GRIEF 101 – PART 1


Copyright 2010, by Judy Unger

The wind is icy

Whipping through the dense, cold darkness

My eyes are misty

The stars are dim

I am alone

I’m standing numb and frozen

Wishing your arms could hold me now

But they can’t because you’ve gone

Out of my life

I am alone

I don’t understand what’s happened

A deep, dark emptiness is there

Why did you go?

What is left since you’ve died

I don’t know

I am alone

I am alone

First off, I am a human portrait of grief.

I am a bereaved parent. I am grieving my five-year-old child, Jason, who died eighteen years ago.

I am grieving the challenges my children have faced.

I am grieving my parents who are still alive, but not like they used to be.

I am grieving my marriage. It started out with so much companionship and love, but has been lonely for me. Grieving is a solitary thing. Men and woman grieve differently.

I am grieving my best friend from college, Cheryl. She died of breast cancer in February of 2008. I suffered a lot by making the decision that I couldn’t leave my family to go see her before she died.

Finally, I am grieving the loss of the talented girl I was. I was a girl that had so much going for her. That girl was so joyful about life when she was young.

I am no different from other humans who are grieving. I believe I have a gift to describe those feelings in my music and writing. Because I write about my grief, it doesn’t mean that it is deeper than anyone else’s. I don’t believe in comparing grief. I used to do that, and eventually I learned that it wasn’t helpful. It never made me feel one ounce better to think my situation was “worse!”

I have been writing daily for this blog since February 17th. I have not yet truly, I mean truly written my feelings about my son’s death. I have only just begun. I am moving toward that direction very carefully. Everything I have written has helped me to feel better. In only a short time, I have felt a new lightness within me. I believe I am healing!

For those of you that have experienced deep grief; I know you’ll understand. For those who have not, it might be very sad to read about. You might know someone who is grieving. Perhaps this will be helpful for you to understand what they might be going through.

I was a “poster child” at my chapter of Compassionate Friends. Everyone looked at me as a true, success story. I was able to actually laugh again after the death of my child. I didn’t wait long to do that. Laughter does not mean there is not intense pain.

I went on to have “subsequent” children. Not too many people who knew me then, were aware that I actually had to go onto another form of grief; the grief over accepting additional hurdles my childen were dealt. I needed to address those challenges, and considerable advocacy was required of me!

Recently, I’ve felt overwhelmed with the responsibility for my own parents and their needs. I have stuffed all my feelings away for a very, long time.

I hesitate to write the title I did, Grief 101! It sounds like I am a teaching a class. I wrote that title, because I was hoping to share and educate anyone that is interested in relating to my personal, grief experience. I am not the representative of anyone’s feelings, only my own.

My grief is mine, and it is a lonely journey. I cannot speak to the pain of other humans.

In order for me to survive my own pain, I have intimately shared my pain and my story with fellow “grievers.” That was what was most helpful for me.

For the rest of my life, whenever I hear or read about something tragic, I cry tears inside. That is because I know that with the death of anyone who is cherished, the lives of those who loved him or her are irreparably changed forever.

I carry many stories besides my own. In Compassionate Friends, which is a group for bereaved parents and siblings, we tell our stories over and over again. “Telling the story” helps to lessen the trauma.

“Telling the story” also lessens a bereaved parent’s greatest fear; that our child will be forgotten. I know my fellow griever’s children very well. I hope they won’t mind if I share. I am not positive of their childrens’ ages, but I am about the cause of death and their names.

There was the exquisite, six-month-old Adam whose mother laid him next to her after he had an attack of the croup. He fell asleep as she gently rocked him. When she woke up, he was dead.

There was three-year-old Matthew. He was running in circles in his living room with his younger brother chasing him. He fell down dead; his heart had stopped due to an unbeknownst, congenital defect.

There was beautiful Marc, who was in his twenties. He loved children and was so kind. One day he went to the movies to watch, “Dave.” He looked like he was dozing off. He died from a heart abnormality in that theatre.

There was Blake. He was a teenager who drove off to go skiing, full of life and promise. He had a horrible car accident on the way and never made it there.

There was six-year-old Stephanie. She had an ear infection and was on antibiotics. Her mom drove her older brother to school; she waved goodbye to her ill daughter. When she came back, her daughter was dead.

There was Debbie; she was in her early twenties. Debbie endured surgery after surgery her entire life because of Marfan’s Syndrome. She was always in pain. She told her mother the day before she died, “Mom, this hospital is going to kill me!”

There was a young sister. She had a brother with a heart defect. One day he died, and the brother she loved had disappeared from her world. Her parents would never speak of him again. She was not able or allowed to talk about it. From that point forward, her childhood was filled with sadness. When I met her, she decided after all the years that had passed (perhaps twenty) that it was time to address the grief. She joined me at the CP meetings. She cried when she told her story there for the very, first time after so many years!

