A few days ago, I received a text from a good friend who had just learned that good friends had just lost their 26 year old son while he was driving impaired. A kind, funny, helpful young man. The similarities to my son were chilling. She was seeking advice to give to her friends to help them “survive those raw and painful weeks after Jeff died.” The question stopped my heart for a moment, overwhelmed with questions about how we did survive. This is what I wrote.
You don’t know me but my husband and I but we are good friends with the W’s. Linda reached out to me wondering if there was any advise I could pass along to you regarding how to survive this time. She reached out to me because In May of 2015, my 26 year old son, Jeffrey, also died in a car crash. He too was intoxicated. He too was by himself and thankfully also one else was injured.
I truly know your pain, and understand your loss
I also know that there are no magic words to help you heal; that there are no answers to the questions you have. I know there is no sense that can be made from your son’s death. No loss so great.
I hope you can take solace that my husband, my daughter and I have survived. We aren’t the same, but we are doing OK.
I know that your path through grief will be as different from mine as mine is different from my husbands and my daughter’s.
Some things that helped me were :
Knowing that Jeff like C is not defined by a single stupid decision. Rather he is defined by the friends he left behind,the memories you have of him, the love you shared. The person that he was.
Keep busy, I found too much empty time was not my friend.
That said, there were times I sought time to myself. I wouldn’t answer the phone, didn’t want to talk to anyone. Those were the days I couldn’t be around the rest of the world which kept on going. That’s ok. Try to listen to your needs.
Scream, yell, let the emotions out. I found the shower a good place to do this. A cleansing place where I could cry and let the emotions wash over me and down the drain.
I needed to talk to my friends and family about Jeff, to cry with them. I still need to talk about him, not about his death but about the wonderful young man whom I miss everyday. This was different for my husband who didn’t want to talk to anyone, who would not pick up the phone. He had a few people he was able to talk to but for the most part he isolated himself in his grief. Thankfully he eventually was able to get help for his deep depression. He can talk about Jeff now, enjoy being with his friends and remember him with love.
I knew that Jeff loved life. I knew that he would be mad if we gave up because of his death. So I made a conscious choice to get out of bed each morning. I’ve learned that it’s ok to enjoy life, to laugh and smile again. But that takes time and at first it felt wrong. I wanted to scream at the happy families who wer out enjoying life. But I chose not to let the grief make me act like a crazy lady. Choosing life is what C would have wanted you to do.
There were days I obsessed about the way he died. I kept reading news accounts of his crash, looking at he news coverage. It didn’t make me feel better but I couldn’t help it. It doesn’t help, it made me feel worse. I wanted to magically change what happenend. My advise is to avoid doing it.
I read through his emails and phone messages looking for answers that were not there. I learned to be mindful after a while and admit there were no answers. There were only questions I’ll never get the answer to. I realized that those questions didn’t matter anywas. I learned to accept the reality of his death. I’ll never know why he choose to drive impaired that night. Not knowing doesn’t change anything. So I learned to put those thoughts in a “box” and store them away . To refocus my mind on something else.
Don’t make any decisions now about C’s belongings. There will come a time when you are ready to deal with them.
It sounds simple but eat and try to sleep.
Grief is exhausting.
Food wasn’t important.
When you are ready, find a therapist. It took me several times before I found one that I connected to. Stan’s saved his life.
Hold each other
I found exercise helped, it still does.
Somedays I simply “fake it until I make it.” I couldn’t do that for a while, the grief was too new, too raw.
Sometime someone may say something that is hurtful, ignore them. I think in such a huge, unimaginable loss they don’t know what to say.
Same can be said about the people who see you and look the other way. Acquaintances not friends. I’ve learned to not care. I know who my friends are. I know that our friends who knew and loved Jeff also have their own grief to deal with. It’s taken time to know that grief about Jeff’s death is not mine alone. It is shared by everyone who loved him. I know it is easier for some to talk to him than others.
Realize that the intense “sneaker waves” of grief you feel right now will lessen with time. They used to literally knock me to the floor. That doesn’t happen these days. I miss him every day but the grief is more like a rock I carry with me, somedays it’s heavier than others.
I realized one day that I didn’t worry about Jeff anymore. I knew he was safe.
I miss him every day but I know where he is
I couldn’t listen to music for a long time. Too many lyrics that would make me cry.
I learned that the thought of driving my car off the side of the road was a morbid thought. It was not a suicidal thought but if it happens talk to someone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We need support to help us through the dark forest of our grief.
I found solace in the Prayer of St Francis.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
I wish I had a magic answer for you, I wish you weren’t thrust on this journey.
If you were local, I would give you both a hug and sit and listen to your stories about Casey.
Please feel free to reach out anytime you need or want to talk.I may be a stranger to you but not to your journey.
there is a group called Compassionate Friends that has some resources. You can find them online. I never went to a meeting but I know it has helped some.