By Donna Jean Ryding…Jonnie’s Mother

Isn’t Grief Just Grief?

Old Grief. I’ve never thought of grief in the context of old vs new. Isn’t grief just grief? My dear friend, Joni Woelfel, introduced me to old grief when she shared her very touching essay with me, now found on this website. As I sat and pondered the subject, yes, I could see some striking differences between the two.

On March 24th, we marked the eleventh “anniversary” of our son, Jon’s, death by suicide. I always find that term odd. An anniversary should be a joyous event. There is very little joy in marking off another year without someone you love and miss. Yet, I must admit, old grief is calmer and gentler. The tears that fell were less and quieter, not the sobs that shake your whole body and can be heard throughout the house. Huge difference between old and new!

New grief is raw. An open wound. It is always there at the surface just waiting for the slightest thing to make it explode. The year following a death, you go through all those ‘firsts’ without them. A birthday (Jon’s was 11 days after his death), Thanksgiving, Christmas…… That first Mother’s Day was the worst for me. Not only didn’t I have my Mama, but my precious son had only been gone about six weeks. New grief. A picture, a song, a movie or just about anything can evoke a memory and you feel shattered once again. It’s scary because you feel helpless to control it. It washes over you like the waves in a stormy sea. But slowly, as time passes, it ages and becomes old grief.

Old grief doesn’t mean we’ve gotten over it. You never get over the death of your child. Even harder is a death by suicide, which brings additional baggage full of other emotions to deal with too. But you learn to live with the loss, the hole in your heart that will never heal. You begin to breathe again, to live again. you often remind yourself that it is okay to smile, even laugh. You begin to feel joy again, dance to the music and sing at the top of your lungs! After all, isn’t that what your loved one would want for you?

Does that mean with old grief there are no more tears, no sleepless nights? Absolutely not! But they are less frequent, less intense. Except on the occasional “runaway train” day. That’s what we call them. It happens when someone or something triggers a memory that knocks you down and, if only for a while, you are back to square one, back to new grief. Luckily, it never lasts very long.

One thing that has helped me, us, our family and friends travel from new grief to old, is we founded an organization in Jon’s memory. Jonnie’s Angels Foundation was established in the Fall of 2008, not long after his death. Suffering from Bipolar Disorder, he had been homeless for a while over 2000 miles from home. After several months, we were finally able to bring him safely home. Once, we asked him what he missed most. His answer shocked and astonished us all- SOCKS! Because, as he explained, ‘when your feet are cold, everything is cold”! Each winter, Jonnie’s Angels provide gift bags to the homeless and needy filled with, yes, SOCKS and other necessities. For more information, visit our website Jonnie’s Angels Foundation on Google sites.