Monday, July 3, 2017

Dear Parents: Advice For Living After The Loss Of Your Child

Dear Parents,

Please allow me to express my deepest condolences to you and your family during this time. Your daughter was a beautiful child.  Every picture I ever saw of her showed a brilliant and contagious smile. I know there is nothing I can say to bring you comfort, but unfortunately, I know the pain of losing a child.  The whole idea of losing a child goes against nature.  No parent is supposed to outlive a child, and life as you know it will never be the same. Know that grief is not linear, it is a non-stop roller coaster, and there is nothing at Six Flags that can prepare you for the ride. After Peytons death, I was inundated by advice from other people, but the best advice came from people who had already been in my shoes.  I want to share with you the advice that they shared with me, as well as some ideas from others who have been there. 

First and foremost, take care of yourself.  Right now, you are in survival mode.  You can experience the gambit of emotions within hours.  You can go from sorrow to anger and back to sorrow all in one day.  Whether you want to or not, you need to eat, drink, sleep, and get some fresh air.  When Peyton was in the hospital, I dropped ten pounds because I didn't care what happened.  I bargained with God to take me and let Peyton live, but here I am.  I now know I am here for a reason, and given time, you will know your reason as well, so please eat something and drink plenty of water with it.  It may seem simple to sit on the couch and lose yourself in mindless television shows (there are more than enough), but you need to get up and take a walk outside.  I know it is summer and hotter than the hinges of Hell right now, but fresh air and exercise will help your mood.  While you are out, look for dragonflies, butterflies, and cardinals.  There are many that see these as a sign (there are more here) that our loved ones are still near us.  Most of all, breathe.  I know it may seem silly to say because this is normally an involuntary reaction, but sometimes it helps to take a deep cleansing breath.  It may also help calm you down and help get you focused. 

Let others help you.  People will offer their help, take it.  It may be running to the grocery store, doing your laundry, cooking a meal, cleaning your house, sitting in a room with you when you dont want to be alone, or watching your kids so that you can take a nap.  There is no shame in asking for help.  There are many people that want to help, but dont know how.  Ask if they would mow the lawn, take your car for an oil change, or give you a ride if you feel unable to drive.  On the flip side, it is okay to tell people no.  Your friends will extend invitations to you in hopes of cheering you up.  You are under no obligation to go.  If you are not up to it, then dont go.  True friends will understand.  The same goes for family.  Just because the family has always gathered at Uncle Joes for Thanksgiving does not obligate you to go.  The first year is perhaps the hardest, especially the holidays.  You can take a pass on them if you want to, or you can even start your own new traditions. 

Go see your doctor.  The stress you are under will tear you apart emotionally and physically.  No doubt you have lost sleep, or perhaps that is all you do.  They can advise you on everything from sleep to diet and exercise that will help.  More than likely, they will do a depression screening.  Answer openly and honestly.  There is no shame in being diagnosed with depression at this point.  With the Hell you are going through right now, no one will be surprised.  Your doctor may prescribe medication to help with your mood and sleep.  If they do, you may want to consider trying it.  They have your best interest at heart.  If you do not think that the meds are helping, then consult the doctor again about something else.  There is no one sure-fire answer.  However, if you feel that they are not helping and want to stop, consult your doctor.  Stopping some of the meds cold turkey can have adverse side effects.  Sleep is also important as well.  After Peyton passed, I didnt sleep well at all.  I had a nonstop hamster wheel going in my brain, and it never got tired. However, I knew I needed sleep, so I began to use Ambien as needed.  I dont use it all the time, but even two and a half years later, the hamster will climb back up there.  Your continued health is important, so maintain it.

Join a support group or counseling, or both.  Just like anything else, there is no one size fits all, so you may go through several groups or counselors before you find one you like and are comfortable in.  I cannot begin to tell you how much both helped me.  My support group has been a blessing to me. My wife and I didnt like the first group we attended. It was a general grief group, and we didnt feel as though it was a good fit.  The second group was specifically for people that had lost a loved one to suicide, and we were welcomed with open arms.  Not only that, we no longer felt like we were alone in the world.  I still continue to go to this day, not only because it helps me, but I see myself helping others that are new to the journey, and that helps me as well.  I also joined several grief groups on Facebook (Compassionate Friends is a great place to start).  It may seem strange writing about your grief to total strangers, but it works.  Sadly, there are many people throughout the world that have tragically lost a child.  It gives you the chance to share your grief with others who can relate.  Therapy helped as well.  I tried to suck it up at first, but one day, four months to the day that I lost Peyton, I completely lost my sh*t in the coaches office.  I sat there and cried, unable to stop.  Eventually, one of the other coaches walked in and just held me and let me cry.  I knew then that I wasnt going to get through this alone.  I went to several counselors before I found one that felt right.  Once I went as far as I could with her, I stopped going only to discover that I needed more help, so I found another.  It goes like that.  There are times when you may need to go weekly, others when you may only go once a month.  You are human, and no one expects you to go through this alone. 

