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  • The Vail Project

Grief is like a disease

I haven't spent enough time in other countries to know how they handle grief as a culture. I can say that in the U.S. we don't handle it well. There is this odd culture around grief, people treat it like its a contagious disease and if you are grieving you are infected. Of course I am generalizing here, some people know how to love and support others through the pain of loss, but as a whole, we as Americans suck at it.

If I hold up a mirror and really look in to it, I would have to honestly put myself into the group of people who have been poor grief supporters. Before the loss of our sweet angel Vail that is. As I mentioned in previous posts, I am no stranger to loss. Yet, I find myself looking back and trying to recall how I supported others during those losses. Sadly, I come up empty. My sister lost her husband at a very young age. Unlike Steve and I, she experienced his death along with him, she watched him die, in pain. That experience must have created its own set of PTSD symptoms, deep pain and unbearable sadness. It occurred to me today, while thinking about this post, and how horrible people are at supporting us in our grief.... that I did a pretty shit job at supporting my sister when she lost her husband. To be fair, we were both very young and inexperienced at all aspects of life and relationships. That's not a good excuse though. I attended the funeral and I made sure she knew I was there if she needed me. I wrote her some letters (people still did that back then) and called her here and there. But that's about it.

As I sit here in my own bottomless pit of sorrow and misery, I can't help but relate to how my sister must have felt after losing her partner. In a horribly unfortunate twist of fate, I now know loss that is at minimum on par with hers and probably, no for sure, it's worse. I don't just say that because its my pain and my loss. I say that because, even though I have not lost a spouse and I don't know that pain...I do know my sister and she said that losing a child has to be worse. And if she says so, I believe her. Plus, this hell that we now inhabit has altered our life perspective. There is no worse loss than the loss of a child. It's unnatural, it goes against the intended order of things. And...while it may offend some and their beliefs about God...I dare say it goes against God's will too.

I think it is important to be honest with yourself and I felt that it was about time I apologized to my sister for being a poor friend during her grief. She has been through so much, many losses in life, and I haven't always shown up the way I should have. So Stevie, when you read this, I hope you know how sincerely sorry I am for not doing better.

In our culture of blame and judgement, come on now... it's the American way, there is this social standard of passing judgement on others. If we are honest with ourselves that is basically what social media has become. Just a way of comparing our lives to the lives of others and then judging them. Some people are too rich, or too pretty, or too fat, or ignorant or they are a democrat or they have grey hair. Whatever they "are" we pass judgement and then use that make ourselves feel better about our own lives and our own failures. It's pretty sick when you get right down to it. In the world of grief and loss, especially the kind of random unexplained loss that we have experienced, the judgement and need to provide advice and correction flows easily. Why? Because there isn't anyone to blame. Or is there? Steve and I can certainly go down that rabbit hole in an instant, finding ways to blame ourselves. We can't stand it when there isn't anyone to blame. Honestly, I can't stand it either. I want to blame someone or something for Vail's death. It would be easier that way. Not that there is an "easier" when you have lost your beautiful child.

It might just be my oversensitivity, but I hear it from other grieving parents too. That there is this spoken and unspoken judgement. In the SUDC community, we have all lost our children for unknown reasons. I pray that some day we will have answers, but that day isn't today and it isn't going to be tomorrow. So we live with the reality that people will judge us when they find out that our child died. My closest support group friend -name withheld to protect her privacy- told me the other day that she and her husband are thinking about adopting. But she fears that when they apply that they will be judged for their loss. She knows it's not her fault, just like I rationally know that Vail didn't die as a result of something I did or didn't do. But that doesn't change what people may think or worse...our fear what they may think. Fear can be so paralyzing.

Tonight at 10pm, Steve and I will be on the local abc news program. Our goal in doing so is to spread awareness of SUDC, educate people, and bring attention to our mission at The Vail Project. As we sit here waiting for the segment to air and I finish my blog post, Steve and I voiced our fear of how people will receive it. Will they think we are attention seeking? That we are looking for sympathy? The segment will be edited by the reporter, and we don't know what parts will make the cut. How will we be presented? What will people think? Internet trolls may enjoy making ugly comments about how it must be our fault because healthy children don't die for no reason. And they would be right...healthy children don't die for no reason. Which is exactly why we will work every day to promote awareness and hope that awareness turns into action and that action becomes an answer. My response to anyone who questions my motives is this: I'm putting my pain out there for the world to see, in hopes that it saves the life of just one child. That. Is. It. The only reason. It would be easier to hide in our house and not show the world the darkness we are living in. Vail was full of light and so we must try to be too. That is how we honor her.

Remember that you are the lead character in your own story. That means that you write the script on how you interact with the world. It's just as easy, or maybe easier, to be the kind, loving, supportive one as it is to blame, judge and dissect others. Take a moment to reflect on how you have supported those around you. Be real with yourself. It was a bitter pill to swallow today when I reflected on my failure to better support my sister. Hopefully, doing so will help me to be less hurt by those who cannot bring themselves to show up for us now. We are all doing the best we can. It's okay to admit to ourselves and to each other that sometimes our best is just not good enough.

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