By Larry Dawalt, M.Div.
The first lesson is go slowly and learn to hurt in increments.
How does one deal with the death of an adult child; or any child? For two precious people I have worked with over the past year, the loss of a child is a reality that they deal with every moment of every day. One lost an adult child and the other an adolescent. They aren’t related. They don’t even know each other. But in their own way they have each confirmed some lessons about what they are experiencing and what they need in the way of help and hope.
The first lesson is go slowly and learn to hurt in increments. There is no way to fully comprehend the loss in its totality all at once, so there’s no way to grieve it all at once. Take little bites and don’t be afraid to not ‘go there’ when you aren’t ready. It’s not denial. It’s just waiting; regaining strength and adding small things into your life before confronting the missing pieces.
The second lesson is to lower expectations of family support and/or support from friends. It may be good and it may not be good. People may be genuine and kind or they may sensationalize and want to hear the story over and over. It doesn’t take long to find out who is supporting you and who is insensitive, whether they intend to be or not. You will find people you had no idea could be so supportive and they make up for those who disappoint for whatever reason.
The third lesson is to let the child keep living even though they are not physically present. What would they do, what would they say, what would they think, or how would they feel are natural questions you would ask anyway; so why not keep asking them, since they are still alive in your heart? They may be gone physically, but they are still present with you in many other ways and always will be.
Lastly, find someone who will listen without judgment and let you just talk and talk and talk. Talk about what you are feeling, talk about your anger, talk till you cry- then rest a minute and talk some more. Talk about your loss, talk about your health, talk about lunch, talk about current events- talk about anything. Learning to talk about anything and everything may eventually lead you to what you really need to say. It’s like Julia Cameron’s ‘Morning Pages’ as a way to break out of writer’s block, which she described in her book The Artist’s Way. She said to take a sheet of paper and just start to move your hand. The first sentences may be something like, ‘I don’t know what to write. I don’t even want to write right now. I don’t even know why I am trying to write. But here I am writing. Did I just write five sentences?’ Talking is the same way. You may not know what you really need to be saying about your loss, where you are now, the future, or anything. But if you can just start talking with someone whose sole purpose is to listen, you may eventually say what you need to say or get something out that will help you move forward.
I want to conclude by simply thanking these two precious people for the lessons they have taught me- and now you. They didn’t want to become teachers, but their courage and wisdom is a gift. They are truly an inspiration and it is an honor to walk beside them.
Larry Dawalt is Senior Director of Spiritual & Grief Care Services for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region. He can be contacted at dawaltL@hpccr.org.