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First Hand: What Helped



what helpedMy name is Kathy and my daughter Aimee was killed on September 1, 1993. She was twenty-two years old and on the threshold of beginning her adult life when she was killed in an automobile accident that was not her fault. She was working on her master's degree in Anthropology and Hospital Administration at the University of Utah where she was an honor student. She was returning from an internship with the State Health Department where she was counseling immigrants on health options open to them when she was killed. She was engaged to be married and was in the final stages of making plans for her wedding.

Unfortunately, if you are reading this you may have become a member of a very unique group. It is a group whose members wish with all their hearts that you had not joined us. We have all walked your path in the loss of a child and in the overwhelming grief that accompanies that loss. People often say you will get "over" it, but rest assured you will not, nor would you want to. That child will remain a part of you and who you become as you process your grief for as long as you take a breath. However, you will learn to live with this tragic loss, you will work "through" the grief, and hopefully you will emerge a better, giving, more compassionate and worthwhile person than you were before.

In the hope that I might give you some strength, understanding and hope that you will survive your despair, I share with you some of the things that helped me through this grieving process.

1. I TOLD MY STORY:

It was in the telling of the circumstances of my loss that I began to accept the reality of the death of my child. The denial began to slip away and I was able to confront my grief head on and deal with it. I sought out people who would listen and not offer much advice or judgment on how to handle it. After all, they had not experienced my loss.

2. I LEARNED TO ACCEPT THAT WE ALL GRIEVE DIFFERENTLY:

I learned very rapidly to give my husband and my children the right to experience their own grief in the way they needed. I realized that we had each lost a very different person in our lives, even though she was also the same person. Most of all I learned that I could not expect my husband or family to have anything left over to give me. I rapidly quit judging how they were behaving as "right" or "wrong." They just were different from me and that was okay. It gave me one less thing to be angry at and one less expectation to be disappointed in.

3. I SOUGHT OUT A GOOD COUNSELOR:

This helped me tremendously. I could tell the circumstances of my story to someone who didn't judge me. I could share my denial, my anger, my despair in words often not shared with other people in my life. She helped me understand my feelings and made me understand that I was not crazy. She gave me permission to feel what I was feeling. How I was behaving was okay; there was no "proper" way to experience grief. My way was the "right" way for me. She helped me gain perspective.

4. I SOUGHT OUT A GRIEF GROUP:

It helped me so much to have others experiencing tremendous loss to share my experience with and to hear their experiences. These people were in a similar place to me and I could talk and feel like I was being heard. I could listen and give compassion without judgment, and I received compassion and understanding in return. I began to realize that while we had all suffered a loss equal to one another, I had blessings in my life that others did not.

5. I DECIDED TO BE KIND TO MYSELF:

Grief is singularly the hardest work I have ever done in my life. I found that I could grant myself permission not to do something if I didn't want to. It helped me tremendously. I found that some friends did not help but made things harder and worse. I steered clear of them. I found that I came through my grief without some friends I thought would always be there, and I found some friends a true surprise in their ability to support, care and love me. I gave myself permission to do what I needed to do that was best for me, not for everyone else.

6. I LET GO OF MY ANGER:

I learned rapidly that it was necessary to let go of the anger---anger at the circumstances, anger at individuals who caused this tragedy, anger really at the entire universe. I had to let go of it to move forward. One day I shut myself alone in a room and writhed on the floor, screamed and cried, pounded my fists and pulled my hair. And then I tried very hard to get past the anger. When I did, I began to realize that I did nothing to deserve this tragedy, that I was a good person and so was my daughter, that really life can be unfair and sometimes that unfairness visits you. Instead of asking "Why me?" I began to ask myself "Why not me?"

7. I WROTE LETTERS TO MY DAUGHTER FROM THE BEGINNING:

I wrote letters to my daughter from the beginning and for almost a year after her death. It helped me tremendously. I shared with her my sorrow, my love for her, and the things that were left unsaid. I even wrote a letter from her to me telling me what I knew she would say if she could. Though not a poet, sometimes poetry was written. It helped me gain a greater understanding of me, of my grief, of my daughter, of my life. At the moment of writing, it helped organize a very fragmented mind. As I look back through those letters I can see myself moving slowly, ever so slowly out of the devastation and darkness of grief. It is a chronicle of my personal grief and loss, of what my daughter means to me, I am grateful to have it.

8. I TRIED TO HELP SOMEONE ELSE LESS FORTUNATE:

It began with others in my grief group. I could listen without judgment; I could offer them my love and understanding. We as a family tried to do something for others less fortunate in remembrance of our daughter. It was healing to think of someone else instead of drowning in my own grief every moment.

One day I found that I smiled at something without feeling that I was just going through the motions. Another day I found that I actually laughed at something. Slowly I found that I could go on living even though my child would not, and eventually joy returned to my life. I am grateful that I keep my daughter in a very special place in my heart where I cherish and remember her always, and yes sometimes I still cry with missing her, but I have embraced my life, I have become a better, kinder, more forgiving person. I came out of the shadows and found life and joy again. This is what my daughter would have wanted, and this is my gift to her. I hope that it will become your gift to your child too.

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