“I Can’t Breathe”

I have my blog set up to send me an email every time a new comment is posted.  I do this so I can make sure there are not inappropriate or hurtful things being posted.  A couple of weeks ago I was sitting at my desk when a notification popped up to let me know a new comment was posted from a fellow grieving dad.  I gave it a quick once over since I was at work and wouldn’t get a chance to really review it until I got home that evening.  There were several paragraphs of text, but the following statement really stood out to me:

“I feel like I am walking around under water; everything is muffled and blurry and I can’t breathe.”

I caught myself mumbling the words “fuck, I know that feeling” under my breath when I read it.  Just reading those words took me right back to those days I felt like that.  I remember those days when no matter how hard I tried, I could not shake those feelings.  This feeling of being “underwater” and everything seems muffled sounded very familiar to me.  In fact, I wrote about these similar feelings when I first sat down to right my book Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back.  I went back to my original writing files and found some text that never made it into my book for whatever reason.  I think it’s powerful and it captures how I felt about these “muffled” feelings:

The loss of a child permeates every aspect of your life.  Your world becomes turned upside down.  Things you thought were important are no longer.  Everything you thought was under your control isn’t. 

It’s like being dropped deep into a body of water blindfolded at night, you are alone and in complete silence except for what you hear in your head, you just don’t know which way is up.  The fear sets in and you start to experience psychological and physical symptoms you may have never felt before.  Fear turns to panic as you try to make sense of it all, grasping for help.  Your nervous system has been impacted with almost irreversible damage, trauma, I’ve heard it described.  Call it what you will, it doesn’t change the way you feel inside.  

After you lose a child, you may no longer recognize the person in the mirror.  You look vaguely familiar in physical features only.  The look you see in your own eyes displays so much pain, pain that no one on the street recognizes and if they do, they haven’t inquired.  That would make them to uncomfortable.

Some people close to you become concerned.  They say things like “you just have to get over this”.  In return you ask them “Would you get over it if your child died?”  They stare at you with a blank look, offended that you would even ask such a question.  If you have lost a child, you know this isn’t something you get over.  Only those that have lost a child can understand the depths in which this pain travels.

It’s been a couple of years since I have read these 3-4 paragraphs, but just reading them takes me back to when I was writing them and trying my best to provide a glimpse to a non-bereaved parent what this journey feels like.  Although the journey and pain can never be captured in words, I think it does paint a picture of what it might feel like for those that hopefully will never have to know.

Can you relate with this topic?  If so, please explain how.

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User Comments ( 9 )

  • Jonathan

    First, let me start by saying I am sorry for all of your profound losses. Words will never touch the depths of your souls that have been affected by our loss. My daughter Aubree past November 30th 2012. I was also very close to losing my wife. My wife Amy had a full placental abruption. Amy had to undergo an emergency C section. Amy required four units of blood and two units of plasma. Amy developed DIC from the amount of blood loss therefore losing all of her bloods clotting agents and had to be life flighted for more extensive care. I remember the nurse handing me Aubree like it was a few hours ago. I still feel her warmth in my arms. Aubree was full term 37 weeks. I would do anything to hold her again. I wouldn’t describe my grief as crying, it was soundless bellowing from the very depths of my soul. As I tucked her hair behind her ears I noticed that she seemed to be smiling as if to say don’t worry daddy I am safe. I couldn’t kiss her enough as I still waited for her to open her eyes. Two hours seemed like five minutes. I finally had to leave Bree and follow my wife to Pittsburgh. Thankfully my wifes condition stabilized. I am left here hollow. Everytime my three year old does something wonderful I wonder if Bree would have done the same things. I wanted to wipe her tears and make it all better. All of the firsts my two daughters go through I know I will think of Bree. It is my cross to bear. I still at times feel the weight of her head in my arms. If I listen do you think I could hear her in a passing breeze or feel her warmth? So flawless in her tranquil beauty. I love you Bree. I want to share this with everyone and hope it can bring you a little peace. On November 30th 2012 we will forever remember one of God’s angels, Aubree Elizabeth. Aubree may have not lived a full worldly life, but she will forever be remembered in our hearts, and have life everlasting free of sin in the kingdom of heaven. Bree will forever walk hand in hand with the father of all father’s. Let the tears shed for Aubree be tears of joy celebrating how she touched so many in peaceful silence. As this life moves forward let us look back on this day not as a loss , but as a gift from God. Go in peace Aubree. With love always and forever, Daddy.

  • Pat

    Thinking of you “MM”. Your story touched me deeply.

  • MM

    For a multitude of reasons, I gave a child up for adoption. His parents told me we would keep in touch, have an ‘open’ adoption, I’d get photos, get to visit, etc.- their assurances on this are what convinced me to complete the adoption. They lied. I never saw him again once we checked out of the hospital.

    Fast forward 18 years, I found her (adoptive mom) on facebook. Emailed her shortly after his 18th birthday, heard they never told him he was adopted, and he just started college, and was doing so great, they didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’. Well, I didn’t want to rock it either, last thing I want was to mess up his life, goal was for him to have good life. So I chose to wait. In the meantime, I informed her that I was recently made aware of how severe my mental illness problems were, and that they could be genetic.

    She took him to the doctor, they put him on antidepressants. 10 months ago he killed himself. With their gun, from their home. I am so enraged they kept guns in the home after having their child diagnosed with mental illness. I am so full of guilt- because antidepressants can cause suicide in bipolar patients, and if I’d said nothing, he’d never have been put on those meds, and he sounded bipolar, and so it was my comment that started that ball rolling.

