Waiting? OK. But will a lightness of heart ever come? Does time really heal all wounds? Mothers who have experienced child death assure us that “it will get better.” Friends and loved ones may tell us that “it is time to get over it and get on with life.” We hear about closure, but researchers say that a mother never ceases mourning the death of her child. The truth is that there is no set chronology for mourning mothers.
In mythology, Father Time is sometimes depicted as helping Truth out of a cave, symbolizing that in time all things come to light. We cannot hurry Truth along. Like the ancient alchemists, we must wait for kairos, the astrologically correct time, or God’s time, for allowing things to turn out right. Our questions about how long it will take to heal may long remain unanswered.
Changes in One’s Sense of Time
The grieving process alters our personal sense of time in several ways. During the traumatic hours after the death, everything in our other life comes to a halt, and our time stops. It takes a number of days before we realize that, although our world has changed forever, the rest of the world continues its usual operations.
At my daughter’s funeral, I was amazed when a friend told me he had to get back to his office. It dawned on me that people were going about their business. The world went on, though my world had ended.
After the service I stood at the grave site, holding a rose from the casket. Time had stopped. My sister came up and said I had to leave because other people wanted to go home.
For the rest of our life, however, the moment of our child’s death continues frozen in time. We remember every detail of the event as if it were yesterday, and we continue to mark the chronology of our experiences with that dreadful date. Paul Newman, whose son died of a drug overdose said that everything in his life was divided into two periods, time before his son died and afterward.
As we continue to mourn, our normal sense of time alters in another way: we mark time carefully. We count the number of months we have lived without joy, since the light of our life has been extinguished.
It’s been nine months. It took me nine months to bring you into the world and now you have been away from this world for nine months. Today the grief washes over me and I hear myself crying ‘Mama.’ I am a child myself, and I long for comfort. I don’t know if comfort exists when you are gone.
Part of our altered sense of time arises from knowing that the death of our child also means the death of part of our future. Holidays and family traditions will never be the same. Now we will always remember the birthday of the one who is gone, and the anniversary of her death is forever branded in our heart, marking our time. We mourn not only losses in our own future but the unlived future of our child. When we attend a graduation or a wedding, we ache for our child who was deprived of these rites of passage. How can we attend these ceremonies without feeling victimized? The way out of victimization I know is this: we must eventually come to see our own mourning process as a personal rite of passage. We are being initiated into a different life with new perspectives.
Excerpted from And a Sword Shall Pierce Your Heart: Moving from Despair to Meaning After the Death of a Child by Charlotte M. Mathes, LCSW, Ph.D. Copyright © 2006 Charlotte Mathes. Published by Chiron Publications; September 2005;$19.95US/$23.50CAN; 978-1888602340.