When Everything Changes


What do you do when the unimaginable happens? Where do you go in your head? How do you process a grief that threatens to take over? Obliterating, devastating, horrific grief that may ebb but won’t subsigrieving-angel-aj-schibigde.

The death of a child. The cessation of promise. Extinguished hopes and dreams. Your worst fear realized. My son’s best friend died Saturday night. For many years my son’s only real friend. His parent’s are wrecked. They are two of the most loving, accepting, nurturing, proud, parents that I know. An oasis in a sea of phony, upper-middle-class, over-educated, entitled, judgmental people. I include myself in that sea. Except when I am with them. When I am with them I can take off the armor and be real, warts and all. I can share the truth and they accept me. More importantly, they accept and love my quirky child. My brilliant, ADHD, socially awkward boy. When he is with them he shines brighter, he laughs easily, he is gotten.

Their son wore green. Every day. For six years. Every day a green shirt, or pants, or both. He was so intellectually gifted it stunned me. He made my gifted child look average. He challenged me in his gentle way and always made me smile when he spoke with his oddly enunciated, hard to place accent. Perhaps a mixture of his parents North Western cadence and our North Eastern, suburban Philadelphia drawl. He was polite and could be reserved at times, but outspoken and charming when at ease. He attracted people to him. His friendship buoyed my son and protected him from outcast status. I can’t measure the depth of my gratitude for his presence in my son’s life.

And now he is gone. I am only just wrapping my head around this ugly fact. When I told my son he looked at me like I was crazy.

“What,” he said, “No, that can’t be.” He put his head in his hands. He looked at me with disbelief.

“Mom, what, how why?”

And there’s the rub. Why? The unanswerable why. The question all kids ask their parents. But Dr. Google can’t help answer this one. No one can.

My almost fifteen year old son began listing the stages of grief, according to Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. He told me he was in stage 1, denial. I told him I was too. With the help of Dr. Google, he and I looked them up and read that the stages are not linear. We go back and forth through them, we skip around.  I think I went through all the stages yesterday. There was a lot of information out there on the interweb. We thought this was helpful:

five stages of grief – elisabeth kübler ross

EKR stage Interpretation
1 – Denial Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned. It’s a defense mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic change that can be ignored. Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid or evade indefinitely.
2 – Anger Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them. Knowing this helps keep detached and non-judgmental when experiencing the anger of someone who is very upset.
3 – Bargaining Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with whatever God the person believes in. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can we still be friends?..” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death.
4 – Depression Also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it’s the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the ‘aftermath’ although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It’s a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It’s natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality.
5 – Acceptance Again this stage definitely varies according to the person’s situation, although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must necessarily pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.

(Based on the Grief Cycle model first published in On Death & Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969. Interpretation by Alan Chapman 2006-2013.) http://www.businessballs.com/elisabeth_kubler_ross_five_stages_of_grief.htm You can learn more at the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross foundation: www.ekrfoundation.org

I know from experience that grieving does not end. It mutates; fades to the background, then rears its head and catches you off guard, surprising you with its ferocity. But it never leaves for good. Mourning for the death of a child, the death of promise, the death of dreams, lasts a life time.

The tripod family left bereft with one leg missing. A tripod still stands, still supports weight, but the balance is more tenuous. We will support them, try to help restore balance in their world, but it is forever changed. On this frigid, white, frozen morning I long to see a flash of green. Long to see the sly smile, to hear the clipped lilting voice. The chasm is open, we look into the abyss and know we must go on. How? One foot in front of the other; baby-steps. Why? Because it is our only choice.

13 thoughts on “When Everything Changes

  1. Thank you for your very important and strong article. I am so sorry for your loss and know first hand what you and your family are going through. We have friends who lost a daughter last year to suicide. They went from a family of 5 to a family of 4. It’s incomprehendable. I have a daughter who is completely alienated from her peers due to her own diagnosis and issues. I am glad this child had your son as a true friend for many years. It’s important for kids to recognize other kids who are “different”. It doesn’t happen very often for my daughter and I worry about the skills she is not learning and how it affects her daily. I hope I can share your article on FB at your permission, only.

  2. This post has left us so utterly sad. I want to hug his parents, though I don’t know them. I feel so much pain for them. Please give Burton an extra loving, gentle hug on our behalf, as well as Graham’s family. We are so, so sorry for everyone.

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