The Grieving Parent
There is no experience more painful then the loss of a child. I joined that club very unwillingly on August 26 2017. I was with my two daughters having breakfast across the street from the hospital when we were summoned to come back after Tara's mother was induced. I was outside the hospital calling family and smoking when I was called by the ICU nurse to run back into her room in her final distressed state. I cut her cord and welcomed her into the world. I held her hand and told her how much I loved her and how proud of her I am when she left.
No, no parent should ever have to go through that. A father is supposed to go before his child, right?
After Tara's death I was in a state of shock. Paralyzed in my state of grief. She had just came back into mine and my other daughter's lives just six short weeks ago. All of which was spent in the hospital. She was so sick, weak and near death for most the time. She suffered from MRSA. An infection that is very resistant to antibiotics. It has attached to her heart and lungs. Destroyed one heart valve and damaged the other. She suffered from renal failure, gangrene on both feet and seven brain lesions. She had open heart surgery and survived against the odds. In fact, she bounced back quickly. She was her old self. We knew because she greeted us with "Hey Mother F******ers" Ahhh, my daughter is herself!!! One thing you should know, she was a heroin addict. She died clean and fighting for her recovery. She was eager to make amends. She promised over and over to pay me back for everything she stole from me. My response was always the same; "We are focused on you right now. You have to recover. You have your whole life to make amends. I do not want to hear it right now."
Little did either of us know.
I suffered from the intense pain I experienced. I was in a fog, I was obsessed with her death. I could not get the images of the doctors pumping her chest. Her face, the feel of her hand and the strength it took just to make the smallest nod to give approval to stop CPR and let her go. I had layers upon layers of guilt. As a father, a fellow addict, a survivor. How could I let this happen to my little princess? I also held resentments. I resented God, life, the doctors, myself and Tara just to name a few. Although, you would think life would cover everything wouldn't you? How do you overcome all this guilt and resentment? How do I come to a peaceful state when all I feel is torment?
To understand better resentments and how they relate to fears and insecurities refer to page 65 in the Big Book of AA by clicking here.
The first thing I had to do is understand the terms: What is the meaning of guilt and forgiveness. To me they are the same but directed in different directions.
Guilt - Is the mind trying to replay scenes of the past, change the outcome and answer the questions; "Why didn't I?"; "Why should of...", "I could (of)..."
Forgiveness - Is the mind asking itself "Why did he/she do....to me?" "Didn't they know that would do.......to me?" "He/she/they harmed me, hurt me; why?" These questions again are in the past and the answers will never change. The outcomes will never change. Even if the person apologized.
This comes to another key word, acceptance. I had to accept that all the questions I was replaying in my mind were never going to change answers or outcomes. When I would catch myself having a moment of guilt I would immediately ask myself "What can I do about this right now?" The answer was always nothing! So I dismissed it, it would never change so I let it go. Don't get me wrong, it took some time for me to train myself to get into this habit and for the guilt to dissipate. Likewise, to allow myself to truly forgive. Forgiveness is asking the same question, guess what? The answer will be nothing! So we let it go. This comes with prayer or meditation, journaling, writing a letter about the event and burning it. Something symbolic, if needed, to demonstrate that you have now released that moment in time.
The most difficult person to forgive is yourself as a parent. I was supposed to protect my daughter. Why didn't I get her earlier? Why did I practice tough love and lovingly disconnecting from her? The fact is that there was nothing I could do to change the outcome. The flair up of the infection happened so fast that even the hospital could not react fast enough. In fact, I was so blessed that I was there to hold her hand and talk her to her next spiritual level. I was sober so I could be there. I turned what was first a horrific vision in my mind, into the most loving memory, the most intimate final few minutes a father could ever spend with his daughter.
Being able to be by her bedside instead of heading to the bottle when I heard of all her ailments or even after her death taught and showed me the power of forgiveness. I was by her bedside every day she was in the hospital. We were able to have the best and most open talks we ever had. We connected not just has father and daughter, but as fellow addicts in fellowship. There was no hurt feelings, no resentment of anything of the past. I did not see an addict in front of me. All I saw is my child, frail and sick and a burning desire to be clean and with her family again.
We cannot protect our children every second of every day. Sadly life happens, even the most dark nightmares a parent can have. In almost every case we did not have a hand in the passing of our child. We have to answer the questions of guilt with "Nothing" and live in this moment. Yes, living in the moment. You will here the old cliches of "One day at a time" and "Times heals all wounds". Yes, there is some truth to all of these, but what if you are grieving so deeply that it is unmanageable? You are in therapy and taking you medication, but that just puts you in the medicated fog and chemical balance. Like for me and my PTSD. It is not healing my obsession, my spiritual malady.
