Robin, Camila's mom

Holding Onto My Loss

It is common, I expect, this desire to “process correctly.” It is a stubborn ideal borne out of independence, success, and the force of personality. We assume that if we work at it, if we maintain a high level of self-awareness and consciousness, we will somehow get grief right. We will figure out how to survive – and smile, laugh, and once again love life.

All the while, as the silent machinations play out in my head, I am missing my daughter acutely. I am reaching out my hand in the night, hoping to feel her touch. I am studying her picture before sleep, hoping to find her in my dreams.

I will never be quit of this longing.

But maybe grief has another purpose, one that I hadn’t properly appreciated.

Many parents who have lost children seek support from grief groups. I attend The Compassionate Friends and, sometimes, a smaller local group that meets at a family therapist’s office. And there is help in these meetings, solace, understanding. And the sweet opportunity to talk about our children.

Sometimes we find help online on blogs, in chat rooms, in the back pages of online zines and newspaper posts.

We find help where we look – and, sometimes, it finds us.

My help came in the form of an op-ed published in The New York Times. Patrick O’Malley, a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, chose on one particular day to post a few paragraphs about a person who sought his help. She was, he said, “unaccustomed to being weighed down by sorrow.”

I can relate. I have been trying to re-connect to my natural spirit for the past six months, trying to re-connect to the positive joy and gratitude I feel when I think of Camila, when I recall how we shared our lives. Though I feel that joy, though I feel that gratitude, it no longer seems to sustain me. In its place is a deep, dark grief, a longing for my girl that I know will never be answered.

I have been trying to push this feeling away from me, to trick my mind to turn instead toward something else, something benign that is sterile and safe. But my mother memory rises and takes me on a path that leads inevitably to my pain, and so the cycle begins again. I cannot seem to escape my sense of loss.

Because I cannot escape my loss, I know I must somehow become comfortable with it. But is there another way to think of this process? What I need is a new viewpoint, a new way to think of my grief and interpret my emotions.

Then I read this, written by Patrick O’Malley, near the close of his narrative:

“When I suggested a support group, Mary rejected the idea. But I insisted. She later described the relief she felt in the presence of other bereaved parents, in a place where no acting was required. It was a place where people understood that they didn’t really want to achieve closure after all. To do so would be to lose a piece of a sacred bond.”

And now I have something new to think about, something that may prove helpful and sustaining: What if I change the tack I’m taking? What will change in my head and heart if I tell myself I want to hold onto my loss?

I don’t know yet. But I’m going to find out.

To read Patrick O’Malley’s op-ed, “Getting Grief Right,” click here.

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