look okay, I’m constantly fighting to hold back any indication of pain because of the flood of tears and unbridled display of pain that follows so quickly when my mind lingers too long on my loss.
You shouldn’t dare judge what you haven’t experienced and things you can’t possibly understand. If someone is going through something that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, then you certainly have no place thinking you know how they ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ cope.
Grief Doesn’t End
So, no. I haven’t really healed. God sends me more moments of peace knowing that my son’s soul still exists and always will but, no, I have not gotten over his death. I also haven’t forgotten him. The pain of going through life each day without him hasn’t let up. Sometimes I think it only gets worse.
So, “No. I’m not okay”.
This is just what it’s like when your grief has simply dried up and your heart has become a desert.