As a grief counselor, I listen to stories of grief and how lives have been affected by their loss. As a professional, I do not share my story with clients because that is their time and it takes a lot of courage to share about something as personal and individual as grief.
I do think it’s important to share about my personal loss as a way to be more genuine and connect at a deeper level. I’ve been trying to write for the past month but have been distracted by a personal experience I wish to share now.
My husband is from a family of ironworkers. His father and uncle were iron workers as were John and his brother Jim, and now 2 of our three sons are ironworkers. Our middle son is partners in a safety consulting business that keeps construction companies in OSHA compliance.
Ironwork is a physical and very dangerous job as can be seen in these pictures. Although safety has improved greatly, accidents, unfortunately, still occur. My husband, John, has had multiple falls throughout his iron working career, but the most damaging one was when he fell off of our barn roof and crushed both of his heels and ankles. This occurred a week before our youngest son, Andy, was born. Our other sons are Adam, age six and David, age four at the time.
LIFE CHANGING EVENTS
Since John fell at home, we received no workman’s compensation or any other financial assistance. I was fortunate to be a Registered Nurse and I was able to work full-time to support our family and went back to work when Andy was five months old. John was off work for two years before he went back to work and has had multiple surgeries on his feet throughout the years.
This, obviously, had not been in our plans for raising a family. The years were rough as John and I tried to make the best of a bad situation. There was never the chance to process the emotional impact of his injuries and I automatically pushed them aside.
FAST FORWARD Thirty-EIGHT YEARS
Of our three sons, Andy is the most wired like his dad. His personality and temperament are like John’s, as are his skills as a structural ironworker. He literally learned everything about ironwork from his dad and he’s a natural at it.
On June 27, 2017, I received a text from Andy’s girlfriend that he had fallen off a ladder at work and crushed his right heel, fractured his right ankle and right arm and that he was in terrible pain. John and I left for the hospital in Bolingbrook where our son, David, came out to the entrance to warn us that the pain was excruciating and to prepare ourselves.
When I saw him, it was like I was seeing John 38 years earlier. The similarities of their reactions caused me to go into a tailspin that at first, I did not understand. As Andy described what had happened, he made comments that John had made 38 years earlier. “How can I fall without getting killed?” and, “I think I just sprained my ankle!” are the two that come to mind.
It was a long night as nothing helped the pain and he was constantly changing positions to help relieve the pain as his dad had done also. I was reliving the same nightmare except it was a reality. This was particularly difficult for John because he truly understands the pain Andy was going through and felt as helpless as I, not being able to make the pain better.
“It’s important that we share our experiences with other people. Your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else. When you tell your story, you free yourself and give other people permission to acknowledge their own story.” – Iyanla Vanzant
DELAYED GRIEF RESPONSE
As most who have experienced any type of loss there is that emotional rollercoaster ride of experiencing the impact of that loss. Eventually, there is an adjustment to the loss, but the grief is always there wanting to be acknowledged at some time or other. It is quite unpredictable when grief chooses to show up and many times can catch one off-guard.
A delayed grief response occurs when grief emotions are put on the back shelf, so to say, only to reappear some time later. That later can be weeks, months, and even years later and the response is totally unexpected.
This is what happened to me as a result of my son’s accident and it was like a dam breaking and the emotions flooding me. The way I was reacting was really out of proportion to the current event. Of course, I was upset about my son, knowing the recovery is long and painful. I found myself crying inconsolably and I couldn’t stop. It took a short while to be able to identify what was happening.
When John’s accident happened 38 years ago, I was a mom with young children and husband severely injured. I went to work to support us and tried to survive the impact of John’s injuries.
Our dreams for the future with our kids changed due to John’s limited mobility and the amount of pain he was in. I did not adjust well emotionally because I didn’t know how, and at that time there wasn’t much information about grieving other than the death of a loved one. So I just ignored it and did what was expected of me.
When the dam broke I was overwhelmed with the impact of John’s accident, questioning if I was a good enough mom or wife because I didn’t feel like I had been. It helps to be able to identify why I was feeling the way I was and just allowed the tears to fall because I knew it was time.
THE SILVER LINING
The famous quote “Behind every cloud is a silver lining” is very true. When I work with clients, I encourage them to look for the positives within their grief to help them realize that their particular experience isn’t all negative. There are always positive lessons to learn from challenging experiences.
I ‘ve given a lot of thought to my silver lining experience dating back 38 years and today with my son’s accident. I mentioned that I had doubted many areas of my life due to John’s accident. It wasn’t “all” bad. John was a good provider for us and went back to iron working even after the doctors said he never would be able to.
I was blessed to have a profession in which I could support us financially, which is why I encourage women to develop some kind of skill from which they can be self-sufficient. After all, Life is unpredictable.
Although John was limited with his walking, he took the 5 of us on some great adventures tent camping across the United States. I feel we both did the best we could as parents given the situation we were in.
My sons are wonderful men and that doesn’t happen overnight, so I guess we did something right. All three of them have been attentive whenever John experienced major health issues throughout the years, and have supported me emotionally as well.
This was true with Andy’s accident too. Dave was the first person Andy called and was the first person there. Adam was at the hospital too and both go over to Andy’s house to visit and help him out.
One thing I find so meaningful is that John picks Andy up every morning and takes him to run errands and to just drive around. Andy is used to being up at 4 am and gets pretty bored. The 2 of them have great talks and Andy leans on John because he understands what he is going through.
We have great supportive family and friends who have been praying for Andy’s recovery, and us too. Thirty-eight years ago my faith was almost nonexistent, but today it is stronger than ever and I know the power of prayer. Especially since Andy went from severe pain after surgery to soreness two days later. Amazing!!!!
As for my “melt down”, that was a blessing too. I needed the floodgates to open to release that burden. I feel I can be more genuine and compassionate with others, especially if they’re experiencing a delayed grief response.
My hope is that through telling my story, someone will be able to recognize that they may be experiencing a delayed grief response.Sometimes our grief is buried under everyday life but grief demands expression and acknowledgment and will surface at some unknown time in life. I was fortunate to be able to recognize what was going on and allowed the emotions knowing I wasn’t crazy. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you need support. It’s never too late to get the support needed when a loss has occurred, whether today or 38 years ago.
There are too many blessing to write here so I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read this chapter of my life.
I would love to hear about a chapter in your lives so please share if you would like. Make sure to include the silver lining!!
Want to chat with Kathy about your grief or loss?