Since Jonathan’s accident, I have joined a few closed Facebook groups for bereaved parents and others who have lost someone close to them. Sometimes I need a safe and semi-private place to vent the thoughts that seem so crazy in my head. Those groups have been helpful (at times) to make me feel understood and not so alone. These are parents who know the pain of my loss. However, I also see so many people there who are drowning in anger and pain and bitterness. It breaks my heart. I occasionally try to share where my own hope comes from. Often, I just have to take a break from them altogether at the risk of being pulled in to their despair in my own fragile condition.
Over and over the one thing that remains consistent in these groups is grieving parents who are chastised for not only how, but also how long, they are grieving their children. I just read a post of a mom who buried her 2-year-old son two months ago and this morning someone commented on her FB profile pic (of her and her baby who is now gone) that she needs to “stop living in the past and move on.” After two months. TWO MONTHS!!! I just don’t understand this. It feels so cruel.
I get it that social media seems to give people the platform to say whatever they want to with very little consequence, and if we chose to participate in social media we open ourselves up to that – it is a risk we take. What’s even worse is that many of these grieving parents are also being told things like this to their faces. From their own parents, or siblings or even spouses. From people who they considered to be their most intimate family, friends and supporters.
I am learning that grief is such a long and hard journey. One that is as unique to an individual as each person experiencing it. No one should tell someone else how to grieve, much less how long to grieve. I have heard that our grief will last as long as the love was deep and then some. I can say for myself that I will miss my son until the moment we are reunited in our Father’s house, not a minute less.
What these parents are going through has been so different than my own journey. In the almost 10 months since Jonathan joined his Savior in heaven I have not experienced any overt attacks like that. I have no idea if those things are being said behind my back, and I try not to care if they are.
This is not to say that I have not felt hurt by things people have said. There have been some words that have pierced my already broken heart like a hot knife. However, I know that it was not the intent of those people to hurt me. I truly believe that the majority of people mean well. They sincerely want to help and be supportive in some way. They want me to know that they are hurting with us or at least for us. At times words just fail them so they either don’t say anything (this can leave me/us feeling isolated/ignored) or they trip over the words and things just come out wrong. I try my best to assume only good intent and have compassion for those who fumble in this area.
As someone with the Spiritual Gift of Mercy it was initially hard for me to understand that empathy does not come naturally for some people. I generally have no trouble hurting with or entering into another’s pain, and I often feel drawn to encourage hurting people. I think that Romans 12:15 might be engraved on my soul. A friend and close confidant who has walked with me over the last few years (and even more so in the last few months) explained that some people have to work fairly hard at showing empathy and compassion. It is very taxing on them, but they might be the first person to step in and meet some other kind of need: physical, financial etc. Understanding that was probably one of the most helpful pieces of advice to interact with others over these last several months.
I can’t expect people to automatically know where I am at or what I need on any given day. So, I have become more bold to speak out about what I need. I feel freedom to tell some people a better way if something they have done or said hurts me. I have found that my vulnerability draws people in and then we move towards deeper connection.
As far as social media goes, I am always happy when my Facebook memories include Jonathan. Remembering him makes my heart smile. In a month or a year or even 10 years from now if anyone feels the needs to unfriend or unfollow me because social media posts remembering my son make you uncomfortable then I’ll say “so long” and wish them well. If anyone ever feels the need to berate me publicly for wanting to keep my son’s memory alive, well we can just part ways right now.