Back to Normal After Grief, Is it Possible?
by Peter Wiebe
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After Jesse’s death, I went back to work, Anna went back to taking care of the home, and Christian and Noah went back to school. Recently, we have started to participate more actively again in our home church. And Lord willing, I intend to start teaching Adult Sunday School again in August. But did things go back to normal?
Several people have commented to me on how we are getting back to normal, and it seems to me that it makes them feel more comfortable around us. Is it, however, true? After the death of our son, are there such things as “post-grief” and “back to normal”?
The idea appears to bring comfort to some of our friends, family, and acquaintances. Perhaps it takes away some of the discomfort of being around us during our grief. I can certainly empathize with that. I know that being around me has not been easy as I try to process this new reality. There have been a few brave souls who have dared to walk with me, and for their courage, I am grateful to God.
Just over a year later, I would emphatically deny that there is any going back to normal. There is a new normal that we are beginning to settle into, but it hangs by a tenuous thread. Our world has been shaken once, and we know that we are not untouchable now. It could happen again. In fact, it is only a matter of time before it does. Does this mean we should live in a constant state of anxiety? Absolutely not! I have learned that the only constant in my disarrayed world has been the Word of God. Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble. He did not lie. But He also said to be of good cheer because He had overcome this world. He is my anchor in this storm tossed world of grief.
Try to imagine living for almost 9 months with the constant threat of death looming over your child, and you are powerless to remove that threat. Try to imagine not sleeping in the same bed with your spouse for that long. In fact, try imagining the stress of not having your whole family together for most of that time. You’re constantly leaving your children at someone else’s house while you’re off to relieve your spouse at the hospital. Once there, you hardly ever sleep well because your child is in terrible pain and discomfort. The nights that you are home and your spouse at the hospital, you toss and turn, pray, and constantly wonder how the night is going for your beloved child. You are tired all the time, plagued with guilt over how you could have done better while your child was still healthy, and crying out to God with apparent effect.
But you never give up hope, even when other well-meaning people suggest that it’s time to let him go. How could you possibly let your child go when he is adamant about continuing the fight, willing to take another round of chemo because his will to live is that strong? Giving up is not an option!
Then, one day, your worst fear comes true. The cancer is winning. There is no more hope of survival. You are in complete shock.
After months of a constant barrage of activity, your world suddenly stops. Your child is gone. A stranger unceremoniously dumps him into a black bag, zips it up, and wheels your child out of the room that he occupied for the final months of his life—someone else needs the room now.
Your shock follows you home as you return to your bed and sleep with your spouse for the first time in months. But sleep doesn’t come. You didn’t bring your child home.
The next day you go to the funeral home and dress your child for the final time and weep bitterly. You are numb as you careen through the funeral and burial. The numbness wears off some time later only to be replaced by the most intense pain and loss that you have ever felt. You wish that you had died with your child, held his hand as he crossed over. Parents should not have to bury their children.
But you still have a spouse and other children that need you. You choose to live because they need you. So, daily, you cast yourself on the mercy of God and do the things you have to do. You cannot fall apart. And, by the grace of God, you do not.
After such an experience, you are scarred for life. You will never be the same again. There is no “back to normal”. You are irreversibly changed. In fact, you bristle at the idea that things could ever be the same again. Your desire is to wring ever last drop of benefit out of this rag of suffering. After all, Jesus kept the nail scars in his hands and feet after his resurrection. You still follow Him because he told you the truth, “In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”.
And so, your faith remains intact because you have found it to be true in your darkest hour. In the midst of all the grief, fear, and doubt, you find that you cannot actually stop believing. You look to Christ to come again. You long for the day when you when your whole family will be re-united in the presence of God and all his holy angels. When you will once again hold your child in your arms and tell him how much you love him.
In this life, you will never be complete. Your hope lies in the next world—a world the King has promised to all of his children. Armed with this hope, you move forward in this life. You seek to love and follow Jesus and teach your remaining children to do the same. The day you make this decision is the day you realize that you are closer to your child going forward than looking back.
In conclusion, there is no “back to normal” or “after grief” in my opinion. You pack up your grief and carry it with you for the rest of your life. The weight of it is always there—the scars a constant reminder. You wouldn’t have it any other way. Your child is worth nothing less.
© Peter Wiebe
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I really enjoyed this article. I can feel the truth of it as I read it. Through my own experience of losing a loved one (not a child but a spouse) I can definitely attest to the reality of it.