e-book Hiking the Pack Line: Moving from Grief to a Joyful Life

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About Wellness These tips were originally posted on our Twitter account under the hashtag mymTips with a different topic each month. Initially, I did not want to leave the house. I did not feel safe in the outside world as I feared something else terrible would happen. I then did not feel comfortable staying at home so near the pool where Tony drowned.

hiking the pack line moving from grief to a joyful life Manual

Some parents have questions about religious beliefs. Sometimes this causes anger toward God or a higher spiritual being. This can be confusing, difficult to accept, and a source of guilt or anxiety. Yet, questions and confusion about spirituality and life in general is a common and normal response. With support and time, the resulting feelings can usually be resolved. However, if anger toward God, confusion over religious beliefs, and loss of meaning persist, parents should try to share them with a trusted person, particularly an understanding clergy or member of your religious community.

Feelings of anger can be difficult to deal with because the reasons for that anger may be hard to express and share because they are often not socially acceptable. Anger that is not expressed may lead to a general feeling of irritability that is hard to understand and very hard to shake. A father may become grouchy at work or with surviving children. A mother may find herself shouting at her husband or at a friend. As with guilt, it is important to be able to talk about anger issues with someone who cares and understands.

Parents have reported finding relief from their anger by such behavioral responses as throwing eggs at a tree or finding a private place to scream. When I returned to work, I already knew I had a much, much shorter temper than I had previously. Knowing this, I warned by co-workers and employees. I told them that I was angry and short tempered but it was not against them personally. I then asked them to help me know when I became this way. Fear or generalized anxiety could be a manifestation of grief. This sometimes stems from a deep concern that something else terrible and devastating is going to happen.

It leaves one feeling even more vulnerable. Fear can be particularly intense when a child has died suddenly, tragically, or unexpectedly as in SIDS, a vehicular accident, homicide, or suicide. Fear can lead to lingering doubts about the safety of other children, a spouse, or, in the case of a subsequent pregnancy, the next baby. If such fear persists, parent can become overprotective towards children, interfering with their children forming external relationships and their social development.

Facing feelings of fear can be helped by journaling or sharing these feelings with others. I did not journal everyday but I did journal from time to time. I found it very helpful to write down what I was feeling. This not only helped me in the moment, but also helped when I picked up the journal to write again. Often on this grief journey, we look ahead and think of what we are no longer able to do that we had previously been able to. What I would forget is how far I had actually come in my journey. When looking at past writings, it reminded me of the success and improvement made rather than just looking ahead to what I still could not achieve.

Many have reported feeling empty, dead inside, almost as if a part of them died, too. When my child died, a part of me died with him. For a long time, parents may find themselves preoccupied with thinking about their child and how they died. Some are haunted by the memory of the child at the time of death or during an acute illness.

With a sudden violent death, parents may be haunted by visions of how the death happened or the last moments their child was alive, whether the parent was present or not. I wondered feverishly if he suffered or was aware that he was drowning. I would go to sleep at night with this my last thoughts and awaken with it my first thoughts. It was exhausting. After many months, I thought of his death less and more of his life. At times, it may feel as if your child is still around. When a child was chronically ill, parents may feel a deep void when their caregiving role has stopped.

They may automatically get up at night to check on their child or to give a medication, only to be suddenly faced with the reality of the death all over again. It was very difficult for my oldest son who lived in another state. For him, he only saw Tony when he and his family would come home for a visit.

On the other hand, as a way of coping with painful memories and the pain of grief, some may try to escape triggers of memories by avoiding places that evoke particular memories or by not talking about their child. It is impossible to completely escape these triggers. Parents will often encounter reminders of their child such as a favorite song or TV program. When parents see a child the same age, there may be an intense desire to hold and touch that child and, at the same time, a desire to run away to avoid being near the child. It is important to know that all of these feelings are normal, unless exaggerated or prolonged.

Some ways of moving to this point in your grief journey is to include finding family and friends willing to share stories and memories, continuing special rituals on birthdays and anniversaries, making scrapbooks, and starting to journal. Memorials to the child, such as a tree planting or creating a scholarship fund, have helped many parents.

There will be periods of feeling blue and unhappy, preoccupation with sad thoughts, fatigue, and bouts of confusion. Most grieving people do have a period when they feel disorganized and find it difficult to concentrate on tasks or to keep up with work. If parents work outside of the home, they may find it difficult to manage the demands of their jobs. Prolonged sadness and depression may lead to subtle bodily distress and physical symptoms. It is not unusual for a grieving parent to have difficulty sleeping, to have a diminished appetite, to become easily fatigued or to develop frequent headaches.

