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I've been checking out JM for a few weeks now, posting a little, reading a lot, and I've been wanting to post my introduction here. It's taken me awhile to get up the emotional strength to write this out, but here it goes...
My beautiful son, Elijah Joseph, was killed on December 10, 2005. He was a perfectly happy, healthy, loving, bright, caring, and sweet boy who died in his sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning. He was spending the night at his grandparent's house when their house burned down, killing them also. My son often spent time with his grandparents, my partner's parents. It was completely unexpected and unpredictable.
The fire started from an "electric arc" in the living room, meaning something was plugged in and it essentially caused a spark that caught fire. Oddly enough, the thing plugged in that arced was an emergency monitor, or police scanner, which is what is used by local emergency personnel (police and fire station) to report local emergencies, including house fires. Eli's grandfather and great-grandfather were both life-time members of the local fire company that was literally across the street from the house for decades. It had moved about 2 mins down the street a few years prior to the fire. The house was full of lots of fire company memorabilia (steins, mugs, plaques, etc), but according to the fire marshall there were no smoke alarms found in the house. I personally believe, there was one, it probably just didn't have fresh batteries. Such a pointless, random cause for an enormous tragedy, ending my son's life, and irrevocably altering my partner and I's life.
My son was 6 yrs 2 months and 19 days old when he died. He was in the first grade and had yet to receive his first report card, learn how to tie his shoes, ride his bike without training wheels, or how to blow a bubble. He did learn how to read in Kindergarten and was reading on a 6th grade reading level at the time of his death. My partner is a teacher and gave him a diagnostic reading test and he tested as high as some of her middle school students. He was always very advanced. Physically, emotionally, and educationally. He crawled early, walked early, and preferred the company of adults. Even as a baby, he looked like a 'little man.' He knew @ 50 words at 14 months and by 2 was speaking in full sentences. It was as if he unconsciously knew his life on earth would be short and he tried to fit as much in as possible. I do have a website I set up for him (through memory-of.com, it's in my signature) and I'm trying not to repeat too much of what is there in this post. Please visit his website and you can learn more about my precious boy.
I normally am pretty good at writing logically and sensibly, but when it comes to the topic of my son dying, of course, it's much harder. So, forgive me in advance, for jumping around so much topic-wise. I know it's silly to apologize for such a thing, but my normal sense of being orderly and making sense is hard to maintain and it's still disconcerting that I can't compose this 'story' logically or even chronologically. Anyway, I do the best I can. Hopefully, it isn't too difficult to follow. I could write so much, but obviously, I don't want to write a post that is miles and miles long. Anyway, trying to 'edit' my brain about what to include and what to exclude is, in itself, a task. Sifting through thises thoughts in my mind is emotionally taxing, of course, even almost 4 years later.
So far, online, I have found mostly parents who have suffered the loss of their child(ren) during pregnancy or as infants. I have read a lot of people's stories and grief is grief, loss is loss, the death of a child is devastating, no matter what the age of the child. But, at the same time, I have yet to find what I feel is 'my place' because I don't have the same 'story' as most mothers who have birthed their children 'sleeping,' or who have suffered miscarriages, or whose children were born with a fatal condition. Even though, the grief is the same, I know. It's still hard. I did attend 'Compassionate Friends' meetings, even became (and still am) the chapter's librarian. Once my DD was born 2 yrs ago, I no longer attend monthly meetings. Now, I just go for the yearly memorial service held in December, usually within a week of my son's anniversary. I will continue to look for an online community that has a membership of parents whose 'stories' are similar to mine. I know they are out there. I just have to look harder.
