Grieving multiple losses

A post dedicated to those who might be feeling confused and even overwhelmed as they struggle to the navigate the journey through grief following multiple losses.


 

Recently I attended a general memorial service at a church. This was primarily for those who had lost a loved one in the past 2 years, although others were also welcome to commemorate other loved ones.

At one point during the service, the minister read out the names of those (presumably in the parish) who had died in the past 2 years. He read each name in turn, allowing their grieving partners and family members an opportunity to come to the front to light a candle in their memory.

There were a lot of names and this took quite awhile. I couldn’t help but cry quietly at the sadness in the room, picturing each person and what their family is going through.

And of course I reflected and cried quietly for my own losses.

Pax and Catherine. Two children. FYI, for any new visitors to this blog, I have no further surviving children. I also thought about my brother and mother, who both died 3 years after Catherine passed in 2011, but mostly my thoughts were on my children.

I was quite overwhelmed in the first years after Catherine’s death. Not only had I lost her, but it was like I had lost Pax all over again – he died in 1982. I had lost a son, I had lost a daughter, I had lost them both. I had such a hard time even putting it into words. Now I can say, “I’m a doubly bereaved mother” quietly and calmly. That’s not how it was in those first years. But at this stage now, I have mostly adjusted to the terrible reality – though of course I still have some very bad moments and I think it’s only natural that I always will.

After the minister had finished reading out the individual names, he invited anyone else in the congregation who wanted to light a candle or more than one candle for someone they are remembering to come forward. I think virtually everyone in the room came forward at that point.

When I got in front of the candle table, I lit 2 candles. I always do. One for Pax, one for Catherine. They both have to be remembered and their memories respected. I value each of them equally; I am often at pains during my various remembrance type of activities to give them both due acknowledgement. I guess it’s typical parenting; you don’t want to show favouritism to any of your children; you want each of them to feel loved as much as the other.

Yet while the value of each is the same, the memories and relationship are different. Pax was only 3 when he died. He was a small child. He died in 1982. Catherine was a young woman, about to turn 31. She had been part of my life for much longer; our relationship had gone through the high points and low points of any parent-child relationship as you go through the teen years and beyond. I have so many more memories of Catherine simply because she lived longer than Pax; my memories of Catherine are more vivid because less time has passed since she died.

So I’ll say it again. The value of each is the same, my love for each is the same, but the memories and relationship are different, and this does have an impact on my thoughts as I go through this long valley journey. I find a need to keep balancing, to keep showing them my love in equal measure, yet also to grieve for the two of them together, yet also acknowledge each of their own special days – different birthdays, different anniversaries.

And then there is my brother and mother who died after Catherine. Our relationship and interactions were different again, yet they also need to be loved and respected in memory.

You can imagine it can get a bit exhausting and overwhelming at times!

If you are someone in a similar situation, with multiple losses to cope with, then I offer you a big virtual hug, as I know how hard it is.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might try giving yourself a day or part of a day off. Decide that you’ll spend a bit of time doing something you enjoy, for your own sake. You are also valuable. Not everything in your life now has to be about your lost loved ones. Sometimes we each need to give ourselves a break.

You might want to find times and ways to commemorate each loved one uniquely. Each can have their own ornament on a Christmas tree, or own memorial plant in the garden, or own type of candle that you light…

You might want to find ways to commemorate them together. Go for a walk in their memory; raise funds for a charity in their memory…

Remember that each is valued, each is loved, but your relationship with each was different, and it’s only natural this will impact on how you remember them now.

Love isn’t a cake or a pie, where you divide it into portions and when all the portions are gone, there is no cake left. Rather, love is immense and unending, and the more you love, the more you can love. Just don’t forget to love yourself too.

If each shrub or tree represents a loved one, sometimes we need to stand back and think about them all…and sometimes we need to focus on one individually.
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