Parents in Pain feel similar emotions Americans felt on 9/11

Along with millions of Americans, I was reflecting on 9/11 this past week.  I was remembering where I was and what it was like to experience that day.  The main emotions I felt were shock and denial, grief and loss and fear , just like parents in pain do, whose children are making destructive choices.

1) Shock and denial:  My husband and I kept saying to each other that we couldn’t believe this was real, that it was actually happening!  Not here in America!  It wasn’t a hoax, or a TV show, or a movie.   It felt so unbelievable as we sat glued to our TV watching the events of that morning unfold.  We couldn’t believe our eyes!  We could hardly comprehend what was taking place.  Terrorists here?  No way!  So horrific.  Overwhelming.  Incomprehensible.  Inconceivable.  Unimagineable.  We were completely numb.  I don’t think I cooked dinner that night.  We sat around the table with our children and tried to process what we’d seen and heard.  We comforted and consoled one another.  We read the Bible and turned to God for strength.

2) Grief and Loss:  So much death.  So much suffering.  So sudden and unexpected.  So many lives lost . . .  in the Twin Towers, in the Pentagon, on the planes and those who came to their rescue.  I didn’t know anyone personally who died that day, but I felt like I did.  I shed tears and felt deep emotional pain.  Grief and a sense of loss were heavy on our whole nation.  We shared in it collectively.  Our pain united us.  People made signs and put them in the front windows of their homes.  My 5th grade daughter made one.  It was so touching to see many pop up all over the neighborhood.  People trying to find ways to express their support, to draw strength from each other.  Many purchased American flags to fly from their cars as they drove around town.  The empathy we felt for those who were suffering moved something deep in our hearts.

3) Fear:  Was anyone really safe?  What city or plane might be the next target?  Who should we be suspicious of in our neighborhoods?  We learned we were living with a false sense of security.  We were not invincible to the pain and suffering acts of terrorism could bring.  These events would change everything.  Many things would never be the same again.   How do we return to life as normal?  How do we feel safe now?  How do we not let fear overwhelm us?  How do we recover and move on?

As I said earlier, I realized that these are some of the exact same emotions parents in pain struggle with.  1)  Shock and denial are our response when we first learn our child has a problem with alcohol or drugs, is seriously depressed, is engaging in a self harming behavior (cutting), has an eating disorder, is suicidal, is a homosexual, has a mental illness, was arrested, etc.  We can’t believe it is happening to us, to our child.  No way!   Not possible!  We thought our family was “safe” from those things.  What will happen to them now?  Would we ever be the same again?  What next?  What now?  What do we do?  Incomprehensible.  Unimagineable.  Inconceivable.  We, too, are numb and can barely function.  It feels like life needs to stop so we can have some time to try and grasp what is happening, to regain our equilibrium.

2)  Grief and Loss :  Our hopes and dreams have been shattered.  We’ve possibly lost our relationship with them.  We feel a though they’ve died.  Our hearts are broken.  We feel crushed.  We are overwhelmed with sadness.  Tears flow like rivers.  We go through all the stages of grief as though they had indeed died.  How do we go on?  How do we keep living when we feel like we’re dying and we’ve lost our child forever?

3) Fear:   We are full of fears of all kinds – of the what-ifs, of the uknown future, of what others think, of all the possible consequences to them and to us.  If we have other children, will this happen to them, too?  How do we cope with these fears?  How do we not let them overcome us?  Our lives are changed forever.  We will never be the same.  We just hope and pray our child will survive.  But there are no guarantees.  And our pain is shared collectively by all the other hurting parents out there.  It unites us and pulls us together.  We can draw strength from each other.  And somehow, knowing we are not in this alone brings us comfort.

The many survivors of 9/11 had to reach out for help to overcome these feelings.  So do we.  I hope you will reach out to others for help and support.  Find a  support group in your area and go to it this week!  We are survivors, too, and we need each other.  With God’s help we will be ok.   We will grow stronger from what we’ve been through.

Two great books that helped me in the early years were Hit by a Ton of Bricks by John Vawter and Parents with Broken Hearts by Robert Coleman.

I find much comfort and strength in the Bible for shock and denial, grief and loss, and fear.  In Psalms (a wonderful book of the Bible) it says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and I am helped . . . The Lord is the strength of his people . . . be their shepherd and carry them forever.”  (Psalm 28: 7, 9)

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