Since losing my son, I have learned a lot about 'grief' and dealing with the death of your child. I now have a general understaning of 'bereaved parents' and what it's like to go through this awful experience. Not that I ever wanted to know this, and I certainly never wanted to belong to this horrific club. But, I am a part of it now and that's just the way it is. Anyway, I am choosing to share my observations, understandings, experience, strength, and hope from what I have learned over the years to help other grieving parents who may be 'newer' on this journey, or in a different place than I am, to get a bigger picture of grief and know that you are not alone in what you are going through. Many parents are going through, or have gone through, the 'same' thing (of course, everyone's experience and child is unique) and know what this crazy, tragic, chaotic, life-altering experience feels like. I think one of the biggest things is to simply know that you are not alone. And you are not crazy.
Sadly, the group of bereaved parents is very large. It may seem like you are the only one who has experienced such a horrific tragedy, but, believe me, so many more have, too. It's amazing to me, that as a society, this 'club' of bereaved parents is such a 'secret club.' Who knew losing a child was so prevalent and common?! No bereaved parent wants anyone else to join our group. But, every day, more and more parents do. At least, in this day and age, we have resources where we can find others who can share in our pain and support us through this journey.
No death is fair. No cause is 'acceptable' or 'okay.' As parents, we always ask ourselves why? Why did this happen to me? To my child? Could I have prevented it? Did I do something to cause it? And there are the 'what ifs' Every parent has their own list - 'what if' I did this, or that, or didn't do this or that? Could I have saved my child? And, of course, there is the blame. Inevitably, at one point or another, we blame ourselves for not preventing our child's death. Even if it in no way was our fault or if we could never have predicted this happening, as parents, I think, it's our natural inclination to feel guilty and blame ourselves for not being able to effectively protect our children. Of course, we didn't 'let' them die. But, often times, it definitely feels that way.
For me, all the negative thoughts, the whys, the what ifs, the blame, the guilt, the anger, and, of course, the sadness, despair, depression, the heartbreak are all things we have to go through to get to the other side. The what if's are there whether we want them to be or not. We can try to ignore them or tell ourselves we don't believe them. But, in fact, we do. We can't help but feel guilty. As a parent, you feel like you have failed by not protecting your child from death. When, in fact, it's just impossible. We can only do so much. Death is death. Every living thing must die. It just annihilates a parent's heart when it happens to your child. It goes against the natural order of things for a child to die before their parent.
But, for me, asking the what ifs, allowing myself to list all the ways I felt responsible, facing all the blame and guilt, is what allowed me to get past it. I think if I would have just tried to ignore those thoughts, they wouldn't have just 'gone away.' They are always there, nagging at you in the back of your mind and heart. But, for me, acknowledging them actually made them less powerful and allowed me to no longer be plagued by them. I allowed myself to feel guilty about things that I could have done differently, the things I did that I'm not proud of (like not kissing my son goodbye, or even looking at him, the last time I was with him - I was having an argument with my partner and stormed out of the house). I even allowed myself to blame myself for choices I made that at the time, of course, I had no idea would ultimately lead to his death. We were actually also supposed to spend the night at my partner's parents house also. If I was there, maybe I could have saved him. Or, maybe I would've died, too. Which, certainly felt like a great option for a while. I think that is another very common, yet very taboo thought that most bereaved parents have. Of course, we would prefere to be with our child and not going through the heart-wrenching, soul-crushing experience of grieving for your child. But, allowing myself to feel guilty, eventually led way to feeling less guilty.
I know some people say 'don't go there' with the what-ifs, they will only make you feel horrible. Well, pretty much anything and everything and nothing at all makes you feel horrible virtually all the time when you are newly grieving (that whole first year or 2) anyway. It was more helpful for me to face those what-ifs head on, experience them, whether it took once, twice, or multiple times, and with time and the experience of feeling that guilt, eventually, those 'what ifs' lost their power and sting. Ultimately, I knew I didn't choose this. Had I known taking my son to his grandparent's house would cause him to die, I wouldn't have done it. We were moving the following day and he had basketball practice in the same town as his grandparents, our hometown. We lived an hour and a half away. We could have had him along with us for 'moving day.' We could have not signed him up for basketball. It's silly that you feel guilty about doing normal, harmless, everyday things. But, in the end, I could only 'blame' myself for so long for making a harmless choice as a parent that just happened to have horrific consequences. Eventually, though your parental instinct is to feel like a failure, you realize 'it just happened, and you couldn't have predicted or prevented it.' What happened, happened. It sucked. It was horrible. There was no 'good reason.' Sometimes life just sucks! And, for it to suck so bad that your child dies, is beyond unfair. But, it just is what it is and you just deal with what your dealt not because you're strong, but because you have no choice. It may not help you to think about the 'what if's.' Maybe at 2 months or 4 months, you're not ready. maybe at 6 months you are. Maybe you never are. Maybe you never will be, and that is fine. But, don't feel you should or shouldn't do a certain thing when it comes to grief.
