I have a very compassionate friend who lost a daughter at a young age. He has a family at his church that is struggling with the death of their daughter who was a young adult. He wants so badly to help them with their grief and he reached out to me to see if things are somehow different when you lose an older child. He is trying so hard to put himself in their shoes so he can try to help them through this. I was so touched by his thoughtfulness, and I thought long and hard about how to answer him. Below is my response:
“I can’t really say if it is different to lose a child at a younger or older age… my educated guess is that it doesn’t matter to the person grieving. It makes me very sad when I think of David’s dreams and what he wanted to accomplish. He had so much to offer the world and brought such joy to others. Sometimes I think it is particularly hard to have lost him on the cusp of adulthood, but I have family who have lost babies and adult children, and I think it is just plain horrible no matter what.
I don’t feel particularly qualified to offer advice, but since you asked, I’ll tell you what I’ve done to try to cope with every parent’s worst nightmare.
1. I gave myself permission to be mad at God sometimes. I know He is wiser than me, and that He will see me through every situation. But I’m still His kid, and kids can be mad at their parents sometimes. It’s ok. But I still have to maintain a relationship with him no matter what.
2. I gave myself permission to be snarky sometimes. I try to keep it “private”, but I vent to 2-3 moms that who’s children have died or who were particularly close to David. They don’t hold it against me when I say stuff that I only mean for the moment.
3. I don’t even try to ask “why”. It’s futile. There is no answer that could ever be good enough, and it would just drive me crazy if I tried to figure it out. There is no reason. Sometimes life just sucks. But David never let the sucky things get him down, so I’m doing my best to live by his example.
4. I give myself permission to grieve – but I set time limits. Sometimes it’s an hour, sometimes it’s a day. Whatever the time period, it’s ok to cry, be mad, be sad… just let those feelings take over. And then put them aside. If I take a day to be sad, the next day I must go out into the real world and act like a normal person. I know that I’m a person missing a chunk of myself, but the world doesn’t need to know that. “Fake it ’til you make it” is a popular expression for a reason.
5. I try to do something daily that makes a difference to other people. I do advocacy work. I mail birthday cards to friends who would never expect to get one from me. I send care packages to David’s friends who are freshmen in college this year. Those little things help me feel a little better about the world.
I have a friend who participates in a “Grieving Mothers” group on Facebook. I’m part of the group, but I don’t feel it really helps me much. It’s like watching a sad movie. Life is sad enough. I don’t need to look for ways to be more sad. I actively seek out ways to be happier. I know David would have wanted that, and I really feel bad about myself when I don’t try to honor his memory. Most days, just thinking about the gift of life I have been given is enough to make me at least somewhat productive.
It’s hard to figure out what to do to make things seem “normal” again when the fact is, it will never be normal again. But no one’s world should revolve around a single person. And there is almost always someone else who really needs you to get through the grief. ”
I know there are a few people who read the blog that have lost loved ones. If you have any coping techniques to share, I’m sure it would be helpful to everyone.