    I am so ALONE in my grief- they still never told anyone he was adopted- they have their older daughter, their family and friends, their community, and HIS friends all greiving with them. He was well known and very well loved by hundreds of people, all grieving together for him. And I have no one to share my grief with- no one to tell me a funny story about him, or anything. I can’t contact his sister, for example, to talk about him, since she still doesn’t know he was adopted, and I don’t want to add to her grief.

    I always wanted to see him again, I looked forward to his turning 18. My other children were eager to meet him. And from what I’ve heard about him, he was SO much like me. I’ve asked his mother for a video of him, so I can see him walking, hear him talk- it hurts so bad that I don’t even know what his voice sounded like. She promised to send it 5 months ago.

    I gave him away so he could have a good safe life- if only I’d known that he needed someone with the same illness to be able to relate to, so he didn’t feel so alone and damaged. I wish a thousand times over I had just gone ahead and contacted him. I was trying to do the right thing, and I made the worst choice, and now he’s gone forever.

  • Gail

    Yup. I can relate. I mean no disrespect by the “yup”. It’s actually grateful. It’s been a while since i’ve read here, or typed. But tonight: I can’t breathe. And I needed one of the few places on earth I could go to say that. Except i’m willing myself to inhale in gasps -literally. That was so important for me…now it’s every once in a while (it used to be my daily goal.. to Choose to breathe..the only goal), and probably every once in a while forever more on this earth I have times where I have to get back to that and that has to be enough.

    I’ve been kind of “new functional”, back into the physical realm -heavily. riding/working horses for a special program. As awesome as that is, Still a strange life without her… I don’t know what i’ll do when I grow up… Nothing. Seems phenomenol except for what i’m doing, and there’s little money in it. But it’s one of the ways I can function, and something i’m good at and get’s me outta’ me -or even the house. But it’s astronomical how much that pales in comparison to if I had her here in life here.

    Darrel Elizebeth would have been three April 23rd. And right now I can’t breathe. I don’t care what it would take to mix this new “after her, still living here without her life” i’ve been forced to forge -with having her instead. I’d take her. (breathe…) I’d ditch what I have…

    I appreciate the description of “under water” and the others that are similar but different. For me the only way I could describe how that felt was to say that it was like not being able to see in total darkness and not being able to walk and only being able to crawl over broken shards of glass, never knowing where I was headed and which way led to more, or less, glass -in this “new life” wiithout her.

    Right now i’m just trying to breathe regularly and intentionally. And i’m blind again and it’s sharp… I know this will relax later, but right now I’M HERE. and i’m not anywhere else.

  • AJ

    For me, it has been more like being in a slow motion dream sequence. I know activity is happening around me, but I somehow cannot interact. It was near constant right after my four year-old son was taken by a rare disease. But, there are times, even whole days I return to that point. It happens for me, most often around “round numbers.” Such as 15 days ago when we passed one thousand days.
    And, yes, I still count days, not months or years. I think I do it because it pisses people off that don’t want to deal with it. “What do you mean, when am I going to get over it? It has only been 1015 days!”
    (By the way, I am perfectly aware that is two years, ten months, nine days.)

  • John Geraci

    It’s just about two years now since my daughter Leslie entered the hospital for what was supposed to be “the” surgery that would get rid of that “small tumor” and she’d be “cancer free.” Only problem was, she never got out of the hospital and that tumor became like the Alien from the movie as it attacked her body.

    And during those days when even though we knew we were eventually on a terminal course, it was so hard to talk to her except to say how much I loved her, but I was in such a fog, that it was hard to focus on anything, and yet my mind would be racing ten thousand miles a second.

    She died a month to the day after her birthday. I still can’t comprehend it. I look at her pictures and some part of my mind says, “Oh, she’s just up in Canada where she’d moved. She’ll be down to visit soon.”

    There are no words to express how we feel. Sometimes I look at her and pretty much just collapse. I do it in private because I don’t want to explain or have anyone feel they need to comfort me. Some days, if I didn’t have another daughter, I think I’d just check out. What’s the fucking point?

    • “Some days, if I didn’t have another daughter, I think I’d just check out. What’s the fucking point?”

      I feel ya on that one.

      We’re quickly approaching the 1 year mark. Sometimes, I feel like I’m still in the ‘shock’ stage, but mostly I’m walking around, neck deep in quicksand.

      It’s not like I ever forget him, but sometimes, just for an instant, I forget that he is gone. And then I have to relive his passing every day.

  • Pat

    I can relate to the paragraphs provided as well Kelly.

    My description of the debilitation I felt and still feel from time to time is “walking in syrup”. For me, the physical immobilization I felt for the first year has somewhat lessened but the mental mindfuck and overall doubt of how to proceed and “what I want to do what I grow up” still weighs heavy and looms large. Nobody else but the folks we know who have also lost children can relate to the insanity and surrealism we feel daily as we try to mesh back into life without our son.

  • Bruce K.

    It has been just over 15 months since our 22 year-old son and 2 of his friends were killed by a drunk driver; so I can easily remember being underwater as you so aptly described — in fact, I return there still, quite often.
    All 3 of the guys were well-known and liked by the students at the local high school, and the accident hit them and the rest of the small island community really hard. I remember the counselor there explaining to me that the kids were “walking around like they were thigh-deep in mud.” I could definately relate. My therapist, who herself is a bereaved parent herself twice, explained that you go through a period of time that you are like a caterpillar that has been confined to a chrysallis and, as you struggle to free yourself, turn into a muchy substance that has no shape or form, until you struggle, develop, and grow into a new form and are released to live a new and different life. I am still quite gooey and cannot imagine, but look forward to, getting some wings.