Grief is a journey with no familiar destination. It will last, to varying degrees, for the rest of your life. Grief takes you to extremely dark places that nobody would ever purposely visit. It is a twisting, winding road with hills and valleys. You can never see clearly. There are tar pits that entrap you for days on end. There are pools that drown you time and time again. Just when you think you’ve reached solid ground, the very Earth shifts beneath you and you tumble down to the depths of Hell all over again. The scenery is desolate and cold. The very air is laced with despair. There are fellow Travelers you meet along this Journey. Grief is different for every person and every loss. The loss of a child is a horse of a different color altogether. When you meet one of these fellow Travelers, an immediate and everlasting bond forms. You look into each others’ eyes and find such a deep knowing. These fellow Travelers, by their very existence, give you hope that you too will be able to keep going.
Grief brings out the very best and the very worst in those around us. There are 7 types of people that I’ve met along my Journey. Sometimes it’s surprising who they turn out to be.
1. The First Responders These are the people who show up at the moment of trauma. These are the ones that drive 4 or 5 hours in the middle of the night or hop the next plane to get to you. These are the people that literally hold you up when you hear the news that your child won’t be coming home. These are the people that bring their children to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning to be sure there is a chance to say “Goodbye.” These are the people that hold vigil in the hospital for as long as you are there. You may not even notice them because you are in shock and can’t see beyond the child laying in bed, but they are there. They try to feed you when you can’t feed yourself. They protect your modesty when you pass out on the floor. They sit outside the door and keep everyone away so you can have private time with your baby. These people are strong for you in the midst of the immediate crisis.
2. The Runners These people show up with the First Responders and have the best of intentions of being there for you – for enduring this agony with you. They mean well, but they can’t handle it. These people slip away without a word, unnoticed, wrapped in their own feelings. I try to not hold judgement on the Runners. We are all doing the best we can in any moment. At least, I hope so. Grief and trauma affect us all differently. Some people are just incapable of being a part of the nightmare.
3. The Busy Bees These are the kind-hearted folks that come out of the woodwork and surround you with love. These people move right into your house and take care of everything you can’t think of. These are the people that show up with food for weeks on end. They show up with tables and tents and hundreds of chairs and set them in your yard only to disappear before you can say thank you. They cater the gathering after the Funeral. These people think to do things like make memory books of your child. They do your yard work. They hold candle vigils, fundraisers, and start websites to help. They take pictures and video in case you ever want to look back. They know you aren’t really present in your body and want to make sure you always have something to return to you when you are ready. They go to the mall to buy you orange dresses because they know with your bright, red hair that there simply is no orange in your wardrobe. They know you will want to wear your son’s favorite color. The Busy Bees brave panic attacks of their own to come support you at your child’s wake.
4. The Moths These people tell themselves that they mean well. They are inexplicably and uncontrollably drawn to the attention surrounding the grieving family. They are drawn by their own desire to feel needed or important. These people insinuate themselves into every situation with an outward appearance of altruism. It can take a little time, but eventually, as the media attention and whatnot fades, so do these people.
5. The Ignorant These guys want you to be the same person you were Before. They expect you to still want to do the same things and don’t know how to relate to the new You. They treat you like nothing happened and quickly end conversations when you inevitably bring up your child. The loss of these people goes practically unnoticed.
6. The Ostriches The Ostriches are close neighbors with The Runners. These people might be there in the crisis but disappear shortly thereafter. You are a walking, talking, flashing, neon billboard of their greatest fear. They need to be able to pretend it could never happen to them, and so they can’t watch it happen to you. Some of these people are just so caught up in their own drama, they simply can’t handle yours. This is okay. It hurts sometimes when you think these people are your lifelong friends, but Grief has a way of clearing unhealthy relationships from your path. Eventually you realize that these aren’t the type of people you want in your life anyway.
7. The Warriors These people might have been friends or strangers or acquaintances Before, but they have Since become a true partner on your Journey. These people are ridiculously brave. These are the people who show up and climb into bed with you without saying a word. They hand you tissues and hold you until you cry yourself unconscious. These are the people who go with you to the funeral home and style your child’s hair. They officiate at the Funeral Service even though it terrifies them. These are the people who keep checking on you even when you don’t answer your phone or ever text back. They know you will when you are ready. These are the people who pick you up off the floor when you walk into their shop and collapse in the ugly-crying sobs. These are the people who take you to painting classes because you need to do something. These are the people who take days off of work to drive you to visit a friend in another state. These are the people who answer the Bat Signal and help you tear up the blood-stained carpet. These are the people who know you will never “get over” it. They know that no matter how much time passes, your child will still be gone, and there is never going to be a day you will be “over” it.
The Angel Warriors have shown me what healthy friendships are. They have taught me that it’s okay to be vulnerable. They have faith in me and for me when I don’t have it myself. They remind me that, although my Journey is solitary, I am not alone. These people are Angels on earth, and I feel truly and deeply blessed to have them in my life.