Children die in so many ways - accidents, illnesses, diseases, murder, suicide, SIDS, addiction, miscarriage, and the list goes on and on. And, yet, no matter what the cause, or what the age, as grieving parents we go through similar emotions, thoughts, and difficulties. Maybe not in the same way or the same order or even all the same things exactly, but as a whole, we have a common experience. Maybe some of us take longer to really allow ourselves to grieve, some of us may get 'stuck' in one part of grief (maybe anger, or depression, or whatever) for a little or a long while, maybe some of us totally skip some feelings or thoughts. Everyone grieves in their own way. And that is okay. Maybe we need to stay busy and keep our mind 'not thinking about it' until the overwhelming feeling of drowning subsides. Maybe we just cry and cry and cry. Maybe we just need to not cry for a while. Maybe we need to talk to others, maybe we need to just be alone. Maybe we need both, depending on the moment.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of your child. Maybe ignoring 'what if's' works great for you. Maybe what feels 'right' for you, isn't what others suggest or have described doing. Whatever you need to do to survive every day is okay. Do your best to take care of yourself as best as you can. Maybe it just means getting out of bed one day and actually getting dressed another day. Don't put expectations on yourself to be further along or more okay than you are. Of course, no one wants to be in the awful awful place of the pit of grief. It hurts tremendously for a reason. I remember thinking, if I didn't love my son so much, this wouldn't hurt so much. I actually wished I didn't, so the pain wouldn't be so overwhelming. I felt so horrible for so long, I just wanted whatever respite I could get.
Don't worry about what others say or what expectations they have for you to be 'over it' or to 'move on' or if they don't understand why you still hurt. Unless they, too, have lost a child, they don't know what you're going through. And I certainly would never wish that pain on anyone. Noone wants you to hurt and sometimes will try to help you feel better by making suggestions or just plain ignoring the subject, thinking that will help, but it's actually not helpful at all. People say a lot of insensitive things trying to be helpful or to not "make you hurt." (as if anything could make you hurt more than the death of your child, as if you ever 'forget' your child is dead or stop feeling the pain, etc, etc) Sometimes someone may something that does help, ever so slightly; but, there are so many times that what people say is actually a horrible thing to say and is very hurtful. It may hurt, or make you very angry, or you may not care at all. It took me a lot of getting angry at people's stupid comments before I could just roll my eyes and realize 'they have no idea that they are actually being hurtful.' they just don't know. and, for me, i don't want anyone to know what the right thing to say is. they only 'get it' if they've lost a child. it's almost as if, we who have lost a child, now live in a different world, where we see things very differently than most people. it's a whole new 'normal.' what is normal and 'okay' takes on a whole new meaning. nothing is 'okay.' how can anything be 'okay' when your child is dead. are you okay? no, i'm not okay because my son is dead. but, other than that, sure, i'm 'okay.' who would ever think that would be a part of your reality? it's just unimaginable.
For me, at first, the first few weeks and months, I felt like I was walking through a thick jungle of grief, the tops of the trees so high and overwhelming, I couldn't even see them. Slowly, slowly, slowly as I walked the path of my 'grief journey' the trees started to let some light through and things like hope and joy would peek through in the tiniest little increments. On a day-to-day basis, just getting through every day was such a struggle. It took a while for reality to sink in. The reality of my son being gone just didn't seem real or possible for months! I was in shock for a while, which I think we all experience to some extent. It helps protect us from the onslaught of overwhelming grief that surrounds us for those first few days, weeks, and months. I remember feeling like I was just barely keeping my head above water, to keep from drowning from the pain of grief.