Sexual interest may be greatly diminished or impotence may occur. Medical problems such as ulcers, allergies, or blood pressure elevations may appear. In order to cope with the difficult emotional feelings and the nagging physical symptoms, some may turn to the use of drugs or alcohol to help shut out the pain. Buried sorrow can cause problems in future years. Alcohol, an even more accessible mask, may be tried to ease the pain. Alcohol, however, can increase depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, digestive disorders, and problems with concentration. Bereaved parents who find themselves overusing or dependent on alcohol or drugs need to find help through a doctor, clinic, or self-help group.

Grieving parents coping with this deep sadness or depression should seek someone who will listen to their feelings and experiences. If you are that someone, it is important to know that it is just as helpful to listen silently than to try and offer any words of advice. Such a person is a gift. However, if depressive symptoms continue and impact work and family life, if sleep problems persist, if a parent starts to feel devalued and worthless, or if plans to carry-out suicide prevail, it is critical to seek professional counseling. However, it is not uncommon to have these feelings, which usually lessen over time.

It is important to have someone to share and discuss their grief and pain with. Since grief and depression are discomforting, both to the grievers and those around them, some may try to deny or mask their feelings. Society tends to give grieving persons the impression that strength consists of covering up painful feelings. Some parents may have a more difficult time during the grief process following the death of a child requiring professional help.

Some signs of problems resulting from inadequate processing of grief could include. If there is no one to share feelings and experiences with or you are worried about the intensity or duration of grief, it may be helpful to find and talk with a counselor, nurse, doctor, minister, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other professional. Almost every bereaved parent will experience thoughts of not wanting to wake up or to not go on with life, but these should not be persistent thoughts or accompanied with a plan of suicide.

If these escalate, professional help is critically important. Suicide is never the answer to eliminating the pain and hopelessness felt after a child dies. One major decision which all seem to struggle with when their child was young or not married is what to do with their belongings whether it be toys, clothing, furniture, car, or any other possessions. Some feel they are pressured to quickly remove these items from the home.

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Sometime later, some of these items became important memories of their child to hold onto. Months later, we gradually started to go through things. When we did, it was still tearful but it also brought much joy to see some of the items he was most proud of or to read some of the things he had written. If this happens, it may be an indication that there is a need for professional help to support facing the loss more realistically. We wanted to do something very special with it rather than just turning it into another bedroom.

We made a special room, almost a magical room, for our grandchildren when they visited. Tony was very much a dreamer and loved outer space. We also decorated with items dealing with outer space. While some parents find decisions difficult to make, it is also possible to begin making decisions impulsively and without foresight and planning. The needs of all family members and the long-term effects of all decisions should be carefully considered.

One of the biggest decisions parents of childbearing age face is often whether to have another child. There can be an intense desire to fill the emptiness created. However, no child can ever replace another child. Sometimes parents have conflicts because one parent wants another child, while the other does not.

If this occurs, the couple may need to talk over the problem with a skilled professional. Once the decision is made to have another child, the couple may experience difficulty in getting pregnant because of tensions and anxieties. It is helpful if the couple shares the story of their loss and subsequent grief with health care providers. Though difficult to imagine if your loss is recent, another big decision for parents is realizing that it is okay to be happy again and that it is okay to laugh.

It is not easy and may even evoke feelings of guilt when the first laughter sneaks back into your life. Though difficult, it is important to know that just because you laugh or you experience happiness again, it is not a betrayal to the child that died but rather a tribute to them that they lived, especially when the laughter is from a memory they created.

Grieving the death of a child is a lifelong journey.

You learn to live with the grief. I liken my grief journey to going on a hike with a backpack. Initially, when I put on the backpack loaded with water and supplies for the day, it feels so very, very heavy and I wonder how I will ever make it carrying that pack. However, after some time of walking with the backpack, it still weighs the same but I become more accustomed to carrying it. I learn how it is most comfortable to carry and adjust along the way. Carrying the loss of my son, Tony, is much the same way.

It is a heavy burden to carry the loss of a child with you for the rest of your life. It never goes away and you really cannot just set it aside. You will learn how to carry it that it is not as heavy when you first started. You will not forever continue to the daily, agonizing pain you feel in the first months and years. The time frame for grief cannot be tightly defined.

There are marked differences among individuals, even between a mother and father. There are many ups and downs. One day or week, a grieving parent may feel better and think the difficult times are behind. However, some minor experience can suddenly cause sharp, piercing pain. Over time, the good days out-number the bad ones. Parents can become involved with life activities fully and can see options and possibilities for the future. Happy and constructive memories can be remembered and discussed with painful memories less prominent. Still, these bursts of grief pain can be just as intense decades later although they do not occur as often.

