My son died. He died suddenly, without warning. On that warm day in May, the lives of so many people changed when my son’s life on this earth ended. He was the strong one in the family. He was the oldest brother and the one that the others looked up to always. He’s gone and our hearts are broken and life will never be the same again!
It is now going on two years since Mike died. Life has gone on for most everyone except his immediate family. For us, the pain is real. The pain is cruel. The longing for Mike overshadows every day in a million different ways. Our lives changed permanently when Mike died, and yet………..
Nobody ever plans on child loss becoming part of their life, yet the sad fact is that every day children die and parents are left grieving the loss of their child. This journey of grief is not an easy one. In fact, this is the most difficult path a parent will ever walk. The journey is long, lasting a lifetime. There’s no way to get off of this road. It is now the road that must be traveled every day for as long as a parent of child loss remains alive.
My life has been turned upside down and inside out by child loss and like so many others I was naïve enough to think it wouldn’t happen. Yet, it did. My son was snatched away without warning and now there are only memories to fill the huge hole that has been left in the center of my heart and soul.
When child loss occurs, there is often chaos within the family unit. Nobody knows what to do or say. Everybody knows that each person is suffering. But, no words are spoken. Why? How do you even begin to communicate within a family when everybody is in shock and grief? This radical miscommunication often leads to the breakdown of a family and that’s just what we want to guard against.
Child loss is traumatic. I will always remember the phone call I received saying, “They tried. They tried for over an hour, but they couldn’t save him.”
I was in bed at the time I received that life-changing call, and I can remember letting out moans that didn’t sound human. I’ve tried to hide that moment in the recesses of my mind, but I can’t. That’s just how trauma works. Every time the phone rings in the evening, I jump. My body tenses, and I begin screaming out, “Please, God! Please don’t let this happen again!”
Every bereaved parent has a burning question that needs to be answered. That question is, “When does healing take place after child loss?.” The pain following the loss of a child is so intense, so all-consuming, so life changing, that we are constantly searching for the answer to healing. It is human instinct to do everything possible as quickly as possible to get rid of pain. We long to feel healthy and whole. We long to be able to be joyful in our living. We want nothing more than to be able to smile and enjoy life to its fullest.
When my baby boy was born still twenty-five years ago, the grief that I felt was impossible to explain to others. There were days when I could not move from my bed. Eventually, the grief seemed to soften a bit, and life felt “okay” for a time.
Then year two came along, and I was knocked flat with crippling grief, only this time it was much worse and I couldn’t figure out why I had this much grief hitting me so hard again.
Just recently my adult son Mike died very unexpectedly, and my heart was ripped apart. Shattered. Empty. Lost. Feeling so alone. And, knowing what is ahead in this journey.
Why is it that so many people think they know “exactly how you feel” when child loss occurs? If I had a nickel for every time somebody told me they knew exactly how I felt after I lost my child, I’d have a stack of nickels a mile high.
Truthfully, nobody knows exactly how a grieving parent, grandparent, or sibling feels after the death of a child. I understand that people mean well, but it’s time they understand that those words shouldn’t be spoken — ever — following the loss of a child!
So, what do you say to a parent who is grieving the loss of their child? Do you mention the child’s name? Do you quote Bible scriptures and tell them everything happens for a reason and to accept this and go on? What do you say when a child loss occurs?
Have you ever wondered about the answer to this question: “What is the one thing that, if given the chance to change, you would change in your life?”
I think about this all of the time as I play different scenarios in my head. If this would happen, then that would be the result. “If I had not been born into a poor family, then this is how my life would be now.” “If I hadn’t been born terribly shy, then I could have gone on to be a super motivating public speaker.” “If I didn’t have such a large nose (that always bothered me — I have a larger than life Italian nose!) then I wouldn’t have been so shy, and I would have mingled more with people, and would have gone further in my career.” “If I hadn’t had an alcoholic mother, she might still be alive and maybe our relationship would have been better.”
And, on and on it goes……..
However, after thinking about all of the “what ifs”, the same answer always comes up at the top of the list. If I could change one thing in my life………
When our lives are touched by the loss of a child, many things happen to us that change us from the inside out. Aside from life-long pain and grief, other changes occur that we’re often afraid to mention for fear of thinking we’re the only one or that we might be wrongly judged.
Fear. The fear that accompanies child loss is overwhelming.
We fear all kinds of things — fear of the future, fear of today, fear of never being able to smile again, fear of not having enough strength and hope to go on in this life, but most of all we fear something that we’re almost hesitant to say for fear of it happening.
Note: This was written one year and three months before the death of my adult son. Little did I know how much more my grief would increase in just a few months! Since the original writing, I have written two books, Child Loss – the Heartbreak and the Hope and Hope 365.
Not a day goes by without someone making comments to me that are questioning the validity of the intensity of pain a parent feels when child loss occurs. I understand that people are trying to “get it” when it comes to losing a child, but some comments are beyond my realm of thinking.
“I loved my dog just like a child. I slept with my dog. We were companions forever. And, when my dog died, I didn’t think life could go on. But, you know what? I knew I had to move on. I got a new dog and I couldn’t be happier.”
Or this one: “When my best friend moved out of town it was just like a death. I didn’t have one other friend around, and I was so lonely I thought I was going to die.”
How about this one that I got told just a few days ago? “My mom died a few months ago. She was 86, and it took us by such surprise. I never expected this to happen.”