Yesterday I dropped my son off for boot camp for several months of training (he is going to be a medic). I thought I was prepared. He’s been in college for a couple years and I’d gone through my stages of empty nester. I thought I was prepared but I wasn’t. As I stood in the hallway while he signed his paperwork, tears just didn’t roll down, an ugly cry erupted from my soul and my family just looked at me, helplessly. The hallway buzzed with uniformed military men and women, and one by one they each looked at me and offered a smile of comfort, but it was my son’s superior that came up to us that made me feel validated.
“Cry. Cry all you want,” she said. “Not only am I career military, but I’m an Army mom and when my son left I thought I’d be fine. I wasn’t. I cried. I counted down the days until I could see him. I carried my phone with me everywhere in hopes he would call. I wrote letters and I ran to the mailbox to get his. And I cried. So cry.”
As I laid in my bed yesterday afternoon (yes, afternoon), and cried, I received a message from a mother who’s son had passed away. In the email she told me that I had no right to cry because my son was coming home and hers wasn’t. “Yours isn’t dead so get over yourself,” she wrote. She was right. She was so right. I needed to suck it up, I thought to myself, but my tears still wouldn’t stop. I opened another email from another woman who’d seen her son off to the Navy several years back. Her husband had passed a few years before that and her mom passed last year. “Kristy, people will compare their losses to you, but you have to remind yourself like you teach us that loss can’t be compared. So cry without apology for as long as you need to. Cry.”
Loss is a personal matter. Loss doesn’t always involve a passing either. It can be the loss of a job. The loss of a friendship. It might be divorce, or becoming an empty nester. Loss can sometimes be seen as a celebration such as a birthday, retirement, a promotion, or a house move. Loss isn’t clear cut, but no matter the kind of loss, loss is complicated, emotional, and everyone at one point or another experiences it. It’s the party that nobody wants to be invited to, but everyone gets an invitation at least once in their lifetime.
I see the comparison of loss all the time in my office. The one spouse telling the other they don’t understand what they are going through because they haven’t lost a parent. A friend mad at another friend because they don’t get their deep depression because of the loss of their child. An adult mother angry at her kids when they suggest ‘moving on’ after the loss of her spouse. No matter the loss, loss is loss.
In our instant society, that includes wanting instant grief, loss is often seen as weakness and sometimes an inconvenience. I’ve heard clients suggest all kinds of interesting suggestions to help their loved ones, as if there were a magic potion to make it all go away. There is no instant grief, but there is healing along the road. There is a light at the end, although in the beginning it may seem very dark, the first part of healing through loss is knowing that a light exists even if you don’t see it. And give yourself permission to cry.