Nearly four years into my journey as a bereaved mother, I understand that there is an ebb and flow to my grief; some days are more difficult, some days are easier. I also understand that the stages of grief are not nearly as linear as many believe them to be, and moving backwards and forwards between them is just part of my life as a bereaved parent.
Understanding these things, however, did not prepare me for the resurgence of grief I recently experienced…
In March, the teenage daughter of a friend was murdered by another teenager; she was shot at school and died a couple of days later. I had met her only a handful of times (we live in the same neighborhood; she was shot at the high school my own son will attend one day), but I was overwhelmed by how deeply I felt her death and how far back in my grief over the death of my own son it jolted me. I felt like the worst friend in the world because I was so caught up in my own grief that I wasn’t able to be there for her like I wanted to; I didn’t want her to feel like I was somehow making the death of her daughter about *me*, and I didn’t want to inadvertently say or do any of the things that people said and did after the death of my son that caused me distress.
I didn’t want to risk my pain making hers worse.
The grief counselor I reached out to explained that what I was feeling was completely normal, but it sure didn’t feel that way. How could it possibly be normal to dream about walking through a funeral home with my friend (it was the funeral home my husband and I used when we lost our son – it’s not even in the same part of the state we live in now – and I was showing her the wall of tiny urns and explaining that the very tiny ones are for very tiny babies)? How could it possibly be normal to decide not to attend the memorial service or funeral because just driving past the venue they were going to take place at induced nearly crippling anxiety? How could it possibly be normal that I – who talks to women who have lost children every single day (as a volunteer in the perinatal loss community) – was suddenly unable to do anything for her except offer a few words sent as a private message on Facebook?
Here’s what I’ve finally come to realize, though: Everything I felt, everything I am still feeling, is *my* normal. I am a grieving mother. I will always be a grieving mother, and grief is messy, and complicated, and hard, and often unpredictable. My grief is mine; no one’s grief is exactly like mine. And it’s important for me to give myself permission to feel what I am feeling, just as I stress to other grieving mothers that it’s okay for them to do the same.