By Christina Slate
When the — “That only happens to other people” — happened to me and no one handed me a “What to do when Caleb dies handbook,” all I wanted to do was go to sleep and never wake up again. Unimaginable heartache and unanswerable questions about my son’s suicide took over my life. In this article, I share how I’ve grown through grief and how I’ve been able to go on in life since that tragic Monday night.
Having never experienced anything as painful as my son’s death, I first had to learn about grief and how to manage it. It set in quickly, fierce and planted itself like a shadow around my every move. I had experienced grief many times before for many different reasons in my 40 years of life, but it did not compare at all to the grief and unbearable emotions I now knew. Life was pulling me forward and I was breathing, but I felt like a shell of a person just pushing my feet along day in and day out. Shock, confusion, sadness, anger, guilt and a host of other emotions took up camp in my mind and heart. The words “grief work” were new to me, I never knew how much work it took to move through grief towards healing. It was at this point I understood why some bereaved people run from grief… because it is hard painful work and healing doesn’t happen overnight!
About seven weeks after Caleb died, I had a conversation with another bereaved mother and was hoping she would give me some good advice and encouragement, but the opposite happened. I looked into her eyes as she was telling me that it never gets easier and that she is depressed all the time. I walked away from her knowing that I have a few things she doesn’t. Faith, hope and a fighting spirit! I had faith that God was near, hope that I would heal and a fighting spirit that wasn’t going to give up.
I wasn’t ready to move on from the really dark and heavy days of grief for nearly a year. It was then that I felt I had learned enough about what grief looks like, feels like and how to live with it. Before being forced onto this child loss journey I had the assumption that grief was linear; you start here, end there and “poof” you’re healed. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I had to choose to control my grief instead of allowing it to consume me, but without my counselors and grief resources, it would have been much, much harder. I definitely needed to be taught how to grieve and how to live with loss. I slowly began to lean into a life where grief and joy could coexist. I had to learn and experience that it’s okay to have a good day, a great day and a bad day too, and that I shouldn’t feel guilty for any of them.
There’s no way I could grow through grief until I was ready to acknowledge it, honor it and manage it. In the beginning, I didn’t want to grow. I didn’t want to heal. I didn’t want to live life without my precious son. Living with joy felt cruel to me in the early weeks and months. I needed to take time to just sit in the darkness and horribleness of what happened and just be sad. As time went on and the more I read, the more I built a support system of other bereaved parents and listened to podcasts on grief and child loss, the more I began to understand that Grief is Love. My grief is an expression of the love I have for my son, which did not and will not ever, stop just because he went to Heaven. I still have heavy grief days when I need to sit in the darkness, and horribleness and just be sad, but those days and the time spent there are getting less and less.
As I read about and began to understand Lament, I felt God come closer to my broken heart. I began to feel for myself what authors wrote about in books. As I lay on my bathroom floor anguished, sorrowful, broken and done with this life, I cried out to God to help me. I couldn’t formulate a fancy prayer. Through my tears, sobs and screams came “God, please help me.” I visioned him lying right next to me, weeping with me over the death of my son and catching my tears in the palm of his hand. I visioned Caleb with Jesus living his best adventure in Heaven, and that brought me peace knowing he is safe and okay. I visioned the Holy Spirit wrapping arms around me, holding me and when I was ready, slowly helping me to my feet again. Lament is a passionate expression of sorrow, it’s proof of my relationship with God and Lament is a prayer for God to act. I have trusted and leaned on this promise, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed; for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” He has been close to my broken heart and He has saved my crushed spirit. Does that make it easy? No! It makes this journey possible.
How have I grown through grief? I understand that grief is very personal and no two people grieve the same way. I understand what grief is and how confusing and complex it can be. I understand that finding healthy ways to express grief is very important. I started to see that when I gave grief the time and attention it deserves, it became easier to manage. I’ve also grown to be more compassionate, gentle, and patient and to not take a single minute for granted.
I will grieve Caleb and my heart will ache and long for him every day until I am reunited with him. You don’t “get over” or “move on” from child loss, it will always be a part of me, but it doesn’t define me, and Caleb wouldn’t want it to. Early on I knew that my son would be devastated if I let a choice he made destroy me, my life and our family. Acknowledging that truth is what pushed me into grief work and healing. I’ll never understand why God allowed Caleb to take his life that day, and I don’t have to. There isn’t a single answer that will bring him back or make my pain any less. In my brokenness, with faith hope and a fighting spirit, I choose to grow through grief instead of being stuck in it.
For more information about Christina, you can check out her website.