I Didn’t Cry This Morning
Author: Dennis Apple
During my lifetime I have endured a few severe winters. These were the winters when the wind was bitter cold, when several days passed without the appearance of the sun. The snowfall was extremely heavy, and travel was difficult. During those winters, I eagerly looked forward to the first signs of spring. As we approached the end of February and rolled into March, I knew the signs to look for. We have a tulip bed in our front yard, and as I pulled out of the driveway each morning, I took a quick look at it, wondering when those first green shoots would push through the soil and appear. When I saw these first signs of spring, I knew it wouldn't be long until I would see the color of springtime once again. I gained hope from those green shoots, because I knew what would follow.
Every newly bereaved person I talk with always wants to know how long his or her pain will continue, how long his or her bitter winter of sorrow will last. It's a natural question to ask. After all, grieving is the hardest work we do, and it's only natural to want to know, "When do I get a break from this?" The soul-crushing weight of grief is almost more than a person can bear, and we often wonder if the day will ever come when we'll smile or laugh again. Then, when we do start to get a "break" from our pain, we often feel guilty. This is the paradox to grieving that is often misunderstood. Sometimes we don’t want our grief to be taken from us, because the grieving itself is a connection between us and our dead loved one.
As mentioned earlier, we were in severe shock during those first few days and weeks. After a while, we would have brief moments when we actually thought we were getting over it. Hope springs eternal. It's probably a good thing I didn't know how long our winter of grief would continue, because it was much longer than I expected. Along the way, there have been times when I would get a glimmer of hope that we might survive it. Let me tell you about the signs I noticed in my life.
In the beginning, the pain was overwhelming and unbelievable. Denny had died on the couch in our family room, and I tried to stay away from that room, even though it was the most popular room in our home. In order to make my way to the garage where the car was kept, I had to walk close to the very place where he had taken his last breath. It took a while, but finally I was able to do it without seeing him on our couch.
The next thing I noticed was the photographs. While I was in heavy shock, I could look at his photograph as I mourned for him. However, a few weeks after the funeral, it was simply too painful for me to look at Denny's photos. My wife felt the same way and had difficulty looking at the photos of him when he was younger. I'm quite certain it was years before I could look at his photo without feeling a twinge of pain.
It may take years before the green shoots of hope begin to appear in your life. Be patient and keep looking for them. They will reappear after your long winter of grief.
Below is a list of signs that may help you recognize that you're getting better:
- You don't feel compelled to tell everyone—even strangers—about the death.
- You don't cry yourself to sleep every night.
- You sleep well and can awaken feeling rested.
- You can walk past his or her room and not be reduced to tears.
- You can go to the grocery store and not be upset when you see his or her favorite food on the shelf.
- Your food starts to taste good again and your appetite returns.
- You have the desire to get out of bed and face the day.
- You can walk or drive past the place where he or she died and not be consumed by the pain of your loss.
- You're no longer overwhelmed with sadness when you hear the lyrics to certain songs.
- You can place flowers on his or her grave and not be overcome with sadness.
- It becomes easier to face his or her birth and death dates on the calendar.
- You really do want to try to live again.
- You enjoy going to the place of worship and begin to feel renewed in your soul.
- You start noticing flowers, birds, the sky, and all living things in a new way.
- You have a strong desire to redeem your loved one’s death by using it to help others.
- You start to take an interest in a hobby or an interest you had before your child died.
- You have empathy for someone else who's suffering a hardship.
- Your short-term memory starts to gradually return.
- You can look at your loved one's picture and remember the good times instead of the pain of his or her death.
- You can talk with others about your loved one and laugh about the funny and interesting things he or she did.
- You look forward and plan for the holidays instead of dreading them.
- You can go to favorite restaurants and eat without thinking of the empty chair and the person who used to sit across from you.
- You can attend the milestone functions of your friends and actually be happy for them instead of crying over what you'll never have.
- You can look at other people's children and grandchildren and actually be happy for the parents and grandparents.
- You have forgiven—or are trying to forgive—the person you feel is responsible for your son 's death.
- You can forgive yourself for things you said or things you should have said and didn't.
- You have forgiven God for not stepping in and saving your loved one 's life.
- You have forgiven your loved one for his or her part in the death, especially if he died by suicide.
- You catch yourself singing once again.
- You cherish your family and friends in a new way and find new ways to express your love to them.
The pain of our loved one's death has ripped us open, causing a nearly mortal wound. We're staggered by this wound and are trying to get along the best we can, hoping we can live through the pain. We learn to make adjustments, realizing that everything has changed and that we'll have to search for or create new normalcy. Gradually—ever so gradually—a scab will form over the once-bleeding wound, and we'll find new ways to cope, to go on.
Since Denny's death almost 17 years ago, I've had several people ask, "Do you ever get over it?" I always answer by telling them, "No, you never get over it. It gets different, but you never get over it." For us, the first five years represented the worst of the nightmare. But we'll have a big scar on our hearts forever.
[Excerpted from Life After the Death of My Son: What I’m Learning (2008) by Dennis L. Apple.]