- Don’t look for what you could have done differently, though of course this will be your mind’s number one occupation now. Find and practice a trick to refocus yourself – perhaps breathing deeply in, then out. If you can stop searching for how you could have saved your child for more than a minute at a time, consider yourself ahead.
- Make self-care your #1 job. Daily yoga will make you stretch your body once a day, which is better than nothing. Make better-than-nothing your new aspirational standard.
- Ask for what you need. Your friends and family will never be more willing than they are right now to help you. Don’t feel guilty asking. Whether you ask or not, they’ll all stop waiting on you in a few weeks or months, so you may as well get some needs met now.
- Believe any signs that suggest your child is contacting you from the great beyond. No matter what faith you possessed or didn’t before, now is the time for a full suspension of disbelief. Lights flickering? That’s your child. Cardinal outside your window? Thank your child for visiting. Who cares if it’s real? Refer back to better-than-nothing.
- Let yourself cry, out loud with messy tears, anywhere and everywhere. Tell strangers your child died; show them his picture. This will help others keep their own petty problems in perspective – or, sometimes, it will help you connect with someone else who’s been there.
- Write to your child’s friends, thanking them disproportionately for any role they played in your child’s happiness. These people are the last ones who will ever remember your child with you, and you’ll want to keep in touch with them.
- Bury your face in your child’s old shirts searching for his scent. Keep tucked away any clothes that still smell of him. (Thank his girlfriend for leaving you a bottle of his cologne for desperate moments.) Go through his journals, emails, Facebook and Messenger apps and save every word he ever wrote. These are the last words he’ll ever write; maybe someday you’ll feel strong enough to read through them. Make photo and word scrapbooks of his life. Refer back to #1.
- Keep a grief journal and read books and websites about grief. It helps to see how many others have suffered this and other terrible losses and survived. Avoid websites of hopeless misery where other mothers swear it never gets better. It does. Really.
- Forgive yourself for your brain fog, your shakiness, your forgetfulness, your vomiting, your panic attacks, your flashes of rage at innocent bystanders. Let yourself use marijuana as medicine – alcohol, too, if you can be moderate and not get maudlin on it. Don’t worry about if you’ll always be this much of a mess. You won’t be, but you don’t need to figure out a schedule for your recovery now.
- Eventually, start reading a bit about Post-Traumatic Growth. Your child’s death has changed you forever. Someday you’ll get to decide if that change made you more bitter and shrunken or more compassionate and open-hearted... But don’t rush it; you will need to be bitter and shrunken for a while before you get to the growth that’s being forced upon you.
- Punch in the face anyone who tells you that “everything happens for a reason,” “you’ll be with them soon,” “God has a plan but we don’t get to know what it is,” or “your child is in a better place now.” If you don’t approve of violence, just tell those who say these things that they must be sad their child is still alive instead of in that better place they’re so excited about.
- If your child left behind a child, don’t contemplate your grandchildren with terror in your heart. Remember your grandchild is an individual not cursed to repeat your child’s fate. Don’t waste your grandchildren’s lives worrying they’re doomed. Remember how much of the last years of your child’s life you wasted, overcome as you were by terror and despair, and do your best to enjoy each precious moment with each precious loved one left alive in your life.
Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Advice for When Your Child Dies of An Overdose
I want my words to move you, push you to think, and bring you back for more. My first poetry book, What I Should Have Said, is about my son's addiction and overdose death and is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. I won't make you wait for the book to know what I should have said, though: "Medication-assisted treatment saves lives. We must stop stigmatizing it." Or more specifically, "Yes, son, never mind what I once thought, I now think you should take the Suboxone so you don't die this week."
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