Back-to-School after Child Loss
Updated: Sep 7
Back to school. The time of new beginnings for children and parents alike. A time to get back into a routine of school and extra-curricular activities. Excitement abounds and families look to the future.
But when you've lost a child, especially one that was school-aged, the excitement that others experience can highlight your sense of loss; the fact that your child is no longer here. You've also lost future hopes that you had for your child.
Social media can make this even more difficult by clogging up your feed with never-ending pictures of children on their first day of school. They may be heading to kindergarten, pre-school, or their last year of high school or beginning post-secondary school. It doesn't matter, the pain is still the same.
My child should be a part of that too.
My daughter Katie, loved school. She loved working hard, she loved being with her friends, and she loved learning new things. I can hardly remember a time that she didn't look to the future, whether it was about her future career options or her plans to travel. So, back-to -school is a tough time for me.
For me, back-to-school is part of the grief roller-coaster. It seems like I get through one tough 'season', get my feet underneath me again, only to be thrown head-first into another time of year that puts my strength and healing to the test. Over three and a half years have passed without Katie and in some ways, the rawness has softened somewhat, but the pain is still there and events like back-to-school rip that partially-healed scab off every year.
It sucks, but like I have always maintained...I have a choice. Like everything that life throws at me, I have a choice in how I react to these challenges. It's easy to be angry or even jealous of friends, neighbours, and family who are celebrating another year and milestone but where does that get me? No where but feeling worse.
To complicate things further, you may have other children who are returning to school this fall and who deserve the accolades and photos. Take those pictures, post them and be proud!
But my advice to every single parent who has lost a school aged child is to stay off of social media for as long as you can at the beginning of September. For at least the first couple of weeks after school starts, take a break. Check in as you need to but try not to scroll.
Grief and healing require boundaries to help protect your heart and even your mental health. These boundaries may change as you travel through grief, but it's important that you respect them.
The image I have included with this blog is my own front door. So many back-to-school pictures include children lined up with their backpacks and a big smile on their face. Some include a detailed sign with their name, height, teacher's name etc. Well, here's my photo - where my daughter should be standing, going into her last year of nursing. Katie would have a big smile on her face but be chastising me at the same time for delaying her departure. She'd want to get to the university to get a good parking spot, meet her friends for a coffee, and get to her first lecture plenty early.
I've been temped to post this empty picture on social media to make a point, but I really don't want to take away from others. Instead, I choose to take a break from social media.
I can be happy for those children and their families who are celebrating the first day of school, but I can also respect my need to not be bombarded with images that remind me of a lost future.
Other ways that you can manage back-to-school include:
* purchasing and donating school supplies to an inner city school in your child's memory
* plan a little getaway during the first week of school
* journal your feelings and get together with other angel moms who are probably feeling the same way
* think about creating a scholarship or award in your child's memory that you can work on during the school year. I find honouring Katie is always a healing thing to do.
If you are struggling or feeling like you would like to chat with like-minded mothers, consider joining my Facebook group. Click here: https://www.facebook.com/childlossgriefsupport
Hold on, mama. You've got this.