Living After A Child Dies

I take my glasses off to wipe the tears streaming down my face.  I have just watched a memorial video of a young woman who died 18-months ago.  Pictures chronicling her growth into the beauty she is, family members surrounding her with love throughout the years.  Affluent neighborhood, material goods, vacations – nothing that anyone would recognize as the life of a heroin addict.

Our neighbors try to give their 10-year-old son a normal holiday, but what does that mean now that his 12-year-old sister is dead?  It is the second Christmas without their daughter and this one seems more painful, the grief somehow more real, more raw.  So they do what many grievers do, surround themselves with family and friends – but the elephant is looming large in the room.

The young first-time parents are thrilled to be pregnant, but news that “something isn’t right” comes early in the fifth month.  Testing, conferences with specialists all show the same thing – heart and lung abnormalities, not compatible with life.  The tiny baby boy, perfectly normal on the outside is delivered and given a name.  His parents bathe and dress him, take hand and foot prints and a memorial service is conducted 2-weeks before Christmas.

Even after working with grieving families for twenty years, these scenarios take my breath away.

Is it because I am a mother?  Of course.

Is it because these losses involve children?  Yes, I admit, when the natural order of what we describe as life is altered in an unfair way, it seems more painful.

Honestly, I suspect it goes deeper than that.  All of these stories touch an exposed nerve no matter how old I get, no matter how thick my scabs are from loss.

For the truth rears its ugly head every time I hear stories like these.

Life is risky.

It isn’t fair.

No one is safe and no one is ever given a card marked “nothing bad will ever happen to me.”

And yet, despite our knowledge of this, the human race continues.  We decide to have children, we do the best we can to raise them, protect them and teach them right from wrong.

But our world is flawed – babies die before they have a chance to grow, children get cancer, and despite all our love and guidance, addiction kills.

The good news is that the resiliency of the human spirit is stronger than any loss experienced.  Looking at each of these parents, I applaud them for their attempts to survive their loss.  They are working, they are getting dressed and leaving the house, and continuing to do the mundane tasks of daily life.

All this while their hearts break.

All this while they reconstruct a new life without their child.

Many of them would disagree with the word I would choose for them, but only one comes to mind…HERO.

Do you know anyone who has had to say “good-bye” to their child?  In what way do you see them as a hero?  If you have lost a child, what is the most important thing you would want to share about your experience? 







This entry was posted in Bereavement, death, Grief, grieving, Loss of a child, Parenting, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Living After A Child Dies

  1. I saw the title of this post and thought, No! I am not going to read about children and death on a Monday afternoon. I instinctively shy away from the subject, and for good reason I suppose. And yet I am drawn to it. Heros? Yes, I know a few of those- my parents would be two, having had to bury their 6th and youngest child at 15 months of age. He had crawled out of the house and under the wheels of a truck. I can still hear my mother screaming when she picked him up. My brother and sister in law would be another pair of heroes, having had to bury their baby son at 9 months of age. My younger brother came home from work for lunch and as he always did, looked in on him asleep in his cot, as he always did, only to find that he was blue and had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. And then my youngest brother is another hero, who just a few years ago had to say goodbye to his son of 26 who met with a violent death.I stood at all three of these graves- my brother’s, and both of my nephews and still cannot comprehend where the strength comes from to enable these parents to go on with the lives that have dealt them such cruel blows. As you can imagine, reading your lovely post has brought total sadness to my Monday, yet we know that there will be other joys and the tears will stop flowing–until the next time. There is an advert that runs on Irish radio that goes something like this: A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child. That’s how awful the loss is. – (Neugeboren – An Orphan’s Tale – 1976) I think Hero is a grand word, It doesn’t come anywhere close to being adequate, but it will do.

    • Greet Grief says:

      I’m sure many others thought the same thing when they saw my post on what here was a gloomy Monday, but hopefully others like you will be brave enough to comment? I have lost a child to miscarriage but have never experienced anything such as your losses. I continue to think, “how it is that you can still stand with losses such as these?” But that was my point in writing – none of us should still be living, let alone thriving, yet we do! That is the miracle, that is the challenge…Thank you for reminding me of An Orphan’s Tale as I have heard it before and believe it to be true. But just as I found it difficult to define these parents (HERO) – what could we possibly call losing a child other than “Living Hell” perhaps??

  2. My friends who’ve buried children would be the last to call themselves heroes; they balk at being called “strong” when their loss seems to have gutted all their strength. Yet the fact of their enduring one day to the next — of their keeping going at all — is heroic to me.

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