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Carol's Columns

Trapped in Pain

After my last article, "Suicide and Loss," I received this question from a mother whose 19-year-old son, "Paul" (not his name), was killed instantly when his truck rolled over:

“I can’t live with the pain of losing Paul, but I feel so caught. His death is the last memory I have. If I lose the pain, will I lose a part of him also?”

This is such an important question because so many who are grieving the loss of a child feel the closeness and the constancy of pain. But here are some other things to consider.

First, remember that you will always have the pain of missing him and your future with him. That pain will find its place as you build on the legacy -- whatever made him unique and wonderful in your life -- that your child gave you.

Second, remember that when your son was born, you had the pain of birthing that was eventually replaced by the beautiful little baby you cuddled, nurtured and watched grow. You had 19 years of good and bad memories of Paul, and they will not be lost. They are all yours. No one can take them from you.

It is much harder, but not impossible, to let go of the pain associated with his death. Letting go of the pain does not mean you’ll stop missing him. At times your tears will flow, as they should, but ask yourself this:

“If Paul had one wish for me now, what would he want? Would he want me to hold onto my pain as a way of holding onto him?” Only you can answer that, but I doubt the answer would be yes.

Grief is complicated, often subconscious but nonetheless real. It may cause us to hold onto our pain because of guilt. What parent doesn’t feel guilt after the death of a child? Our role as a parent is to protect our child; when he or she dies, we often feel we have failed as parents, and therefore we deserve the pain and no better. Our child is dead. How dare we go on to have a happy, fulfilled life?

I find it hard to believe that your Paul would want you to suffer for the rest of your life because he can no longer be with you. I can’t believe any of our children want to be remembered in that way. In fact, I think if there is an afterlife and it’s as wonderful as we’ve heard, their only wish is for us not to suffer now. I know our children want us to work through the pain and be happy again.

In my case I had a memorable bubble bath where I thought of just slipping under the water to lose my pain. In that same bubble bath I confronted the pain of my daughter's death only to find myself closer to her. I felt horrible outside the bath and terrible when I entered it. As I sat there, I decided to challenge the pain – face it head on. I decided to feel it, to let it envelope me -- not to deny it -- and after a few minutes I began to feel my Kristen close to me.

This was the first time after her death that I felt this way -- the first time that I realized it was the pain that kept me from the wonderful warm memories of our life together. Our relationship was anything but pain. I learned that the more I challenged my pain, the closer I felt to her. Kristen was just on the other side.