“What happened? Where are my friends?” Those are probably two of the most pain-filled questions that parents and families of child loss ask following the death of a child. This seems to be the one thing that is misunderstood the most by grieving parents.
Prior to the death of the child, life was full and happy and friends were calling, stopping by the house, planning fun outings, picnics, and planning vacations together. But, it doesn’t take long following the death of a child to realize that those very same friends seem to have disappeared.
Why does this happen? Why do so many of our friends disappear following the death of our child? I’ve wondered about this for many, many years beginning with the death of my thirteen-year-old sister and then later on with the death of my son. It was something I didn’t understand then, but I’ve grown to realize that the trickling away of friends is fairly universal among those of us who have lost a child.
Talking about child loss makes others uncomfortable. It’s not fun. Grief seems to put a wedge between friends making it difficult to talk and enjoy each other’s presence any more. During the first months following the loss of a child, parents live in a deep, thick fog where it’s almost impossible to see even a sliver of hope. They look to their friends for solace — for listening ears — for comfort, and soon come to realize those faces that once were so familiar are no longer the faces that come knocking at our door. In fact, nobody comes knocking at our door!
Life picks up its regular pace for others — back to the routine of work, soccer games, movies, running errands, and doing all of the other things that fill up time almost immediately after our loss. I’m not saying that our friends don’t care. I’m just saying that life goes on for them.
For the parents of child loss, time stands ever so still. We are frozen in that moment of hearing those horrible words, “I’m so sorry.” Our hearts never beat the same after that.
To say it’s disappointing and hurtful to have our friends move on without us, is putting it mildly. The absence of our friends burns our hearts right to the core. The pain stings and hurts and pounds and throbs. This is when we need our friends the most!
Following the death of my son, life was bleak for a long, long time. There were days when I thought I was going to die — very literally die. My blood pressure shot up sky-high from stress and grief. I was weak and dehydrated from not eating and sleeping. Depression swallowed me and kept me in a sea of drowning tears. I plummeted into a deep, lonely hole of loss.
My phone remained silent. I prayed that somebody — anybody would show up with some food and words of comfort. I had other children that needed to eat. They needed to see a bit of normalcy in their lives. I’d forgotten what it was like to smile. Just to see a friend’s smile and hear a reassuring voice would have meant so much. But, it wasn’t to be so.
Sadly, being a preacher’s wife at the time, there were expectations of me displaying a “greater faith” (what does faith have to do with grief?), and instead of comforting friends, I was expected to give comfort to others. I didn’t have the strength to carry on through each hour, let alone be any kind of strength to others!
During that time, I nearly had a mental and physical collapse from the weight of grief, depression, and loneliness.
What I did find was something quite amazing. There was a young man who bagged groceries who noticed my puffy eyes and slumped shoulders. He never failed to ask me how I was feeling and I knew he genuinely meant it. He made going to the grocery store a little bit of an easier task for me.
My doctor was genuinely concerned. He took the time to sit and talk and explain the many emotions of child loss while I cried. He never judged me or thought I was crazy.
A total stranger saw me crying while walking through the children’s section in Walmart and she offered me a tissue. She didn’t say a word, but she was there.
I learned through the years how to find new friends — the kind of friends who are there through the thick and thin of life. Isn’t it amazing how we can openly and honestly share our hearts with strangers who are feeling our same pain of child loss and instantly they become our friends?
Many years have gone by since the death of my sister and the death of my son. Most of my old friends are gone. I now think of them as past acquaintances who simply didn’t “get it.” They didn’t understand the depth of pain that is caused by child loss.
Today I’m an advocate for parents and families of child loss. I want us to speak openly and freely about our children. I don’t want us to feel alone in the “club” that we now belong to. I want us to be able to grieve in our own way, in our own time, and know we’ll be given tons of support.
I want us to be friends!
NOTE: Little did I know at the time of this writing that my heart would be crushed again by the loss of a child. On May 22, 2015 my son Mike died unexpectedly leaving behind his wife, three young children and a family broken by this loss. Once again, the question was asked, “Where are my friends?”
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