I bet, if I took a poll, that one hundred percent of bereaved parents feel they should get a pass for the rest of their life. Most of us, having crawled and scraped our way through the desolate landscape of grief, justifiably feel we have paid our dues. We deserve to live on Easy Street for the remainder of our natural lives. Not that it will feel easy to us. Because even breathing takes effort when your child is gone.
Unfortunately, it rarely seems to work that way. Things that were once simple now seem difficult in a way most people wouldn't understand. Driving a car. Grocery shopping. Celebrations. Every grieving parent has their own list.
And then, the truly hard things show up. New losses. Unexpected curve balls. Relationship meltdowns. Disease. Financial hardship. Divorce. Some are directly linked to child loss. Others, like a heat-seeking missile, just seem to find and target those who are already down for a new, swift kick in the ass. A new dollop of unfair to spread across the shit sandwich you are already choking on.
In some cases, you are too numb to notice or care. Something like a pandemic feels downy-soft compared to the brutal reality of finding your child's dead body. In other cases, you are already too broken to sustain more suffering. That lost job or accidental injury become the proverbial straw breaking the camel's back. Or, like me, you may find yourself experiencing a weird concoction of both emotional extremes, swinging wildly from "Who fucking cares?" to "Why me?"
Look, there's no easy answer for this. I don't have solutions or even advice. All I can offer is the comfort of solidarity. Yes, your life should be a balmy seventy five degrees from now on, breezy and tropical, full of mind-numbing umbrella drinks and white sand beaches and a closet full of colorful sarongs. Whatever your version of paradise, you should abso-fucking-lutely get it from here on out. No questions asked. Every need met. Every desire fulfilled. Every dream a lived reality. Every comfort available at the snap of your fingers.
But it doesn't work that way. It should, in my professional opinion, but it doesn't. And the last I checked, the universe wasn't beating down my door asking for advice on how to run things around here.
At some point—for some sooner, for others later—you are going to get smacked upside the back of the head with more bullshit. And you're going to think, "What the actual fuck is happening right now? What cosmic deity has is out for me? What sacred burial ground did I unwittingly desecrate?"
Or, you're going to think, "Bring it, bitch. You think I can't handle this after what I've been through? You think you can actually hurt me? HAHAHAHA JOKES ON YOU MY HEART'S A PIECE OF COAL I DON'T GIVE A FLIP ABOUT ANYTHING ANYMORE."
Or, like me, you're going to laugh maniacally once second and cry in the fetal position the next and it's anyone's guess which will come first.
And it really won't matter how you respond. Sometimes, the hits keep comin' to the people who deserve them the least. C'est la vie. Get angry. Get sad. Get even. It probably won't make a difference.
In the almost three years since we lost Evelyn, my dad has died. My dog had to be put down. My surviving child developed an eating disorder. And my husband contracted Covid-19. I have been waving the white flag of surrender since the day I found my daughter's body. That's it, God. I give. You win. UNCLE ALREADY. But he hasn't seemed to notice.
The only thing in that line up that I actually feel sorry for myself over is losing Evelyn. But I've had moments of self pity throughout. And I think it would be inhuman not to. As far as I'm concerned, I should get everything I want and nothing I don't from this point forward. But the universe has made it clear that that's not how it's going to go down.
So, here we are. Living devastated lives in an imperfect world riddled with flaws and discomfort and suffering. There will be more loss. More sorrow. More injustice. It will not always go our way, even if everyone on the planet got together and voted that it should. Some days will be hard. And some other days will be harder than those days. And a few days will be absolutely soul-crushing. There will be pandemics. And riots. And war. There will be unnecessary death. Violence. Poverty. You will get served portions of whatever dishes from the bullshit buffet life decides to throw at you. Grab a fork. No point in pretending.
But you are a survivor. I am a survivor. It's not really something to be proud of, the way everyone who hasn't experienced utter devastation makes it sound. But it is something to hang onto when the wind kicks up and the hail comes down and your roof blows off. And by now, you've probably learned a thing or two. About who your people are. And how to ask for help. And what coping actually looks like. And when to tap out. I mean, you don't get to truly tap out. But you can say, "Yeah. I'm not going to manage this. Take me somewhere with soft lighting and nice doctors and good meds."
You know your limits. When you meet your edge, don't be afraid to stare over it into the abyss and call for backup. And don't think, for one GD second, that you had any of this coming. Even if you did stumble off the trail in '82 and piss on a sacred burial ground. This is not on you. Breathe when you can. Laugh when you can. Love at every opportunity. And brace yourself. Because it's coming around again.