Photograph of red rose buds on tall rose cane covered with sharp thorns
Red Rose Buds Protected by Sharp Thorns

The Shape of My Grief

3 years, 3 months

My son, Dylan, was just barely 20 years old when he took his life, and I have all of those same unanswered questions rattling around inside me, all of me, even though it’s now been 3 years, 3 months since his death.

I like to think that as time goes on, as I add on these concentric circles around the ring of the tree that used to house his life—and now serve as reminders only of his death, I have become somehow more accustomed to the enormity of this heavy heavy pain.

Brute reality? I miss my son. All of him. All the time. Every single minute of every single hour of every single day. 24 x 7 x 365.

I have heard other parents of suicides say the pain “softens.” I do not know what this means, the “softening” of the pain of losing a child, my only child, to suicide, but I do see, that in writing the following post, I have become more accustomed to this life I am living as is, as now.

Does Pain Soften?

Give yourself time, time and more time. It takes months, even years, to open your heart and mind to healing. Choose to survive and then be patient with yourself. In time, your grief will soften as you begin to heal and you will feel like investing in life.

The Compassionate Friends, USA, “Surviving Your Child’s Suicide”
Photograph of 2 Pink Rose bushes in Full Bloom Profusion
Pink Roses in Profusion

My Experience with Pain “Softening”

The first year, I signed a few cards to a small circle of friends and family with both my name and Dylan’s name, then I used orange ink and a beautiful butterfly stamp to imprint the butterfly outline over Dylan’s name. Orange was his favorite color from way back and using the stamp helped me deal with the enormous weighted grief of the first year. That was the only way I was able to send cards—by using both our names.
But now? Now I don’t even send cards. And I find those who do send cookie-cutter holiday cards to me a source of frustration, anger, and pain. Trite “Happy Holidays!” and “Have a Joyous Season!” and “Deck the Halls!” belong to an entirely different part of my life. Anybody who really knows and loves and cares about knows better than to plug me into the “gaiety” of what, for many, is a time of love, tradition, love and lavishing of gifts for family. In fact, I always kind of know who to check off my “Well, thought they were close enough to me to realize the inappropriateness of sending me such a greeting since surely—surely!, they must realize my holidays, Christmas, the entire months of November and December, bring so much enormous pain” list.
But on a positive note, I’m sort of, kind of more okay? better? more “healed”? just realistically further away from Dylan’s suicide? I still am full of trepidation and weary of triggers this time of year, but for the first time (it’s been 3 years, 5 months, and 8 days), I had a fantastic Thanksgiving Day. This is, quite simply, unbelievable. I did what I wanted to do, met my day with mindfulness, spent time with Dylan here in the quiet of my home, and then took a road trip!!! 🙂 It was 60-some degrees here in Ohio on Thanksgiving Day, the sun was shining, the sky was gloriously blue with lots of white fluffy clouds, and if I had had a big furry dog (think Golden Retriever, Gordon Setter, English Setter, Lab), I would have thrown him or her in the back seat for my trip.

Healing Roadtrip

I was so amazingly present that day and this is such a gift. I took the freeway down into southeastern Ohio, down to where the hills start rolling and huge rocks and cliffs are cut away for roads to pass through. I saw miles and miles of pine trees, green as if in complete defiance that we are in a climate where everything and everyone shuts down for the winter months, and I drove past Dillion Dam, which meant an incredible stretch of water and river and bridges. I felt transported, lifted out from the sorrowful side of myself who carries the death of her son, alive in just the beauty and scenery of what for me is my home state.
How can this even be? In losing my only child, I lost all that I am and for the first 3 years, just ran rugged and weary and scragged and grief-beleaguered. Some days, I still do. But I am amazed because now, I can—sometimes, house both sorrow and even a kind of momentary time-out-of-time happiness. It’s been so long since I’ve felt elevated, lightened, unburdened. It’s such a relief, it’s such a reprieve.
I’ve always hated the periods of time where I’ve been so numb, disconnected and unplugged from my grief, from the world, from my feelings, from life. A new kind of feeling seems to be slipping into my life—I feel numb infrequently now, hopeful much more often, and as of last Thursday, the happiest I’ve ever been/made it through a holiday. Yes, I cried. Yes, I sobbed—I miss, miss, miss my son so terribly much. Yes, my cat came to comfort me in my tears. Yes, I lit and burned a candle not just for Dylan but for all of our children.
But my whole day was not consumed by grieving, by longing, by desperate sobbing and pleading and aching. This is new. This is wonderful. Is this hope? Healing? Acceptance? Learning to keep on keeping on?

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