A few people said this to me when my son died, and they probably had no idea how good it was for me. It was an honest statement. It was meaningful because those people did not ignore all reference to my child. They opened the conversation for me to talk about him at my own pace which, helped a great deal. Nothing that anybody said could cure my pain, but there were things that eased the terrible heartache.
Being in the company of others who have experienced the same pain and loss really made a difference. We stayed home for the seven days of shiva, the Jewish custom of dealing with grief straight after a funeral. But when those seven days came to an end, I had to reacquaint myself with the world of the living, with normal life – whatever that was, and it was a frightening prospect. I had to figure out how to live with this huge hole in my heart. I wasn't ready. I still had more grief to process. I was a bit afraid to attempt normal living in my seriously damaged condition. I needed more time, so I spring-cleaned, moved heavy furniture and waged chemical warfare against any living creature that dared enter our home. In short, I scrubbed my life down to its bones. I needed the physical workout, but it wasn't sufficient; so I went out into our garden and dug and weeded till exhaustion left me unable to think straight.
When I collected the mail, I found flyers advertising tombstones. "Single or double? Stone or marble? Choose a price range and we will provide whatever you choose." I ripped them up. We would deal with that in our own time.
Ever so slowly, I returned to my food shopping routine and agreed to visit the odd friend, who inevitably asked someone else to join us. What I needed to hear there was, “Meet my friend Jill who lost her son recently,” which would have freed me from replying to the dreaded question, “How many children do you have?” I cannot stress how this preoccupied me. My palms sweated while I waited for newly introduced people to ask that very question. My heart raced when I sensed it was near – on the agenda. What do I say? “I have lost two sons: one an infant, as well as an adult son, but I have two daughters?”
I had to make a conscious decision not to give up on life. I wept, but seldom in public. My pain was so very personal. I had to be careful not to become bitter. I had to find a safe place to express my rage, fear, pain, hurt and confusion. I knew that the death of a child destroys many a family and I was determined that mine would stay together and weather the storm.
Often the fate of a family hangs by a thread. Only love and understanding worked for us. The friends who kept in touch on a regular basis gave me a feeling of normalcy. There is no prescription for this, but those who gave us continued support, helped the most.