Staring at the rhododendron in my memorial garden I realized it was going through stress. My neighbor, concerned a limb would hit his roof, had cut some of the limbs from the large oak back to the main branch. The tree was not harmed, but the purple bush below it now was exposed to the full sun. The leaves drooped, the bush leaned toward the shade, and the stems of the bush became longer with new growth somewhat stunted. I couldn’t stop contemplating the similarities of a tree or bush in shock or stress compared to humans. The slowing of new growth and the withering of leaves being two of the main symptoms. One of the most common reasons for shock is that the tree loses part of its root system. A tree affected by severe stress such as drought, improper planting, improper fertilizer, or any severe weather condition, can take two to five years to recover! When I read this I thought, If we can allow a tree 2-5 years to recover from stress, shock and losing part of its root system, why can’t we allow humans? One online friend said she was told to move on after 8 months?! What is wrong with people????
Why can’t we allow our friends, our families, our co-workers time to overcome the stress of trauma, loss, or injury and the time it takes to adapt to an unfamiliar world. A world where your dreams and expectations are all different now, a world possibly without a loved one, a world seen differently because bad things really do happen and it cannot be controlled. That perceived control of your world bubble has been burst. Can you imagine?
Why do the people who have not experienced the same kind of pain feel the need to insert their opinion and lack of empathy or patience towards those trying to recover from an unimaginable barrier? I pondered this thought over and over for weeks. Rolling it around in my mind. I even posed the questions to my online groups. Have you been told to stop talking about your loved ones, to move on, to put all their items away?
In all four online support groups, there were a few people that had family members walk away from them, who couldn’t stand to see them grieve anymore. Thank goodness for support groups! Many people believe it is our own culture problem. If you think about other non-western cultures, grieving is embraced, expected, and not talking about their loved in most other cultures would be odd. Everyone has their own way to work through it and it may take years or maybe a lifetime. What some outsiders may not realize is that losing a loved one puts you in a category of losing your own life. Finding a way to move through the pain is necessary to survive not just physically but mentally. To criticize how someone tries to cope with their pain to me is almost cruel.
What if we lived in a more empathetic world? My friend from high school lost a fellow soldier to suicide from PTSD. When I read his story I thought back to when I came home from Desert Storm. I was alone, no one understood my sadness and it took a couple years for me to really transition back to civilian life mentally. I look back and I really could have used more support. Counseling, group support, military support and people around me giving me grace, anything. I felt awkward when I first came home like I didn’t fit in. Everything around me felt strange. I had lost the people around me that I had lived with for a year, learned to sleep through the sound of Scud missiles, learned to eat the same thing every day, wear the same clothes, look at the same terrain. This was only with one tour, our soldiers have been going for multiple tours. They come home to an impatient world, but the human mind and heart take time to heal. Could we just learn to emphasize more and for longer even to situations we do not relate to? When people are in stress and shock they need more support, not avoidance and isolation. We tend to scoot away from unpleasant people and situations as if we will catch their sadness or their pain. Like I said, we give a tree in shock two to five years of support and nurturing to return to thrive.
I have a friend who lost her son to an illness when our kids were in second grade, about 9 years ago. I remember when it happened secretly being thankful it had not happened to my family. It was hard to wrap my head around, it seemed to come out of the blue. As a parent, you start to rationalize how to keep your own children safe. You think if I do X, and Y and Z my children will be protected from whatever. We still need to do those things, we still need to try to protect our families, but I was so wrong, bad things happen to good people. It’s not contagious, and hiding and ignoring problems in our society don’t make them go away. Bringing light to the darkness does. Talking about taboo things like grief, suicide, depression, PTSD has been proven to actually help that affected heal. I wish I could go back in time and hug and walk with my friend when she went through what she did. I sent her my condolences, saw that she had people around her so I didn’t think she needed my help, or that is what I told myself. If you are reading this now Deana, I apologize from the bottom and deepest part of my heart.
Here’s something not everyone knows or gets. Helping others actually heals you! http://mentalfloss.com/article/71964/7-scientific-benefits-helping-others
Before I even started the nonprofit, or read the amazing book, It’s ok to not be ok, https://www.refugeingrief.com/book/ a book everyone should skim through that knows someone going through grief, especially family members, I talked to multiple people about how they were coping with losing their child. The people that were doing more than merely surviving seemed to be finding a sense of purpose or legacy, anything from planting a tree in their child’s name in a much needed reforested area or place they loved, a book drive in their child’s honor, buying a birthday cake on their child’s birthday for someone else or paying it forward. When talking with Deana, she had spent valuable time and money to bring change to medical procedures for other children suffering from her child’s same illness. My other friend who lost her six-month-old to SCID runs a fundraiser every year on his birthday. Their entire family is involved every year, they are helping others with their child’s same disease. I am very proud to know them and their story, I now realize how important it is to talk about and share our stories. Thank you, James and Stacey, for what you do https://primaryimmune.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/StaceyBarrettTestimony.pdf
According to psychology, helping others helps heal ourselves. It’s the reason I felt led to take my family to build houses with our church in Mexico next month. I knew we didn’t have the resources to go, but as I walked into my small group, I asked for a sign or answer if we should go. Ten minutes later as we talked in our small group, my family was given half the funds needed to go by another couple that couldn’t physically go themselves. I had my answer. I don’t expect it to completely heal the root we are missing from our tree, but I believe it will help as we learn to grow a different direction.
Since I have lost my daughter, I have been extremely blessed by the support of most everyone around me, but I have had some things said to me and about me that have been unkind, though I now know, they do not know, how unkind these words truly are. I have had people, that are my closest friends not utter a word to me, (you can just give me a hug, you don’t have to say anything its ok friend.) I have been told to put my pictures of my daughter away, (By the way they will be out until I die so get over it), that my blog just throws my grief in everyone’s face, (Um, Don’t read it), that my non-profit for depression awareness isn’t healthy for me or my family. (That’s totally against what all of the psychological community says, but o.k.) This is where I have to thank my online community. When I asked honestly if these things were healthy or not, you all gave me honest answers and reminded me to follow my heart to heal, and that awareness, even if it only keeps one family out of this grief club, is worth it. At first, I was angry at these comments, but how can I be angry when in the past I am guilty of it too before I walked this path? Now I know its fear and ignorance to this world I sometimes wish I was also ignorant to, along with people carrying their own baggage, thinking they know what’s best. They don’t. Let’s try empathy on first.
I just read that Michael Phelps struggled with depression and in the past suicidal ideation. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2838142-michael-phelps-details-struggles-with-anxiety-and-depression-on-twitter When you look at someone so talented and with so many followers we think they have it all. We think we know what kind of life they have. The one thing I can say that has come out of all this grief is that I have realized you never know what the person next to you is going through. The irritated old man in line may be mourning the loss of his wife, maybe today is their wedding anniversary. The young man in line covered in tattoos buying beer at 9am might be suffering from PTSD. The lady crying in the flower aisle at Costco, and moments later snapping at the clerk for the mismarked prices of flowers might be trying to decide what color roses to bury her daughter with.