We’ve all heard the saying that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. If you’ve every tried to tackle a very large task or project or enrolled in a very long program, you know what I mean. It can seem daunting and impossible when you look at something large that needs to be done and then look at your limited resources.
Imagine an elephant, it’s the largest land animal in the world, their tusks are teeth, their trunks are made of muscle, their skin is very thick. It’s not the most politically correct analogy since 90% of the world’s population has been wiped out, but you get the picture.
Anytime someone asks me about anything from the past, I have to put it in the category of before and after. Before 2/1/2018 the day I lost my daughter, I was an entirely different person. I buried a child and part of me died that day.The thought of continuing to breathe for another 30-40 years without my child seemed impossible to be honest. In the early days there were moments I had trouble breathing. I had a couple moments of panic attacks where I just couldn’t suck air into my lungs. Breathing quick and short breaths as dizziness would find me. I didn’t know how I was going to take on this elephant of just Living.
Having access to research articles I recently looked up some facts about recovering from a child’s loss. It is associated with increased mental health issues and depression, anxiety disorders, marital breakup, and so on. How to battle that elephant? My theory is that it takes little bites, moving forward, focusing on getting through one day, one hour during the first year. I remember thinking I could not imagine a year without her. How was I going to make it 40 years?
I had to find things to focus on in my recovery journey. Little things, I joined Helping Parents Heal online, I started writing, I was dragged out of the house to go walking, I collected books for a book drive, I planted things, I reached out to a couple other mamas who also lost their children and we formed some sort of morose club. The membership fees are drastically high (bad humor). I remember looking over at my husband’s back as he grieved silently. My first thought was, I don’t want to be anything to anyone, but as I looked at his back, I thought to myself, I cannot let this ruin us, and though we were mostly a silent and weepy couple, I made myself be there for him. It took a huge conscious effort.
It’s OK to not Be OK, the book and online group really helped with these daily bites. Social isolation causes more psychological problems, most people isolate after such events causing more issues, and the snowball effect happens. Reading that book was a tiny ray of hope. I knew I was not alone. Up until them I felt ostracized, alienated. I remember looking at a coffee barista and thinking why is she smiling? My world has ended. The internal rage inside me, and sometimes still inside me, wanted to break, burn and destroy something. We cannot be alone and the most difficult part is that without any energy, motivating, or even desire to reach out to others, WE have to take that bite to survive. We want and hope for people to continue to pull us off the couch, but after the food had spoiled (because no one eats it), the flowers have died (also disturbing) and the cards have been stuffed in a shoebox, we sit utterly alone.
I have survived, but I cannot say I came out the other side unscathed. I have pretty severe PTSD for one. If a family members phone is suddenly off, the fear hits me like a brick. Police officers, fire trucks and ambulance’s sirens, certain movies, books, plane rides, seeing her childhood friends graduate, get married, having children all brings me to tears. This person though, the one that recovered from her daughter’s suicide, has a sarcastic and probably a bit disturbed sense of humor (I’m a nurse so it got worse), she is a bit more of a risk taker, she’s someone who tries to seize each day and she loves FIERCELY, she is extremely empathetic now, especially to the underserved populations. Somedays she’s a lion (others days she’s a sloth).
My husband started a new job recently. They say not to change jobs in the first year or two and he waited did not changed jobs. Most parents losing a child change jobs, careers, change their focus. He goes to an office daily where he once worked from home. I was staring at my huge overgrown lawn he couldn’t get to. I am not a girl afraid of a lawn mower, but the grass was insanly long, and the chronic fatigue that sometimes destroys me was a risk I was going to have to take.
For most people it probably wouldn’t look like that large of a task, but for me on that day it seemed impossible as I looked at it. My analogy of the elephant came to mind and then the similarity of those early days/years where every task seemed difficult including reading, shopping, cleaning and focusing on the future. I had to take tiny steps, tiny bites towards surviving. Shop for one meal, do one load of laundry. Today the sun was peaking out and I thought, I can do this, it might take me all day, but I can do this lawn section by section. It took me 4 hours, with multiple breaks. I would stop and cool myself down, (I get overheated), and while stuffing a bag of frozen peas under my armpits, I started up the mower up moving forward, finishing my large task.