I have a thousand more stories inside my head and heart like these. It’s different than reading them in the newspaper. That’s because I heard these stories told by the parents who this happened to – when it was fresh and excruciatingly raw.

When it was the first time, perhaps they screamed and wailed. Sometimes it didn’t matter that they had already told their story a hundred times. Their words were choked with tears and pain.

I’ve held their hands.

Sometimes it was their very first time of telling their story. They might go on to tell it a million times for the rest of their lives, or maybe not. Some people never tell their story. They keep a picture of their loved one somewhere; they silently carry their pain. That is my husband.

It was difficult was when I was a telephone volunteer for the organization. I answered the phone calls for those seeking support and a place to go with their pain.

The initial pain could be described as “shock and awe,” or disbelief.

After eight years of bereavement, I started collecting other stories. They are just different stories. They are also quite painful. I know the mothers in these stories well.

I was there.

There was the mother who had a non-verbal son. He was about ten years old. He was swimming in the pool where he had already defecated. I swam in that same pool five minutes, earlier.

His mother had tried very hard to get him to take his medicine, but he refused. She came to him poolside; he grunted that he wanted her to come into the pool with him. She was afraid of him; beaten down and tired of it all. She went into the pool because he wanted her to.

She had her clothes on!

I am tired now. I will write more about grief another time.

My calligraphy (done in college) of lyrics to my song, “More than you Know.”

“There is no timetable for grief”

Hypnotherapy taught me to be gentle with myself. I realized that my worries were based upon my experiences. The trauma left me in “warrior mode,” and this was deep within my subconscious where I had no control over it.

It has not been easy for me to change any of my programmed “mindsets.” I have many of those. Here is an example of one of my “mindsets” and how it came about.

“Skating on thin ice,” means I can never relax; I am always anticipating that something bad will happen. I need to be “ready” to deal with it, and obviously this has been a tremendous drain of my energy. I am very good at dealing with a crisis; I have had constant elements of that in my life.

I am going to share a true experience. It could explain my feelings about why I have often felt I was “skating on thin ice.”

I met one of my bereavement friends, Riva, at a support group that was for “general bereavement.” We were the only ones in that group who had lost a child. There were widowers, children who had lost parents, and even someone who had lost a pet.

Riva and I were scornful and disgusted about the other people in our group who were grieving a pet. We weren’t even sympathetic to those who had lost a parent. It was much later on when I realized that grief “cannot be measured,” it all hurts!

There is no point in comparing or measuring when someone is hurting. I was not always like this; I am ashamed to admit. But that is also human!

Riva and I did return to that group for a while, but it was mostly because of the leader. Her name was Eileen. She had lost a young son to leukemia many years earlier. Eileen was a therapist, but she no longer did private counseling. I begged her to consider seeing me. She saw my agony and despair.

I didn’t know how to go on living; it was so hard! Finally, I convinced her of how desperate I was, and she was willing to see me privately.

She gave me some advice that stuck with me. She told me, “Judy, grief is simply a matter of baby steps. You need to walk with someone – together! Someone who is suffering alongside of you and who understands how hard it is to face getting up each day. What about Riva?”

And so it was that I chose Riva to be my partner in grief, and we met often to discuss the details of our childrens’ lives and death. I met more bereavement friends through the organization Compassionate Friends a short while after that. Riva joined me at those meetings, and we no longer attended the “general” bereavement, support group.

Going back to the mindset of “skating on thin ice,” I will finish this story of how hopeful I was that Eileen, a fellow, bereaved parent and therapist would ease my pain.

Eileen and I had our first appointment scheduled for a Saturday morning. I was counting the days, hoping the agony inside would be eased somewhat by having this “expert at surviving grief” counsel me.

She had lost her young child so long ago, and seemed at peace with it. Ironically, I am the one now that is still trying to find that peace after 18 years.

I will never ever forget her frantic phone call on the Friday night before our appointment. Now I know why I have had the feeling that no matter how much tragedy I’ve had – there could always be more!

“Judy, this is Eileen. I am so sorry! I have to cancel our appointment for tomorrow. My oldest son was just killed! He was walking near some train tracks, and didn’t see the train coming. Oh my god, Oh my god!”

© Judy Unger and 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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2 Responses to GRIEF 101 – PART 1

  1. dani says:

    i am looking for and end to my suffering, I want the life I had before this tragedy. the internet gave me you. my Caitlin survived two heart surgeries only to have it all end 7weeks ago in a car accident because someone was on their phone and not paying attention to the car in front of him stopping. I have a 13 yo and a 3 yo; Caitlin was 10, her birthday is next month. I am broken, but I have spent all my work day reading your words and they do offer comfort. Thank you!


    • Judy says:

      Dani, I just now saw your comment and I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner. What can I say?
      You are living in a horror. At 7 weeks you are at the beginning of a journey where you cannot go back to the person or life you had before. I remember well also struggling to raise my other children while in deep grief. I am so sorry!
      Please know I care and stay in touch with me. I am thinking of you.


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