Often times throughout my life when I experienced something stressful or painful I would just put my head down and try to fight through it. This approach had always worked for me. In fact, I implemented this approach after the death of my first child Katie. I put my head down and tried to fight through the pain and the stress. Since I grew up with a blue collar background were fighting was a rite of passage. I thought I was doing a bang up job battling this enemy. However, about 18 months later and just a few weeks prior to the death of my son Noah, I started to notice small cracks in the façade I had put up. These cracks would prove to me the downfall of the strong foundation I thought I had created. Over the 18 months leading up to this point, every time an “emotion” would show up, I would squash it. Push it back down as quickly and as forcefully as I could. I actually thought I was winning this battle, but this enemy is ruthless and would blind side me every chance it could. This constant beating was starting to take a toll on me.
The death of my son was like a swift kick to the groin and it sent me to my knees. Every time I would try to get back up it would strike again, more force. I was a slow learner; in fact I would try to give myself pep talks. Literally, there were a few occasions where I would stand in front of the mirror in the morning while I was getting ready for work and I would catch the look of pain on my face; that sad depressing look that appeared to age me by several years. I would lean into the mirror and try to give my best pep talk. “You fucking need to pull your shit together and fight though this”. I would then punch the vanity top to pump myself up. It’s kind of embarrassing to even admit to such behavior, put I was doing what worked for me in other difficult situations in my life. In the past, if something wasn’t going my way, I would take control of the situation. But this approach was not working for me no matter how many conversations I would have with myself. I thought by pumping myself up, I could win this battle. Not a chance. This pain would dare me to try to shake it off and when I would try, it would add on a little more until the load became so heavy I surrendered to it.
Yes, I surrendered. Gave up and quit fighting it. I finally became so exhausted from this battle that I just said okay, you win. As soon as I changed my mindset and surrendered to the pain, I started to actually feel all of the pain and emotions I had suppressed the previous 2 years. I mean really feel it to the core. I let it take its course. I let it “be what it was” at that given moment. I allowed it to sweep over me and consume almost every thought. I wasn’t sure I was going to survive it and in fact, I would constantly ask my wife, counselor and a few trusted friends if I was going to survive it. They assured me I would, but I even started to see the concerns on their face and realized they really didn’t know if I would.
I think taking a break from fighting it and allowing it to be what it was help me to regain my strength to start the long, drawn our process of rebuilding my life. I can now look back and say I lost a lot of battles over the last several years, but in the end, I knew when to surrender and I knew when to come out swinging. I can honestly say that I am in a good place in my life as a result of surrendering to the process of grief.
I want to be clear here, I am not saying you shouldn’t fight, but don’t “fight” the fact that it’s there, that it hurts, that the death of your child has impacted aspects of your life that you don’t even realize yet. What I am saying is pick your battles and live to fight another day. This isn’t a onetime battle, it’s thousands of battles. You will lose some of them and you will win some of them, the important fact is its ok to throw in the towel when you need to. Know your limitations and learn to allow the process to run its course.
Any thoughts on this topic you would like to share?