So many times I felt like I would be tentatively managing to stand on my own during the reign of grief and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I would be completely crushed by a wave of grief that knocked me down so hard and wouldn't let go, I felt like I would never escape it. Then, at some point, maybe minutes or hours later, it would just disappear, receding as quickly as it hit. All I could do when I was in that horrible, hopeless pit of anguish, hurt, heartbreak, despair, and immense, unbearable pain would be to pray to God and ask for peace. To be temporarily relieved of the horrific, overwhelming, unending, all-encompassing pain of knowing your child is gone. I really began to literally see the power of prayer. Time and time again I would pray for peace, and it would come. I would lay in bed at night, not able to sleep, thinking horrific thoughts, and I would just pray, please let me have some peace, please let me sleep and not dream and just escape the horrific reality of my life for a few hours. The first few weeks I actually was prescribed sleeping meds, because I couldn't will myself to sleep.
Somehow, though my son was taken from me, for me, my faith became much stronger from this experience. I was never angry at God for allowing my son to die. I felt the opposite, that it was God who protected him at his moment of death and kept him from suffering. I knew that it wasn't my strength that got me through the experience of losing my son, but that it was because of God giving me the strength to get through every day, that I did. I knew, I alone, could not survive such a thing. I very much relied on God's strength and my faith in God and it was very helpful to me in my grief journey. Not that it made it 'easy,' by any means. I know many people go through times of questioning, doubting, or rejecting God after losing their child. But, for me, my experience was quite the opposite. I don't judge or question anyone for whatever their feelings are about their God. That's strictly personal. I'm just sharing part of my experience.
Anyway, I have, indeed, said a very very lot of stuff and could invariably say much much more. I will, however, end this for now. Hopefully, I've given you some food for thought, maybe something helpful, or just allowed you to hear another person's opinions and experiences and given you the opportunity to reflect on your own experience. I will definitely share more in the future. Hopefully, not as lengthy and disjointed. I have a lot to share and feel that I am in a place where I would like to share and be helpful to others. Not by saying I know what is right. But, just by sharing my experience and allowing others to take from it whatever they get. Of course, it is helpful to me, to be able to just share my thoughts and feelings, too.
I am sorry for your loss. That was very nicely said.
I am Lori. My son Cameron died 10/30/08 of leukemia. My mom had died just 31 days before Cam. Quite the double whammy for me and my daughter.
I know of others who have been in positions similar to us and they are very angry at God. Sometimes I think it would be easier if there was something or someone to blame, but there is not. I don't think the experience has made me more spiritual, but it has changed the way I think about life and death and beyond.
Cameron (3-3-99 to 10-30-08)
+ 6 angels
Lori - Sorry for your loss, as well. I love your quote. I don't know why I never got angry with God. I was actually surprised that I never did. I almost wished I did. Yeah, it would be nice to have someone to 'blame.' Somehow I just never went there. Great pic of your son, too. Reminds me of my guy.
daisy - glad what i wrote went over well with you. i feel bad for writing sooo much. but, it's what came out. will def. write less next time!
This was very well written. I think I may have to revisit and read this again in the future.
I understand what you mean by feeling like you don't belong. I read the stillbirth forum because this one is so dead a lot of the time, but I don't really fit in there. I haven't had any luck finding any other grief forums. But i am disabled and find going to in person groups is not an option.
I visited Elijah's site a few days ago, it is looking lovely. My nephews name is Elijah Joseph as well.
hello. I am sorry to hear about the loss of your son, Elijah. Very well written. you don't have to apologize for writing alot. Its what was on your mind when you wrote it. The moms here are great! I come here to show my support for the mothers here.