I'm always amazed at those time markers that are tossed out -- five years to get over a divorce, for example. I think I even heard somewhere it takes three years to move on after the loss of a child. Imagine! I admit there's a difference between "moving on" and "getting over it." And those time frames are different for each situation. I just maintain it's hard for anyone to know when those time frames occur for another.
Don't get me wrong, though. I definitely see the value in helping someone establish a sense of "the new normal." There's just no handbook for this uncharted territory. There's no "app for that." Those of us on the sidelines can be so desperate to "fix" the situation. Flash bulletin: There is no fix.
"I would never suggest there's a single right way to get from Day One after the death of a child to Year Thirteen," Edwards says. "Life is like a blackboard. We write on it the things we are, the things we do. We fill it up, sometimes erasing what we've grown out of ... and replacing with new activities, new passions, new friends.
"As we grow up, our blackboard is as filled as it can be: I was a mother, a wife, a lawyer, a soccer coach and Goodwill volunteer. Write those down. Go to sports cards shows and doll shows. Write those. Go watch the [University of North Carolina] Tar Heels. There's book club and the PTA. Sew a Halloween costume. There was always room to add one more thing. In the spring of 1996, my board was crammed full.
"And then Wade died. In an instant, my blackboard was erased. Nothing I was doing before seemed important. And nothing I might do tomorrow seemed worthy. So I wrote nothing at all. And I did nothing. I couldn't eat. Real life is something other people had, something I once had and cannot imagine having again. The people we were are like characters in stories from a book. It's nearly impossible to believe that once we were them."
Dealing with grief is different for everyone. And it differs within families, causing extra stress on those already taxed to the max. I'm a big believer in counseling, and that can take many forms -- a therapist, a clergy member or a friend. An important tool that helped Edwards was the Internet -- communities where people, unfortunately, were "members of that club."
As she said, "We pulled up chairs, in front of computers all over the world, and we talked. At any hour of the day or night, there was always someone there, at their chair waiting for you. The communities -- alt.support.grief [an Internet newsgroup], www.griefnet.org and www.webhealing.com -- all functioned the same way. A person who recently lost a loved one would post an introduction, and those who had been participants for a longer period of time would respond. In this world where no one had a physical presence, I could accept Wade's physical absence -- in a way -- and I could parent his memory, keeping that a central part of who I was. In this community, it was all I was: Wade's mother."
My neighbor Maury Reishman shared a quote from a friend, who is also a member of this club. "You never get over it. Not one day goes by that you don't think about them. In time, they become friends, though."
And, gradually, a sense of "the new normal" unfolds. It's different, to be sure. And it's different for every person. Grief is the great equalizer.
So, here's to Cody, Kimmie, Steven, Helen, Emily, Zach, Willy, Nelson and so many others. You are gone, but not forgotten. We will never get over you -- even when we have moved on.
Linda B. Arnold is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm specializing in advertising, public relations, government relations and interactive marketing. Reader comments may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or e-mailed to livelifefu...@arnoldagency.com.