The Never Ending Tunnel of Grief
By Lisa Glazebrook. (Note: Lisa was a guest on the harmful habits podcast episode about grief. Here she summarizes some of her experiences with grief and some advice to support those going through grief). The death of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. Personally, I believe it is the most painful thing anyone can go through. But it isn’t just something you “go through” it’s something that changes who you are. It changes your outlook, it changes your core, it rips your soul out of your chest, and forces you to continue to breathe without it. Grief is a hole in your heart that will never be repaired. A never-ending craving to touch their skin again, to smell their hair, to feel them in your arms, and to hear their laugh. A loss of all the could be’s, would be’s, and should be’s. Not only has their future been ripped away but when you lose a child part of yours has too.
My only child, Hampton, died in a side-by-side utility terrain vehicle (UTV) accident on February 28, 2021. He was 8 years old. Hampton loved anime (his favorite character was Killua Zoldyck, pictured left), taekwondo, animals (snakes were his favorite), sarcasm, and playing jokes on people. I always described him as being wise beyond his years. I would watch the way his little mind could make connections and conclusions about situations that would blow me away. He was entirely too smart for his own good at times.
Part of me died when Hampton did; most of me, actually. I felt I had lost my purpose. I wanted so badly to be with him. I prayed that I would also die, and many days I still do. But here I am, still breathing, somehow.
I have been blessed with an amazing support system through all of this. My friends, coworkers, family, neighbors, and even acquaintances have stepped up in ways I didn’t know were possible. I also recognize this isn’t the case for everyone. I’m lucky to have these people supporting me. However, I’ve met with other grieving parents who have had people say the most egregious things to them: like saying their child is in a better place, or everything happens for a reason, or at least…there is absolutely nothing you should say to someone grieving that starts with “at least.” Not ever!
I had someone tell me, “You’re doing a lot better than I expected.” Do you know what I heard? “You aren’t fitting into the box that I believe your grief should look like.” Well, let me tell you, the version of my grief that people see is only the tip of the iceberg. Similar to someone dealing with depression, you can’t always see it on the outside.
I’ve learned there is a lot of shame and awkwardness when it comes to talking about Hampton. People become uncomfortable when I tell them my only child died. It makes them even more uncomfortable when I tell them how it happened, or when I share my anger toward the adults involved, when I tell them there are days I don’t want to live, or when I simply respond honestly to them after they ask how I’m doing.
Something I have done with my closest friends that has been really helpful is to be very transparent and direct about how I would like them to respond to me. When I went back to work I sent out a group message to everyone asking them not to ask me how I was doing, not hug me (I would have broken down), and asking them to treat me exactly how they would have treated me before Hampton died. This was what was best for me at the time. However, now a year and a half later, that has changed. I want people to ask me how I’m doing. I want others to acknowledge that even though I’m able to function normally most days, I am still hurting. I want others to acknowledge that they haven’t forgotten about Hampton. I want people to say his name! Say his name every time he is thought about. I want my friends to text me, or call me, every time a memory of him pops up. I want others to keep his memory alive just as much as I want to keep his memory alive.
I’ve found that doing positive things in Hampton’s memory is really helpful for me. It ensures me that his light continues to shine. For his birthday I have organized a #Hamptongivesback campaign where I go to all of Hampton’s favorite restaurants and purchase stranger’s meals in his memory. I have encouraged all my friends and family to do the same.
I’ve also done a lot of advocacy and awareness around the dangers of children using ATVs and UTVs. This has given me a purpose and I know my little boy would be so proud that I am helping to save other lives.
Something I found that was not helpful in the beginning of my grief journey was people asking me what they could do to help. Now, I know what you’re thinking, this seems like a plausible question to ask when trying to help someone going through a hard time. But the issue with this is I was not in any kind of mental state to be able to know what I needed. So instead of asking what you can do for them, it would be more helpful to give a few options of things you are willing to do and then see what would work best for the person grieving. For example, would you like me to bring you dinner or would you like to go out to eat? Would you like me to sit with you or would you like to go on a walk? The option to do neither of those things should also be offered. Asking in this way will help to narrow options down while still giving the person a choice.
Or, don’t ask and just do. I was so grateful for anything that someone did. If you don’t know what you can do here are some suggestions:
· Create something in memory of the person who passed
· Share funny/positive memories you have of the person
· Offer to clean the house or do yard work
· Help organize bills to be paid
· Go grocery shopping or cook
· Help take care of kids or pets
· Bring wine
· Offer to make phone calls to doctors’ offices
· Offer to go with them to the funeral home