Love is a phenomena that transcends time, space, and even the known realms of existence.
A mother’s love is a love above all forms. A reservation of the purest forms of hope, joy, and peace. It’s something that you cannot know unless you experience it for yourself. It’s something that, if you haven’t, you don’t even know that you can’t understand it fully. But you just can’t.
Conversely to the greatest heights of love, a mother’s greatest fear, her great pain, the utter depths of loss are also something that can’t be imagined unless it is, unfortunately, experienced firsthand.
As mothers most of us strive to keep the thought of peril out of our consciousness. The stakes are too high to even entertain the thought of the, what if. With safety and security set as the highest priority, it’s not that these troubling thoughts are truly unimaginable, it’s more likely that they’re just so uncomfortable that most of us do our best to banish them from our minds in the first place before they have a chance to creep in and root themselves there.
Loss and grief of course are the ultimate unimaginable experiences. For a select few of us, the luxury of keeping those ill thoughts of the what if at bay, are a luxury that was simply not afforded to us, and furthermore, with this heightened sense of reality upon us, many of us must continue to parent in the aftermath of our devastation.
Parenting though grief brings a new meaning to the term existential crisis. What boundaries remain? What nuances, goal, values are now to be considered important? What now matters when the death of your child is or was on the horizon?
A parent who was once production and ability focused may suddenly relax to see the beauty and value of individuality, the freedom of expression in their children rather than the need for conformity. The same parent may also suddenly and shockingly find themselves unable to make peace with their world as it now exists and may become even more hyper-focused on the most miniscule aspects of life in an attempt to exercise control over anything and everything they can.
The swinging pendulum toggles between some form of extreme overprotectiveness, and complete distancing. Where you land will depend on a myriad of factors, many of which cannot be predicted ahead of time, and which can bend sharply from one minute to the next. As grief continually shapes us into new beings, many parents find they have a renewed sense of the deeper meaning of what’s important in life, while still others see those things slipping further and further away in its aftermath.
The struggle to stay present for other, living children. Those who are also grieving themselves and looking to their parents for guidance can add an undue burden to a parent’s new normal, or their own grieving process. Though some find the existence of children who still need them to be invigorating – their reason for waking each morning, and a shuttle that propels them out of grief’s grasp, others find it to be simply one more layer of obligation amidst their grief, the weight of which drags them further down into the spiral of loss. Neither is wrong. No condemnation necessary. It’s simply the nature of grief itself.
Many grieving parents find that they land somewhere along both sides of this continuum at one point or another, either bolstered by their still being needed, or striving to survive to grieve another day. And the extent to which is felt is inherently personal. No barometer can be applied. Grief is a journey that will last a lifetime. It’s not something we can learn to navigate in a day, or week, or even year. Being kind to yourself and remembering to extend as much grace to yourself as you would to others is an essential tool in the arsenal of survival. One that goes a long way in carving out the long and unplowed road ahead of a grieving parent.