How about the resentments? I had to face one huge forgiveness with my daughter. I also had to hold her accountable for her own demise. She was an addict, she understood the risks. She was given several chances to go to rehab. She was in rehab with me at one time. She left all times against medical advice. I forgave her and released my resentments towards her. I also added her to my story and talks when I perform my public speaking. My way of performing service work in her name and giving her death meaning and her spirit alive in some small way.
Even if the event did involve you in some way. Say a car accident, or an accident around the home; there was an outcome that cannot be changed. No amount of questioning the past is going to change that. No amount of beating yourself up is going to change that. You are allowed to mourn, feel the void that is left. The suffering, guilt, etc. Has no use. That moment in time has past. This moment, what does this moment have in store? Did the sun come up in the East? Was it beautiful? What can you count as being grateful for?
Tara's death taught me the most valuable lesson the day she passed. You literally do not know if you have a tomorrow. Live life as if it is your last. Live for today. Actually for me it is live each moment at a time. My life is like a movie, each place I go or activity I do is like a scene in a movie. Those are my moments. Once that scene or moment is over it is over. Then I chose, is it a cherished memory? Was it unpleasant and if so, is there a lesson to be gleamed? or was it just a moment that happened and it is nothing. Then I am in the next moment. I do not worry about the past moment, I cannot change it. I do not care about the next moment. It has not happened and I have no idea if I will be around for it to happen.
So only THIS moment counts. How can I make this moment valuable.
Suicide and Addiction
I place these two categories together because it is a decision made by the child or person. I know several mothers and fathers who have suicide by their child as part of their story. Right away the blame is turned inward, "It is my fault", "I am a horrible parent", "Why did I not....."
Let's throw some facts out that may be a bit shocking if you have not come to this point yet.
1. Suicide and addiction are the most selfish acts one can do to a family. Specifically, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It takes care of the problem for the deceased, but it throws those who love the deceased into a state of chaos. Now, do you think the person thought of or cared of the aftermath before taking their life?
Addiction is the only disease where all loved ones are infected not just the addict. Think about it, do you have to hide all your cancer when someone with cancer comes to your house? Is there such a thing as a support group for family members of diabetics? Does an employer tell you to get cured or be terminated if your gout flairs up again after several years?
2. You had no choice in the end result - You cannot take blame for what you have no control over. Let it go.
3. The decision was made/Addiction set-in - A person who commits suicide very rarely does so on a whim. There is a plan, the when, where and how. Even a thought out note in many cases. Once the decision is made, the probability of following through is very high. They will not share it. Same with addicts, once one is addicted to a substance, they will go to any length to obtain more. If you have never witnessed someone going though withdrawal, you are very lucky. I watched two women who I loved dearly. Being dope sick from heroin is horrifying. It is not deadly, you just pray that you die. Alcohol withdrawal is equally uncomfortable in different ways. I "white knuckled" it a few times. However, withdrawing for alcohol is deadly.
I mention all this because the decision at some point was made. For someone who feels that suicide is the answer to remove their pain or troubles, they may feel that there is no going back. For an addict, the fear of withdrawal is a deterrent to become clean and sober. Addicts will die from the disease; either from the side effects, overdose, or the depression and weakness and committing suicide.
But again I ask, where are YOU in this picture? Did they ask permission and you gave it? No, of course not!
Also understand that they were hurting. Feel compassion and not resentment. Do not see the depression nor the addiction anymore. They no longer are afflicted with any illness. Remember how they lived, the good times. Not how they died.
Forgive yourself as a parent. You had no hand in losing your child.
Forgive your child for leaving you. It was not personal
Release resentments, towards yourself, your child, anything and everyone.
Leave the past where it belongs, in the past. Today, this moment, is to valuable not to have full attention. Besides, tomorrow may never arrive. Have you tied up all lose ends? Resolved all issues and come to peace? Separated the suffering from the pain?
Celebrate the life and not mourn the death. Become your child's champion in one way or another. Become involved in a cause that was important to them, Plant a tree and mix some of their ashes in with the soil. You can do the same with a Bonsai. If they were not cremated, plant a tree anyway. Celebrate birthdays normally. Talk to them, normalcy is OK.
If you have joined this club, I both welcome you and am terribly sorry you have joined. Nobody wants to be here. But here you will find a bond and commonality like no other. a loss of a child is so intimate to each of us. Regardless how, it is a pain. But there is relief. We are survivors and warriors. You will be too.