Likewise, events that the child missed such as high school or college graduation and marriage can be difficult. It is extremely important for grieving parents to be patient with themselves and with their spouse when the bad days come. Gradually, over time, the grief softens, the backpack seems a little lighter, and you can enjoy life again. We are forever changed. We are not forever sad but it is impossible to be the person we were before this profound loss. On the positive side, a tragic loss such as ours over time can give rise to renewed meaning and personal growth.

Many have refocused their lives, becoming a better person, developing clearer spiritual beliefs, and finding important ways to contribute to society. The death of a child affects everyone in the family in similar but yet different ways. It is important to remember that everyone grieves but does not express their grief the same. You will likely find that your family members exhibit feelings of loss in a variety of ways.

She is in shock. She is a teenager and 3. What you have said is pretty much normal for you and your husband to be experiencing. He is very torn at this time so no pressure at all despite your misgivings. This is a very delicate time in all of your lives so tread very carefully as you would not want to destroy what good solid relationships have been built over the years. It is still too soon for her to be deciding what to do with her moms things. Just remember SD is in deep shock … just being there for her is all you can offer. I kept my promise to him and pulled him off of life support as their was no hope for him after a catastrophic event.

I cry every day over something, a memory, song…. Well I had the party and it was a wonderful turnout. He is a retired policeman and his brothers in blue showed up in force. This was not a solemn occasion this was a party! This was what he wanted. It was great to hear everyone go up and tell a story or share a memory. It made me more proud of the man I was married to and also more in love with him. It just made me miss him more. Hello Karen, Your story resonated with me so much. My husband died of oesophageal cancer on November 25, Nobody was there, not even me.

After his body had been taken from our house the next time I saw him was when his ashes were returned to me in an urn.

Instead of a funeral Steve organised a party around his birthday in January. It was a wonderful turnout, and again replicating your emotions, I was so proud of my husband. So I am sending you my love and best wishes across the miles. Take care of yourself and hopefully we will all walk in the sunshine soon. Today, April 17, marks the second year since my 21 year-old daughter was suddenly and tragically killed in a traffic accident.

She was a junior at UT Austin—so happy and lovely. I came across this blog just now. Thank you. I am aching and grieving, and expect to do so in some form for the rest of my life. Yet, there is hope and I hold on to it so close. I lost a daughter of 23 in a car hi-jacking incident 13 years ago. I have learnt to adapt to life without her, constantly wondering what she would be like after each passing year.

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It is the learning to adapt to the void. Grief stays while we learn to adapt to life without that lived one. Thanks to Bridgette for her insightful comments. I think I am going through both the mourning and grieving for my husband who passed away last January I am going through intense emotional and physical pain. Dear WYG: I love your original article and shared it with other grieving people before you added the preface. Facing up to the pain instead of playing stoic old me, has been life changing in a very positive way. I often wonder how many thousands of other people are walking around carrying their grief like an invisible secret?

Our grief denying society is doing so much harm and articles like yours are badly needed. The original version was more precious than gold. A million thanks. Everyone grieves differently but nobody is the same after losing someone so important to them. I love this!! Thank you for this article! This is one of the best things I have read about grieving. My perfect 20 yr old daughter died in a freak car accident on Labor Day , here one day, gone another.

The one thing not mentioned in this article is the difference between mourning and grieving. Mourning is the intense emotional and for me physical pain that accompanies the immediate days, weeks, month, years after the death of a loved one. Like everything in life, everyone experiences mourning differently. I went to therapy; my therapist also experienced the death of a child, her 22 yr old son in a car accident. For me, therapy was the key to the beginning of the understanding of how I was going to spend the rest of my life.

I spent one year in therapy and then I knew what I had to do. Not knowing how to articulate or understand what was happening to me. It was a Godsend. Those intense feelings are the price of love. To me, it is the reality of how I will spend the rest of my life. When the intensity goes away the grieving begins, which I will do for the rest of my life. Grieving is the longing for the person who died, that feeling you get when you open your eyes in the morning, all day and ending when you say goodnight to them. Over time at least for me the pain lessens.

Nothing was left unsaid and all feelings of love were experienced and felt daily when she was alive. That is what helps to heal; we remind ourselves daily that Madeline would NEVER want us to spend the rest of lives sad and living in the past and it keeps us going. I hope you find comfort and healing as the days pass. I wish I had some of the optimism that some of you have expressed. For me, everyday gets harder not easier. I am in so much pain and agony every moment of everyday.

