Monday, May 27, 2013

Living Grief

Grief, according to Merriam-Webster, is a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement”.

Grief is the normal reaction to death. We expect to grieve in bereavement. When there is loss of life and we know a loved one if gone from this earth grief is understood and allowed… even encouraged.

In the case of a wayward child grief is often misunderstood and rejected. Comments like “Don’t let him do this to you” and “Don’t give up on him” are often offered by those who are uncomfortable with the grief for the living.

In the case of a special needs child we are told to shift our paradigm. A well known essay helps us to replace expectations and understandings by framing those things as countries we might visit. Looking at our loss as a new destination helps us to enjoy our new “normal”. But in the case of a disturbed child there don’t even seem to be replacement dreams to reframe our loss. The destination we find ourselves in is one with nightmarish qualities and distorted reality.

For parents who have adopted special needs, emotionally disturbed children, the loss and grief piles up like books on the bedside table. There may be grief if they come to adoption by way of infertility. They might face grief again if they are adjusting to special needs, older or transracial adoption. And again when they realize their child is not emotionally whole and may not ever truly be an attached part of the family. Then if that child moves in and out of the home through hospitalizations, residential treatment facilities, juvenile detention and foster placements, the grief can be never-ending.

When Ebear chose to embrace the comfort of his fears rather than continue on the hard path of healing, the only people who really understood were those who had walked that path before me. The disabling grief that shadowed my life went unrecognized by most people. Some were even irritated by it.

The stages of grief as defined by Kubler-Ross are known to many of us,

what is not known to as many is that the stages are not steps that we move through in progression. They twist and turn causing us to go back, repeat and even skip some of the stages while we process our grief. And often we find that we are thrown into a stage we had long assumed was behind us.

When we “lost” Middle-One to a long-term residential facility and had no hope left of him returning home, we grieved. At that same time a friend had lost her son to a car accident. I won’t minimize her pain but it gave me the opportunity to compare, side-by-side the responses of mutual friends to our losses. I found that we had similar thoughts and behaviors. We were both haunted by memories and empty places where our sons should be.

I observed that our mutual friends knew what to do with her grief but approached mine entirely differently. People say they don’t know what to say to the grieving but they were much more comfortable with the understood shared experience of death than they were the abstract and distant loss of hope.

No one sent us cards or brought us casseroles. No one planted trees in honor of our children and no one called us on those special days when we remember alone. Somewhere our children live and breathe and go on without us. But for us, there has been a death, a final and eternal death. Our grief is real.

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