Denying Grief the Power to Crush You
By Theresa Anthony, author of My 13th Station
It’s October. The barely perceptible shift in the sun’s lighting and a growing carpet of fallen leaves subtly announce that autumn has arrived. October is a beautiful and colorful month with trees boasting bold hues, and brightly colored Halloween decorations launching the holiday season. For me, though, the month of October oozes melancholy, as if all the cells in my body have been pre-programmed to be sad the minute the whiff of October is in the air.
I lost my son, Matthew, on October 23, 2013. To this day, the shock of his suicide permeates my whole being. Trauma does that to a person. It penetrates your very soul and doesn’t ever truly relinquish its grip. Oh sure, there are many days that we, the walking wounded, might feel almost, I repeat, almost, normal. We wake up every day and manage to function the best we can, but just beneath the surface is that icky, awful heartache.
At this time seven years ago, my son had been in alcoholism recovery for a full year, although not without several serious setbacks. Having to experience his battle firsthand was often difficult, sometimes infuriating, and always sad, but by mid-October that year Matt was in a good place. Really good.
Which is why I sit here still traumatized almost 7 years later. No one saw it coming. No one.
As the month of October progresses I always feel it in the air, this underlying sense of anticipated dread. Even though his death occurred years ago, the events of that day are etched on my heart in astounding detail. Then right on time at the anniversary date there is a sudden blast of deep, dark grief—like a huge geyser that erupts from those simmering hot pools at Yellowstone. Some years are worse than others, but it always follows this pattern, and always hurts like hell when I reach that sorrowful date.
Grief is a gift that just keeps on giving, bubbling up suddenly when least expected and then threatening to wipe you out in a torrent of tears. Grief can lie dormant for months and then out of nowhere deliver a gut punch that sends you right back to square one. Honestly, the only way to survive the loss of a child is to make up your mind that you will not allow the grief to crush you. It has to be a life decision, a survival tool, to stomp your feet and deny grief its power.
I find that once I get to the other side of October 23rd I immediately feel better. Pushing through yet another mile marker of life without my boy takes a great deal of emotional effort each year. But when I wake up on October 24th I feel lighter and somewhat relieved that I survived the pain one more time, finally exhaling after holding my breath for 23 days.
Too many parents are facing their own version of my Octobers. If you ask someone who lost their child, they will confirm that the wound flares up in the weeks prior to the sad anniversary, each and every year like clockwork. All of us become engaged in full-blown grief management until we get to the other side of that date.
I share about my grief journey because I truly hope my words will resonate with others who have lost a child to a stigmatized or sudden death. I want those parents to feel assured that their grieving is not unhealthy or strange or imagined. We feel a loss that is impossible to articulate, even to our closest friends. For those moms and dads out there with a festering wound in their hearts, I know your pain. We are kindred spirits… and we cannot let the grief win.
As I pen this blog, I still have 12 breath-holding days ahead. I already know that, no matter how productive I am or how many friends I see or whatever distractions I enjoy, the unrelenting pain of a mother’s grief will taint the upcoming days. But by the grace of God I will turn the corner in a couple of weeks, just in time to enjoy seeing my grandkids dressed in their cute Halloween costumes. After all, I have decided not to allow grief to crush me.
Theresa Anthony is the author of My 13th Station,
a memoir about the loss of her son.