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? 







Posted in Bereavement, death, Grief, grieving, Loss of a child, Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Looking Death in the Face – The Story of a Naïve Nurse

I draw the shortest straw among the three night nurses on my unit. Despite that I have less than six-months on the job, I’m the one floating to another floor (going to a different unit that you aren’t usually assigned to) that is short-staffed. When I arrive, I am assigned to the patient with the red X on the front of his thick chart.

Walking into his room, I am overwhelmed by the tubes and medical equipment that pack the small space. I thought I was ready for this new career, for my new title, “R.N.” until now. I pray the patient can’t read my face as I tinker with his intravenous tubing, read labels and assess the daunting task at hand.

Now I understand why this nursing unit is short-staffed, why nurses who usually don’t work on this floor are being asked to take their turn. It is 1984, and this emaciated man clinging to life in his hospital bed is dying of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

This morning, I read David Koon’s article in the Arkansas Times newspaper entitled, “Ruth Coker Burks, the cemetery angel.” I am sobbing by the time I finish, thinking back to the sunken eyes and frightened look on the face of the young man I cared for many years ago.

Ruth’s words resonate with me when she talks about how many men she came in contact with who never had any visitors, were abandoned by their families and died alone.

It sickens me to think about the way those of us in the medical profession in general, responded out of our own fear and lack of knowledge in the early days of the disease.

I am grateful for the medical advances we have discovered since that time, that treatments have improved, and that homophobia is less rampant.

Personally, I am thankful that I took the time while I was working in that young man’s hospital room years ago, to talk to him and to hold his hand while he was grimacing in pain.

I learned a lot that night as a young, naïve nurse – things that I could never learn in a book.

I learned that life can throw things at you that are unexplainable and devastating.

Our race, sexual orientation, religion and diagnosis don’t matter.

All that matters is if we have been seen and heard.

Broken. Wounded.

One heart, touching another.

Posted in caregiving, death, Grief, grief at work, growth, Lessons from others, My story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Forever Young – Grieving the Passage of Time

I see the picture of the three of us. Framed in silver, it sits on the marble-top console table that had been my grandmother’s. I mention the picture when it catches my eye as I sit in my mother’s living room during my weekday visit.

She smiles and says, “When I see it I think, who is the old woman in that picture?”

Since the picture includes me, my husband and mom, I ask, “Which one?” Both laughing, the conversation continues as we talk about how quickly the years pass, how subtle the changes are, and how our physical bodies age.

Hearing the depressive tone in her voice and seeing tears gathering, I shift our talk to the ways of the Spirit being timeless, how our soul is always young. Eyes widen and her smile broadens as she says, “Yes, that’s how I feel! That old woman in that picture is just getting tired. My body just can’t keep up with my mind.”

Driving home, my eyes are the next ones swelling up with tears.  I think of all the conversations recently that seem to show mom is beginning to comprehend her mortality. Like each of us, it will be her last challenge. How she prepares and accepts its reality will influence all of us.

What do I want to do?

I want to avoid the subject. I would prefer to play games, laugh and pretend our time together is limitless. But then I would ask a question that might haunt me for the rest of my life – “What did I do to help her with the transition?”

This woman brought me forth into the world and has given me many things and meaningful lessons. But the greatest gift she gave was introducing me to God. She gave me the seeds to grow my faith and to understand the promise of Eternal Life.

I am not a scholar who has answers to all her questions. I am not a saint with unwavering faith. But I am a Christian. Because of that, I hope the greatest gift I give mom or any ageing parent or friend is my assurance through faith, that they too will conquer death.

I will be brave enough to hold their hand. I will let them wrestle with their fears and not turn away, and I will assure them there is a place where their body and mind will be –


I love the song Forever Young originally written by Bob Dylan – you can read the words here.  I am grateful that some of the elders I know are blessed with many of the attributes Dylan sings about in this song.  And we are all thankful when they have remain Forever Young in their mind.  What about your ageing loved ones?  I’d love to hear your story?









Posted in Aging, death, Faith, family, Grief, grieving, My story, parents, Spirituality, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments