Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Setting Grief Aside

Where has my grief gone? It feels remote and inaccessible lately. And with distance from my grieving self comes distance from Noah. I know that grief for my child will always be with me. But it’s gone underground again.

I was talking with a friend and fretting about days that go by without thinking of Noah or feeling anything when I walk past his picture on the piano or in the den. Memories of the living Noah recede into the shadows as I’m increasingly caught up in other things. That seems healthy, my friend says; that seems natural. I’m sure she’s right. But I hate how inexorably life rolls forward without Noah. I hate the numbness that comes from sensing his absence where his presence should be. 

I’ve fought against numbness throughout this journey. I’ve felt most alive when grief flowed freely, when tears brought me closer to my love for Noah, and when writing about it brought release. I plunged headfirst into grieving in the first year or two without understanding the need, with traumatic loss, to “dose” my grief and pace myself lest it become overwhelming. Of course, I had no choice at that point; I was undone. With time, it became easier to choose whether and when and how much I wanted to give way to grief. Psychologists Jordan and Baugher say that grief eventually becomes a more voluntary response that we can control, as opposed to the involuntary grief of earlier stages. 

But grieving takes enormous energy and some part of me must have recognized this when I put it aside a few months ago after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis . I had to stop and really listen to my body’s need to rest and heal. At night, I tried to ease into sleep with relaxation exercises; when I woke up, I prolonged the sense of rest by reading in bed. I concentrated all my prayers and meditations on my health rather than anything to do with Noah. And I put a lot of effort into staying positive—not my natural inclination!--and keeping anxiety at bay. At the same time, I was intent on finishing a book inspired by this blog that will be published in July (more on that this summer). I needed all the energy I could muster to meet my deadline and take care of myself. I see this only now as I reach the end of 20 radiation treatments and begin to reclaim my time, my body, and my grieving self.

Sometimes all it takes to unblock the numbness is to recognize and lament it. In the days since I began writing this post, the gates began to ease open. In five weeks, it will be four years since we lost Noah. By then, I trust I can cry again.


  1. Dear Mourning Mom,

    A friend sent your blog link to me and I thought I'd write. I too am an Associate Professor at a community college in Olympia, Washington. I've been teaching for over 20 years. My daughter Rachel died of a drug overdose on Christmas night, 2008, and so we're going on 2,975 days since that moment, which of course is every parent's worst nightmare. I'm so sorry to hear about Noah, who looks like such a lovely young man. You must miss his smile, his whole being, your conversations with him, more than can possibly be expressed. It's the most treacherous journey a person can make, so today, I'd like to say you are my hero. Any way any person makes it through even one hour after experiencing such a horrific loss is heroic. I sometimes don't know how I'm doing it myself, but what I can say is that many people told me in the beginning that this would get easier to bear as time passed. I didn't believe them. I thought they were lying to keep me sane awhile longer. But in fact, as it turns out, with a lot of time, and the desire I have not to let this destroy or consume me, it turns out it's slowly happening. Getting easier to bear, that is. I'm writing today to give you some ray of hope, then, too, that the longer we bear the burden, the stronger we get, and the more we can bear it with grace. I know, I know, it may not resonate with you now, but it's okay. You're courageous for putting this blog out for others to bleed onto. We each need some form of that. And thank you for doing this. But as time passes, I hope you are able to find some sense of peace in all this chaos, this seemingly endless horror that goes on and on, making us feel frozen in one spot as the world turns ever faster. It can come, however, in my humble experience. Sending love to you today.

    1. Hi Nancy,
      Thank you for your encouraging words. I'm so sorry for the loss of your daughter, Rachel. Actually, a lot of what you say does resonate -- I guess I have enough perspective to see what you mean. It sounds like from all this loss, you have gained quite a heart of wisdom. What more can we hope for than to bear the sorrow with grace and help others do the same? Wishing you continued peace on your journey,