When a child dies, we are desperately looking for some kind of help. Something or someone to encourage us is what our aching heart needs. But, the reality is that there are times when absolutely nothing can help. There are no words. There is no action. Nothing. And, so we sit in our pain trying to absorb the depth of what it means to have a child die.
Such was the case both times when my two sons died — one son died in utero — a stillbirth. Another son died unexpectedly in the prime of his life of a massive heart attack. Both times knocked me to my feet for a long, long time. Both times left me longing for someone or something that could possibly help ease that initial shock and pain. Yet, I found that nothing really helps in those hard, cold first months following the death of a child.
So, how do we survive? What gets us through? Thankfully, there is something I’ve termed the foggy abyss in my book Child Loss: the Heartbreak and the Hope. For a long time following the loss of a child we seem to be lost in this dark, foggy abyss where nothing makes sense at all. All of life suddenly becomes a big puzzle where none of the pieces fit together. Everything in life feels all jumbled up, and we constantly feel pain washing over us.
This “foggy abyss” is actually a blessing. This weird place is a way of protecting us from feeling too much pain all at once. The shock/trauma of the death of a child is enough to kill a parent — literally. So, our bodies kick in to protect us from so much mental pain all at once. While we live in this place of “nothingness” we are given the blessed gift of time to begin adjusting the the fact that our child is gone. When we initially hear those words “I’m sorry” we believe them, but we don’t quite grasp what that means.
And, so we begin this solo journey of child loss by living for a while in this foggy state until we are ready to slowly emerge into a place of the reality of loss. During this time, there are many people who offer advice, who give us Bible verses to help us through, who deliver hot meals to our door, who send cards and texts asking how we’re doing. But, the truth is that nothing can totally erase or diminish this pain for us. This is a journey that we are taking alone. This was our child, and nobody on face of this earth loved our child as we did. Nobody! So, it’s obvious that nobody’s heart is going to hurt as badly as our heart.
As harsh as this might sound, in the end each one of us traveling this journey of loss will come to a place of “acceptance of reality” and that is when a turning point will begin. Will we ever be pain free? No. Absolutely not. Our hearts will ache forever for our child. BUT, I can tell you from personal experience that the pain will begin to soften. The pain changes in time. We somehow grow wiser in our grief. We grow more caring and compassionate in our grief. We grow more understanding in our grief. We understand the meaning of life and of death more completely.
If you are in the beginning stages of grieving and you are desperately longing for someone to help you, please remember that it’s okay to be living in the foggy abyss for as long as you need. Allow yourself the gift of time. In time, you will understand that YOU and only YOU must come face-to-face with the grief and child loss. And, when you do, you will know that you are finally taking those first steps on your journey of healing.
With love, Clara
Bereaved mom of Samuel and Michael