For the first year, after Charlie’s death, Michael and I had to learn to function again. Getting out of bed, eating enough, and taking care of our family and ourselves was a struggle. It was a time when we needed all the support we could get and also when I wrote Grief for Dummies. It highlighted MY experiences of grief and the DOs and DON’Ts for supporting someone who is experiencing extreme grief.
Since that first year, we have learned to function without Charlie (at least I think we have), but our grief has continued to evolve. And while many aspects of Grief for Dummies are still very relevant, our needs are different. Because now, we aren’t simply trying to function without Charlie, but live fully, even in his absence. It hasn’t been easy and in some ways, it has been far more difficult.
And as people continue to support us and our life after Charlie’s death, these are my takeaways.
GRIEF FOR DUMMIES: Part 2
- We will always grieve.
Extreme loss and grief is like having an amputation. At first, every day is painful and even breathing takes effort. Then, as the years pass, you learn to live with your life looking different, but the pain is still there. It always will be. The difference now is that the people who know you and know your loss no longer notice the missing limb. They just see you. They might be reminded of it on occasion when it’s Charlie’s birthday or on holidays. But the day-to-day is now normal for them. But will never be normal for us.
One of the hardest parts about grief now is that people are used to Charlie not being here. It’s human nature to react to loss and then normalize it. The first year, everyone was reacting to Charlie’s death. The people around us missed him and it was clear. Over time, most have become accustomed to not seeing him at parties or playing outside on the street with other friends. It’s a normal human reaction, to move on, but as Charlie’s parents, we will never move on. For every moment that is “normal” at parties or playing with friends on the street, seeing Causby and Ellie run around, there are equally as many moments that we feel the absence and loss of Charlie.
- Talk about him.
This is a great way to let your friends and family know you have not forgotten they are missing a limb. I think a lot of people fear bringing up Charlie because they think it will make us sad, but the reality is our sadness over Charlie is always there. We are living without our son. You remembering with us or with someone else who has lost someone won’t make them sad but it will help them feel seen.
All we have now are stories and memories, and yes that’s painful, but these stories and memories bring us so much joy as well. Sharing stories and memories about people we love is such a normal, everyday part of our lives, and those who have experienced major loss need that normalcy too. The pain is always there, but the sweet moments we get to remember about Charlie’s giggle or his sweet smile help dilute that pain, even if momentarily.
- Meeting new people is hard.
There are the people who we meet who never knew Charlie. And honestly, that is probably the hardest thing I have had to grapple with. I love meeting new people, learning about who they are. And inevitably in getting to know them, they get to know me. However, meeting people now who don’t know Charlie is like only getting to know half of who I am. And telling people about Charlie is like trying to describe how the beach feels to someone who has never been. You can say all the words, but they will never really know how wonderful it can be unless they experience it for themselves. So be thoughtful if you meet someone who tells you about their loss.
- Your reactions are seen, so don’t try to hide them.
Explaining our family to people we have just met can be difficult. There have been times when we told them about Charlie and their reactions have been so visceral, we can literally feel the discomfort that we even mentioned our three children. In that moment, they see us like some might see an amputee for the first time. They pretend like they are unaffected by what they have seen or in this case heard, but it is clear they have been. And while many people we have met have been extremely supportive, some are visibly uncomfortable that I would share Charlie so openly.
So if someone tells you they have gone through an extreme loss, try not to cover up your reaction, but instead acknowledge it. If the conversation has made you uncomfortable, I encourage you to think about the person who is sharing it with you. They just want you to know them and who they are and part of that is living with the loss of someone they love.
- You don’t have to “get it”, you just need to “honor it.”
We’re not expecting you to understand, especially if you’ve never been in the same situation. It is impossible to know the pain of losing a child unless you’ve lost one, and even then, every grieving family is different. But more than likely, you’re not going to get why it hurts when you say, “Well, you only have girls.” You may not understand why it stings to hear Charlie so easily forgotten when people say we have two children. You may think we’re being oversensitive or need to just move on.
But someone who is grieving doesn’t expect you to understand or “get” how your actions or words have hurt us. You simply can’t. What we do hope is that you will “honor” our hurt. We need you to acknowledge that hurt, and although it was likely unintentional, it still broke our hearts a bit. It’s okay that you don’t understand. Remember that while you may not be able to take away the pain someone who is going through an extreme loss feels, you do have the ability to add to it.
So here we are, learning to live without Charlie. And the support we need will unfortunately never end and neither will our grief. But each day we are able to surround ourselves with those we feel love and support from is one more day we feel stronger and able to live, in spite of our loss. I hope that if you or someone you know is living in loss, you will continue to support them in their grief. Because like us, their wounds will never completely heal. But the love they have for the one they lost will last forever.