I know right now, your emotions are all over the place.  Scream if you need to scream, cry if you need to cry, go out in the back yard and take an axe to a tree if you think that will help.  You are allowed to cry whenever and wherever you want to.  I have had to pull into parking lots to cry because something I heard on the radio triggered me.  My wife lost it in line at a Starbucks when everything just became too much or her.  You are only responsible to you at this point.  Talk about your daughter all you want when you want. There is no time line on your grief.  There is no calendar that tells you when you should be over this because the answer is never.  She was your baby, your girl, your daughter.  That is not something you will ever get over.  You also need to ease up on yourself.  I know I beat myself up for the longest time.  I blamed myself for Peyton's death, and despite what others told me, I refused to ease up.  I kept playing the if only game over and over in my head.  If only I had done this or said that, then Peyton would still be alive.  I was reminded by an old friend about the something I was told long about using if.  He reminded me that if my aunt had nads, shed be my uncle. You can if yourself into oblivion, but it will not change the outcome.  Somehow, some way, this was part of Gods plan, and yes, I was really pissed at God for quite a while.  However, I put my faith in God, and I know that Peyton is in a better place, and he is no longer in pain. Know that where your daughter is, everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.  

There are also a few donts I would like to convey.  Dont rush any decisions or make any major decisions right now.  The saying is give it a year.  I did that, and I am glad I did.  Looking back, I would have made some very grave errors in judgement if I had gone with my gut at the time.  Any decisions I would have made would have led to horrific consequences.  Dont feel obligated to anyone whether it is friends, or work, or whatever.  True friends will understand, and work will always be there.  Neither of those is a priority for you, you are the priority.  Dont let people talk you into what they think is right. Do what you want to do.  Dont look for comfort or escape in the wrong place.  Avoid alcohol or other intoxicants.  Food can be a danger too.  They may momentarily dull the pain, but when the effect wears off, reality will come flooding back with a vengeance.  don't get upset if someone says something stupid, especially if they mean well.  No one is out to upset you, but finding the right words come hard.  Repress the urge to throat punch them.  Don't get upset when others move on.  Soon, people will go back to their lives and families, but you will still be in this never ending hell.  It will frustrate you because you not because of anything that they do, but because their lives are back to normal, and your's will never be again.  You will see families together laughing and carrying on, and would will want to scream, "My child is gone!  How can you be so happy?"  Most of all, don't forget your family.  Your kids will need you as much as you need them.  Family takes priority over everything, including work.  If your coworkers and employer don't understand, screw 'em.  You can always get another job, but you only get one family.  

Finally, know this, it gets better.  Dont get me wrong, you have a long road ahead of you, and it is going to suck for a long time.  Is sorry I am being blunt, but I am not going to blow sunshine up youre a$$ and tell you all will be back to normal soon.  It never will. Eventually, you will establish a new normal.  Things are going to suck for a long, long time.  Then one day, youre going to wake up, and things will suck a little less, and even less a week or two later.  Thats not to say there wont be backslides.  You will feel like you are standing in the ocean facing the beach.  You will feel the waves hitting you from behind.  One might push you forward, the next might hit the back of your knees, the next may just wash over your ankles, only to have the next knock you flat on your face.  All you can do is keep getting up, and bracing for what is to come.  Dont get discouraged because you will learn to live with it.  Rely on others, rely on each other, and rely on your faith. As I said before, there is nothing I can say or do that will ease the pain.  There is no magic elixir or time line that will lead to happiness.  There are no short cuts or cheats to relieve your pain.  There is just time. 

During that time, you collect memories of your child.  Have people send you pictures and videos of your child, as well as having them write stories and their favorite memories.  You can use these to create a memory book.    It has been suggested the best way to do this is to set up a memorial page on Facebook and have others put pictures there.   Even though physical presence is gone, her spirit can stay with you forever. 

As the days become weeks, the weeks become moths, and the months become years, the pain will recede.  It will always be there, but it will not be all consuming.  Rely on friends, rely on family, and rely on faith, and it will get better.  Know that myself and others are here for you when you need us.  There is no favor too small to ignore, and there is no hour too late or too early to ask.  All we ask in return is that you let us. 


David James