How am I doing?
I always picture myself on a road. I tend to look forward, not back. And with Annie, I tend to look forward to seeing her again. That's my focus. But, as with everyone, there are triggers to grief that catch one unawares, and when that happens, I can go from fine to mush in nothing flat.
Usual conversation with any new acquaintance:
"How many children do you have?"
"Oh, and what are their ages?"
"29, 26, 23, 20, 18, 16."
Eyes begin to tear...
"...And our youngest, Annie, who died in March. She was almost 8."
Or when I go to the store to buy flowers for her grave:
"Is this for a special occasion?"
"Uh, not exactly. I'm putting them on my daughter's grave."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. What happened? How old was she?"
"Well, she had a brain injury when she was three...and adrenal insufficiency...and then she got the flu, and died from complications of that...she was almost eight."
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
Clerk's eyes mist over as mine do, too.
In many ways, we have been grieving for five years.
We grieved the loss of the Annie we had before her brain injury, and we grieved the post-brain-injured Annie when she died. So grief is almost a familiar friend who goes away for a few days and then comes back in and sits down for awhile. Many people describe it as waves of grief. And that has certainly been our experience. For five years.
What surprised me when she died was how much of our grief was of Annie before as well as Annie after. With severe brain injury, it's almost taboo to say how much you miss who they used to be, because after all---aren't they still alive? Aren't they right in front of you? Well, yes, their body may be. But their mind--who they were in expression and conversation--the essence of who they were--that's gone. And in Annie's case--she went from a precocious 3 1/2 year old to a 6 month old overnight. It was incredible loss. So when she died in March, it was like we lost her again.
Fortunately, these types of situations aren't the whole story. They are just waves that come and go.
I won't identify them by name, but one still has dreams about Annie a lot:
"In my dream, I was holding her so tight and she was fighting against me 'cause she'd never let us hold her tight you know, and when I woke up, I just wanted to go back to sleep, so I could hold her again."
Another one continues to visit her grave each week.
Another one always bought Annie a stuffed toy at the Disney store every Christmas. But this Christmas, he wandered in there, looked around at all the toys he wasn't buying, and then hurried out when the tears started creeping down his face. He mentioned that again when Christmas came, how sad he was that he wasn't able to give her a Disney toy as in years past.
When talking to a friend who's experienced loss, what helps and what doesn't?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. 1 Peter 1:3-4