My reason for getting out of bed in the morning is so I can continue to work on his estate as I had promised… I have no idea what I am supposed to do the day after it is closed out. I absolutely, agree I will never recover from losing the love of my life. Do you want to be lied to or told the truth?

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He simply did not tell you the truth. This article is spot on in my opinion. Id rather be told the truth than live in a make believe world or see life thru rose colored glasses. WE will never recover from our loses there is no way on earth our loved ones will ever come back which is the old real recovery but we will survive but in a whole other world with less of everything. Is life still worth living at this point? Early on i would have said NO, now at least the jury is still out. This is my reality. Great article! I especially like the part about focusing on warm memories.

To me, the worst part of grieving is the first two or three months after a friend has passed. All I could think about was how much I missed him. Then a friend of mine told me she discovered a website where she could create a permanent page for her friend. She felt better as she was creating the page and later when she was feeling down, viewing the page on her smartphone or tablet made her feel better.

Now we all feel like he is with us. It was a great healing tool! And we are continuously adding funny stories to his page. There is a nominal one-time fee for creating a forever page, but it has been a BIG help in keeping our focus on the warm memories. But it becomes less painful. Some people find that term helpful…. Thank you WYG my mother has just died and I am glad you are here, feels like having an understanding friend, my way is the poets way. My close cousin. My nephew. Ur family work n friends saying man up get over it already. Get outta bed!!!

I pray that the stigma associated with mental health challenges will go away sooner than later. Take care! He died young, of cancer, and the pain of those first days was horrible.. I realized one day that an hour had gone by without pain…then a few hours…then a day…then several days…and the crushing, suffocating pain over time diffused into an appreciation of our time together…always tinged with what could and should have been. Always appreciating what we had, still mourning in a way what could have been.

This is a long way of saying it gets better. It takes a while. But it does get better. And the fact that we mourn means — in my mind, anyway, that I had something special…and that over time I felt gratitude for that piece of history that I will never, and should never, erase. What a wonderful commentary Andrea! I lost my husband 3 days after Thanksgiving last year. I was very moved with what you had to say about your loss of 22 years ago. But it gives me strength in knowing that it is possible to go forward with my hubby always with me in spirit.

I feel for you Mark — I also lost my 17 year old son car accident in That was the day I became two people one before and one after. Obviously I prefer the former. One day at a time as they say. Each day is like climbing a mountain. My only suggestion is to take all good things every day that you like or used to like and get rid of negative things and people, that helps a little at least.

Thank you! You have truly expressed every thought I am feeling. It is difficult to put into words. I hope that people read and internalise your words. I too, have lost my 17 year old son.


No words can express my feelings! Thank you, Joe! I am going on 8 months since my wifes shocking and sudden passing from lung to brain cancer. I kiss our companion urn next to my bed good night and good morning. We had just retired after 37 years marriage and 43 years of solid love for each other. We worked hard through most of our life-never really fortunate and struggling financially but we took care of our 4 children and always had a roof over our head-mostly rented. Finally it was our time- we had grand children and we were able to buy our dream retirement home only due to my Moms passing 2 years prior to my wifes and our inheritance.

But we had just entered a wonderful phase of life retirement me at 64 and my wife on back disability. Now all my wonderful plans for trips- anniversary parties-vacations etc… GONE. The beautiful home? There is now no need to furnish complete and in style as we had planned. Its not a home any longer-shes gone- its just a house.

I now desperately scramble to find a job just to get away from here for 40 hours a week and remember I retired not do do so and now right back into the rat race I go. What else is there to do? I cannot sit and look at the walls and stare out at our beautiful backyard and inground pool.

That was all for her! ALL for her and I was so proud to have brought it to her. Now without her why do I need all this? It was once a perfect fit for the 2 of us- Now alone its way too much. I read about those who pass only months after they lose their spouse and how lucky are they? Now I kiss a box of ashes as I enter darkness of my room at night. Yeah welcome to my Golden years- the ones I worked my ass off for 40 years to get to with my wife. It was for us to now sit back and celebrate all we did and look forward to all we can do. It was always to be with and for her.

Now we were both robbed and grief and I will be partners in life until I am finally rid of it on my own last breath. I am a changed forever person-one once with so much life and happiness- a good guy to be around of I say so myself. Yeah because of my wife! It was her that made me smile-laugh and be happy go lucky. It was her that made me feel so good that I bought a tuxedo for 4 weddings.