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Bereavement Support Services
Letting Go of Illusions

It is in Letting Go that we are Free to Hold on

Recently I have heard a lot of discussions on the use of the terms ‘closure’, ‘letting go’, ‘moving on’, ‘getting on with your life’ and ‘acceptance’. So many people in the process of bereavement find the glib use of these terms offensive, repugnant and that it minimizes their intense journey of pain. When taken off guard the grieving person is hurt by the insensitivity of the remark and often even angered by it; especially if uttered by the inexperienced or the ignorant. We don't ever want them to be experienced and if they are ignorant, then we must enlighten them. So many times we are angered and say nothing; we swallow it, put deep inside on a back burner to slowly burn. It’s okay to be angry, it is a part of grief, but it also needs to be released and not allowed to fester. Most of the time when someone makes a remark we do not like, or utter an inane platitude, know that usually their heart is in the right spot, they just truly do not understand. We must appreciate their compassion and their courage to say something. We must also realize our perception is jaded by deep our personal grief with its umbrage of pain and bitterness.

We tell them, we educate them, they become informed and we harbor no resentment. We see past their ignorance and accept what ever words of compassion they give to us...so many say nothing. Often times it is not what is said, but how it is said that threatens our well being. Positive accolades are never taken well especially in early grief when they seem to be used the most. People who have never lost a child just do not know. Accept their compassion however they give it. If you must, put a finger slowly to the lips of the fumbling but caring human being and simply tell them “please don’t try and fix it, just hug me and hold me like you mean it.”

There is one key word in the listed platitudes that you will notice is one of the five Kubler Ross stages of grief; Acceptance. This is the stage of grief that rules them all and is the key to understanding the use of its sister terms; moving on, letting go, and finding closure. First of all I think we all have learned to understand that the five stages of grief: Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Acceptance are non-linear and happen all together, separately, and in all combinations for many years, but happen they do, and happen they will. Each stage serves as a unique purpose for our survival and that is what they are, survival tools.

Shock gets us through the impossible, to bury our child. Denial keeps back reality so we can function somewhat back into society… like a non-ending bad dream we continue to live on without our child, but with an elusive thought we will wake up to find it really was just a bad dream. The first year anniversary date usually knocks out Denial and Shock briefly steps in back in. Anger jumps in and out at its leisure and usually catches us off guard or when we are going into and/or out of depression. Bargaining is a total mind game that we play with ourselves to rationalize our current state of misery and to make it feel justified. I deserve to not get out of bed; If I go to church more often I will feel better; If I get drunk enough I can cry and or sleep; If I pray enough I will wake up from this nightmare; If I end my own life, I can join him; I can smoke as much as I want, what difference does it make now; If I am good enough and try hard enough may be he will come to me in my dreams. A seeming never ending internal dialogue that yields has no answer but gets us through another day.

Now back to Acceptance, the ‘over soul’ of the stages of grief, the one that encompasses them all and gives credibility to the aphorisms; letting go, moving on, getting on with your life and finding closure. We own these words, they are our grief, we paid a heavy price for them and we shall use them as they were meant to be. In eventual healing from child loss we find closure with the other stages of grief and not closure of our child. We usually first find closure with Shock. As a temporary survival tool by its nature shock finds closure on its own and we are no longer numb and it is then that we truly feel the pain. When we find closure with Denial, we know our child is dead, that this is not a dream, they are not coming back and we begin to live the pain. We eventually find closure in bargaining because it is a mind game and simply doesn’t work. That leaves us with Acceptance, we accept the pain, we accept our “new normal”, and we accept the new relationship we have with our dead child. We also accept dead is not gone, we accept there is letting go of many things/people in our new normal EXCEPT our child. The world must learn to accept our new normal and accept that we shall never ‘get over it’. Like arthritis we learn to live with it.

We ‘get on with our life’ with our child, we ‘let go’ of illusions of what could have been, we ‘find closure’ in what we cannot change, and we ‘move on’ with our new future as best we can. We are now our child’s legacy; we substantiate their life by the way we live ours, so let’s make them proud. We do not put their names and memories away left unspoken and hidden like some shameful secret but shout them loudly to the heavens and to all that can hear: “I love my child and I still feel him near”. It’s in letting go that we are free to hold on.

Mitch Carmody