What I Wish People Understood
What do I wish people understood about how I felt when my child died?
I wish they’d understand that:
Her death plummeted me into an abyss from which I would, eventually, emerge but not as the same person.
Every single cell in my body hurt. Literally, it hurt from the tips of my toes to the ends of my hair. Over the past 25 years, the pain has felt mercilessly physical at times. My body took the hit when I did not allow myself to really feel, either because I was too frightened or because the misguided messages of the world pressured me into not feeling grief, as if it was something to be quickly discarded or dismissed. I know, now, that is dangerous rubbish, taurean excrement put forth by a superficial culture that overvalues pleasure and feeling good and marginalizes those who suffer.
I wish they understood how her death diminished the capacity of even basic bodily functions, such as eating or drinking, my throat constantly tight and closed and filled with tears. My arms constantly ached with the phantom weight of my precious little girl. Many moments, I forgot to breathe, or I would wake up startled and gasping because of the concrete slabs on my chest. Many moments I felt my knees buckle in the presence of other little girls, especially her age, walking gleefully with her parents; parents who may or may not take a moment or two for granted but who will tuck their own little girl into her own little bed tonight.
I wish they understood the incontrovertible anguish of early grief and how, on the rare occasion when I was able to sleep, I would wake in the morning, wishing I hadn't.
Or how I would look in the mirror every morning at an unrecognizable stranger.
I wish they understood how relationships changed, even the relationship I felt to myself. And how so many others- family, friends, colleagues- wanted me to be the person I once was but that person was irretrievably lost.
I wish they knew about the secret moments of mourning, in the closet and the shower, when the sounds of my primal mourning poured out into universe uncontrollably, terrifyingly.
Or how, in a grief-crazed state, I paced the hallways late at night searching for something/someone I had lost.
I wish they understood my inability to focus, my intolerance for sound, even music, unless it brought tears and reminded me of her; the outrage at my own laughter when it came, or expressions of joy, sensitivity to lights and other benign stimuli, racing video tapes that replayed in my head as I wish-for-changed outcomes, and the self-accusations of responsibility and doubt, the many moments I was terrorized by fears of my other children, or others I love, dying, and how I tried to maintain control in a futile effort to protect.
I wish they understood how this loss is imprinted in my body and years later can return because there is something in me that reminds me of my vulnerability. This something whispers, "You are not exempt".
I wish they knew how the mere turn of a corner in the grocery store with shelves of baby food or car magazines or favorite cereals could cause someone who is grieving to abandon a cart or freeze or fantasize about time machines and do-overs.
Or how well-meaning others cause recoil with their platitudes meant to comfort but often do not, because, for most parents, there is no "better place" for a child than in a parent's arms.
I wish they understood how it felt to be treated as a leper, to see someone turn the other way when I walk in a room, or to pretend that my child did not exist and does not matter.
I wish they understood that, sometimes, even atheists may take to prayer.
The truth is that life does goes on, even when I could not accept that it would and when I wished it wouldn't. And the further truth is that I was capable of feeling content and, yes, even joyful again, when I was ready. But make no mistake: Everything, for me, was irreparably changed.
I wish others could understand that, for many, this is honest grief after traumatic loss.
Yet, it is so hard to convey the depth and breadth of this loss; to act it or sculpt it or sing it or write it or narrate it or paint it, at times, feels unsatisfactory. I find even my own words fall woefully short of telling the story of my love, my loss, and my grief.
Nevertheless, I will continue to hope that others will, at least, try to understand if for no other reason than compassion.
And, if you're living grief in full, you are a brave warrior of love and I bow to your broken heart. And hopefully, I understand just a little...
- Dr Joanne Cacciatore