I recently had the honor of being the opening keynote speaker for this year’s national gathering of the Bereaved Parents of the USA. I spoke about the evolution of my grief and observations and lessons learned during the past eight-plus years that have helped me adjust to the reality of life without the physical presence of my daughter Jeannine.
One of the things that I addressed was my need to ask “what if,” “could have,” “should have,” and “why” questions throughout my early grief, which was for me about two and one-half years. I say “for me” because everyone’s grief journey is unique. And since our journeys are life long, the time it takes to navigate early, middle and later grief is irrelevant. What is relevant is that we consistently do our grief work with the help and support of others who understand our pain.
Asking questions is an expected part of our journeys as bereaved parents. The rules I lived by changed after Jeannine died, so questioning what happened was required to try to make sense out of what happened to me and my family.
Here are some of the should have, would have and why questions I consistently asked:
- What if I had convinced Jeannine to do one more clinical trial?
- Should I have done more to protect her from her disease (cancer)?
- If I wasn’t so oblivious to the condition of her foot (her right foot was the primary site of her cancer), could I have gotten her evaluated sooner?
- Why was my family forced to bear this terrible pain and suffering?
- Why did she have to die?
I asked and I asked and I asked, but no answer I came up with seemed to satisfy me or change the reality of my situation. I was like a cat chasing its tail. The only satisfactory resolution to my questions would have been to have God himself come down from heaven and inform me and my family that he was going to reverse his decision, give Jeannine back to us and return things to the way they were. Because I knew this wasn’t possible, I eventually stopped asking those questions. And when I stopped asking those questions, I got the answers that I needed.
The reality is that Jeannine had an aggressive type of cancer for which there was no cure. Jeannine fought a noble battle, but in the end, the aggressiveness of her disease won out over nobility and the unconditional love and support of her family. We all did the best we could given the hand of cards we were forced to play, and today I am at peace with that.
Updated: August 14, 2013