Diane Rose never denied what happened to her 26-year-old son, Wayne. She wasn’t angry at God for his tragic death and didn’t ask, “Why me?” She saw a counselor, changed her teaching job, joined online bereavement groups, and read a lot about the grieving process.
A change came over her two-and-a-half years later.
Apprehensive and Fearful
She became apprehensive, even fearful of the students she taught at a public school in Maryland. “I love my job. It’s what I do, but at that point I couldn’t teach,” says Diane, who then had 24 years of teaching experience.
“I felt like I was going crazy. Steve (her husband) was plowing through, and I was feeling like crap. I felt guilty, worthless. Why am I like this?”
Life’s fastballs worsened her turmoil. A few months earlier, her husband learned of his cancer diagnosis and her nephew, my son, died in a swimming accident. “It was one thing after another,” she says. “I was so stressed.”
Mistakenly, she thought she’d bypassed the grieving process. She hadn’t. She was stuck and didn’t know it.
According to experts, including Marcia Messer whom this blog featured a few weeks back, not everyone will experience the stages of grief developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. These stages are helpful in identifying where the bereaved is in the grieving process. The goal is acceptance and finding a path to living a meaningful life.
Her misperceptions are understandable. Unlike some, Diane didn’t deny Wayne’s death or blame anyone for the accident, including the skydiving company where Wayne worked as an instructor. Furthermore, she didn’t struggle to find meaning in his death because she knew the plane crash was his destiny.
“From the beginning, I focused on not becoming disgruntled with life,” Diane says. But there she was, anxious, nervous, and feeling like life was spinning out of control.
Diane’s Path Forward
What did she do to keep moving forward in the grieving process? How did she become unstuck?
“No one goes through the loss of a child unchanged. Everyone grieves differently,” she says. “What’s good for me may not be good for someone else.”
Diane reordered her priorities. She quit her job, took early retirement, and contrary to common wisdom, cut back on therapy. Exercise became a focus. “I needed more time to get in touch with me.”
Perhaps more important, she focused on strengthening her relationship with her husband, Steve. “We decided we were going to fight for ourselves as a couple,” she says. They renewed their marriage vows in Kauai where their son lost his life.
It’s Okay to Cry, Live Again
These days, Diane is in a better place. Anxiety and weariness no longer plague her. But that doesn’t mean she’s forgotten her son. She feels his absence acutely. Those emotions bubbled up a few months ago at the funeral of a friend’s son. Diane put her head between her legs and sobbed.
She saw the beach in Kauai where her own son had died.
Crying is okay, she says, as is banishing certain thoughts. Some people feel guilty if they begin to enjoy life. Her advice? Eliminate the emotion. “When I think, ‘how can I think like this,’ I catch myself. You have to talk yourself out of that. The process is continuing.”
That it is.
Kudos to Diane for recognizing what she needed to move on. Her love for Wayne doesn’t include living life in a debilitating sadness. Her free-spirited, life-loving son wouldn’t have wanted that for her.
Are you stuck? Have you gotten stuck? What advice can you give for living life again?