It is the worst nightmare of a parent. It is the death of a beloved child. Murder makes it that much worse.
Once a child is born, a parent would do anything to protect them. A parent would even sacrifice their own life so that his or her own child would live.
The tragic death is the worst pain imaginable, and it comes with months and years of anguish. I hope that none of you experience this pain, but if you do, here’s some things that helped me. You aren’t alone.
When Does the Pain Stop?
When I first started attending support groups,
this was my first question:
When does the pain stop?
I really wish the answer were different, but the
answer is ‘never.’ When someone is fresh to their grief,
this can be a punch in the gut, so it’s important to quickly get to the next point. Over time, the pain will get softer and possible to bear.
In the first year, the pain is quite severe. This pain is not endless. You will eventually find a new normal.
Your old life is dead. Many parents live their lives for their children (me included). When the life of a child ends, the life of the parent ends. Not literally, but all hope and joy can drain away. It is important for the parent to begin to live a new life. They need to come to terms with a new normal life. This is the new normal.
You never intended this, but you are now on a mission for your own self-preservation.
It’s Not Your Fault
This was not your fault.
You could not have prevented it.
You are worthy of life.
These are very important statements. For those of you that have not experienced traumatic loss, you would be well served to memorize the above. The parent in pain needs these three important points. At first the parent won’t believe it. He or she is in shock. You must repeat it until he or she believes it.
- This is not your fault. A parent feels responsible for the health and welfare of their child. They couldn’t stop the murder of the child. They feel guilt. They need to be released from that guilt.
- This could not have been prevented. The tragic events are playing over and over in the head of the bereaved. He or she is wondering if they had done this or that. Would their child still be alive?
This endless loop will try to drive a person insane. Put a line in the sand early. Any of us could play, “What If?” games. What If is no longer allowed.
- You are worthy of life. It is very unlikely that this statement will be agreed upon. The surviving victim will be very hard on themselves. Even if he or she does not yet agree, they must accept the fact. Other ways to prove his or her self-worth is to have a close friend talk about the impact the survivor has made in his or her life. Affirmation of this point might be a full-time job while the tragedy is fresh.
‘You are worthy of life.’
Here is a list of things that helped me. I have been on a quest for recovery. I found out that this is a life-long quest. The only other alternative is to give up. I refuse to give up.
1. Talk About Your Pain
I recommend finding and joining a support group. A great organization is the Parents of Murdered Children (POMC). There are many chapters across the United States. Talk to your victim’s advocate about the nearest chapter. These people have been through similar circumstances, and will let you talk. They know how important it is to talk.
The story of your tragedy is unbelievable. Your brain cannot process it. Talking about it makes it real in your head. Only then can you begin the process of rebuilding your life.
Your pain is a sharp bundle of razor-blades inside you. If you bury it, the pain will make you sick. Many victims of homicide develop horrible diseases. Grief and stress, if not treated, can do a lot of damage.
Friends will often reach a point where they no longer want to talk about the tragedy. In some cases, they might even ask you to move on. They do not understand that there is no ‘moving on’ for you. This is another reason to find a support group. They will never tell you to move on. You can tell them the same story as much as you need to.
Your story may have tears. It may be angry. Any and all emotions you feel are all right. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel.
2. Stay Busy
It’s time to break out the to-do list.
When you dive into a project head-first, you can lose yourself and forget about the pain. Don’t worry about forgetting the pain – you will never forget the pain. This is just taking a temporary pain-reliever.
This is also a good time to start a new hobby: Art, crafts, writing… you name it. You never know what you will like until you try it. Grab a catalog from the local community college and sign up for a class or two (or three!). Not only is this a distraction, this will help you in creating that new normal we talked about before. You may discover a hidden talent that can help form your new identity.
3. Help Others
One of the best ways to lessen our pain is to help others. Volunteer for organizations. Be on the look-out for way to help your fellow man (or woman). Reach out to others that are really hurting. You can help others. In so doing, you will help yourself.
This can be combined with Step #2. You can volunteer to help with the manual labor tasks of others. Digging a ditch or cleaning a house will keep your mind busy AND help someone else.
4. Find Someone (or Something)
You still have the capacity to love, perhaps even more now than before. You have a deeper sense of empathy for others.
If you are single, the exhilaration of a new relationship can lift your spirits. Just be cautious of falling for a person that is less-than-perfect.
Use your friends to vet your choice, if you need to.
If you are already in a relationship, work on strengthening that bond. Do things for your beloved. He or she is your lifeline, now more than ever.
Spend close time with that person.
Consider getting a new pet. An eager puppy nuzzling your face can make you smile. You need to smile and laugh right now. Deep sobs or deep laughter can move the rock that is sitting on your chest.
You could show love to a dear, close friend. This could be a time to create strong family relationships. You have love building up in the dam of your heart. You need to find a release for it just as much as you need to find a release for your pain.
5. Enjoy Life
You have just received a very bitter reminder
that life is short.
- Pamper yourself. Take yourself shopping. Eat out at good restaurants. Eat dessert before your main dish.
- Be silly. Where purposely mismatched clothing. Wear your pajamas and go to the mall. Learn and tell some lousy jokes. Talk to strangers. Take yourself a little less seriously!
- Enjoy peaceful things. Look hard at the sunsets. Breathe the fresh air. Pick a flower or two. Visit a garden or a forest. Go to the zoo.
6. Avoid Harmful Habits
You may be tempted to crawl into a bottle (pills or alcohol). You may want to eat ten gallons of Rocky Road ice cream (a pint is ok). We might want to sit on the couch and power-stream everything on TV.
We know what is harmful to us. We could make a list.
You may be tempted by all kinds of things that promise release.
The sad truth is, no physical pleasure will help your pain. It will make matters worse because you will feel bad about yourself after you have indulged.
Let’s flip those urges on their head. Make a list of things that are good for you and do those things. Go for a run. Check. Write a long letter by hand to a friend. Check. Make a very healthy meal from scratch. Check.
You may not feel like doing any of those things (and believe me, we’ve all been there). Do them anyway. You will feel better about yourself afterwards. Plus, the act of doing something with meaning is healing for the soul. Try something with your hands, or something that uses your muscles—it is cathartic.
P.S. Go out of your way to eat dessert, just limit yourself.
7. Find Religion
I’m not going to preach to you here. There is a reason every 12-Step program wants you to find your higher power. It gives you perspective, and it helps. Do it. Stick with it. Practice it. Take it deep in yourself. Let it heal what hurts.
8. Improve Yourself
Go on a massive quest for self-improvement. Lose weight.
Start going to the gym. Take some classes. Learn public speaking. Learn a new skill.
At the very least,
you will be distracting yourself and keeping yourself busy. At the most,
you’ll be a healthy, well-adjusted human being.
Reward for Reading
Thanks for taking a few moments out of your life to read my article. As a reward, here’s a cute
Flickr user Arielle Fragassi
Flickr user m shaff
Flickr user Juco