I don't watch daytime talk shows very often, so my information about the January 15, 2013 episode of the Ricki Lake Show, "A Cry For Help," came from the buzz on Facebook from fellow grieving parents reacting in outrage, not praise, to the advice given on the show. I've since gone to Lake's website and watched the clip of the episode with the couple who lost their infant son. The introduction to the segment talks about a couple who, five months later, are "reliving the loss of their child everyday." Five months may as well be five hours or, on some days, five minutes. That is what this grieving couple who came to the show for comfort and advice needed to hear. Instead, they were met with advice from Dr. Mike Dow, a couple's counselor. Dr. Dow hopped onto the stage from his front row seat in the audience and proceeded to detail the five stages of grief and place the couple in the stage of depression. Seems to me that after only five months, depression is not a surprising place to find parents whose baby has died. Further, the stages Dow referenced are not meant for the loved ones left behind, but is a guide set out by Eliabeth Kubler-Ross to help the dying.
Grief is not linear. It whips you around and sometimes it corners you and forces you to sit down or lie down and let it wash over you and feel every aspect of it. It comes with minefields that can take you from feeling functional to running to your car to sit and cry until the tears won't come anymore. Minefields come in many forms. They can be the misguided but well-intentioned words of a friend or neighbor. It can be the sight of a child that would be your child's age, or a toy or a blanket in a store that is the same one you bought for your child. All of these things can send you reeling and being forced back to the abyss of grief, especially in the early months and years, yes years.
What a disservice was done to this couple who were told in so many words to buck up and hurry and get to the last stage of grief, which is acceptance. And in the words of Dr. Mike Dow, "fake it until you make it," for the sake of your surviving child. What appalling advice. We're not talking about someone who got a bad haircut and has to wait for it to grow out.
If I could have sat on the couch with that couple, I would have first told them, "You are not alone." Those are the words that still echo in my heart after losing my 19-year-old son Jordan in a car accident almost five years ago. Parents who had lost children some were friends, some were friends of friends, all blanketed my family in hope just by still showing that they are here and continuing to live their lives. Like this couple, I too asked, When will it get better? I was given an honest answer every time. "I don't know, it's different for everyone." But the one thing I was never told was to fake acceptance of the death of my child. It is an absurd notion that acceptance will just happen.
Grief is hard work, some of the hardest work I have ever done. It means accepting that I'll have days when I can't get out of bed because it physically hurts too much to move. It means accepting that there will be good days where I shower, get dressed and make my way out into the world feeling fragile and wishing desperately for some way of letting others know to be gentle with me, because I'm mourning the loss of my child. Acceptance is about sitting with your grief and letting it wash over you instead of pushing it away. To cry those salty tears and to yell and wail at God, the Universe, the doctors and sometimes yourself as you make your way through all the feelings that grief brings forth. To feel every feeling no matter how painful and with time, lots of time to become less afraid of falling apart and more secure in expressing the loss, but also the love that comes from a relationship with your child that died. After the death of my son, I asked a dear friend and grief guide, Tom Zuba, "What will I say when people ask how many children I have?" His response was a light unto my path: "Relationships are eternal. You will always be Jordan's mother. He will always be your son."
To this lovely couple that is so clearly searching to make the hurt go away, I offer my condolences on the loss of your son and ask you to reach out to the many resources that are available to grieving parents. (Fortunately, one that was offered at the end of the show was Compassionate Friends. )Don't be afraid that it will make you sad. You're already sad. By aligning yourselves with a community of families and professionals who know what it is like to live with the death of a child, you will find comfort, peace and the promise of feeling joy again. Search for those things and never be afraid to mourn because that is the true path to healing.