My daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Surgeons operated on her for 20 hours, but were unable to save her life. Her injuries were too severe and her brain had stopped functioning. With disbelief and dread, my husband and I signed the papers to stop all life support.
When my daughter’s life ended, I felt mine had come to a halt. The experience was surreal and I walked around in a daze. But my husband and I hardly had time to mourn, when, nine months later, her former husband died from the injuries he received in another car crash. Suddenly, we were GRGs, grandparents raising grandchildren. It was hard to keep up with life, let alone believe in it again.
Parents who have lost a child have two choices. We can give up, sit around and wait to die, or we can re-join life. Choosing to believe in life again is one of the hardest choices I have ever made. Deep in my heart, I knew my daughter wouldn’t want me to merely exist. No, she would want me to life my life to the fullest and enjoy her children.
Re-joining life hasn’t been easy, but in many ways, it is a memorial to my daughter. What did I do?
First, I identified my grief work and kept at it. Though mourners have similar thoughts and challenges, our grief work can be quite different. The only way I could identify my work was to be silent and listen to my innermost thoughts. Nearly four years have passed since my daughter died and there is still grief work to be done.
Learning more about grief also helped me. Today, I have a small library of grief resources and a bulging file of article printouts. One thing I learned (and it shocked me) is that society gives mourners about three months to recover from grief. In a matter of weeks we are expected to be “over it.” This is an unrealistic expectation, especially for people like me who have suffered multiple losses.
As I learned more about grief, I also learned more about “anniversary reactions,” special times like birthdays and holidays when grief washes over us again. Since my daughter was born on Thanksgiving, I take steps to gird myself against a resurgence of grief. I plan special activities or do something in memory of my daughter. Making a relapse plan has helped me and I think it will help you.
My husband and I have found ways to honor our daughter’s life. We commissioned a choir piece in her memory and donated money to local churches. But raising her children is our greatest memorial and it is a sacred one. Though the court rescinded our legal guardianship when the twins turned 18, our mission continues.
My current life isn’t what I thought it would be, yet it is a happy life. Each day I awaken with purpose and a sense of joy. I’m a grandmother and I am needed. You are needed, too, by your family, your workplace, your religious community, and your town. Each day of life is more precious than the last. Don’t waste a single one!
Copyright 2011 Harriet Hodgson
Updated: April 9, 2013