Updated: Oct 31, 2020
I now know how fragile life is. We don't all get to live long lives, experience all of life's milestones, and do all the things on our bucket list. I was well aware of child loss before December 2015, but I never dreamed that it would happen to me. I had two healthy children. We were decent parents with good jobs and lived in the 'burbs. What could go wrong?
But terrible things happen all the time. No one knows when it will happen or to whom.
When your vibrant spark-plug of a daughter dies unexpectedly, you become a different person. Loss changes you. You become more aware of the dangers of every day life and you miss your child with every ounce of your being. Sometimes it feels like the rest of world doesn't understand.
My greatest fear is that the world will eventually forget about my daughter, Katie. This weekend marks four years since she walked out the door and never came home. People surround you with love and compassion when your child dies, but then their lives and responsibilities pull them back to their own worlds.
Over time, people retreat and they stop saying your child's name. Is it because they think it will hurt us? Or do they truly forget that our child lived too? People don't like it when you talk about your dead child. They don't know what to do or what to say. It's just too much for them and it makes them uncomfortable.
We are a reminder of what can happen and no one wants to be reminded.
I know that not everyone understands and I know that no one wants to cause me additional pain, but what they don't know is that by not saying anything my heart breaks all over again. Hearing my daughter's name or the fact that you were thinking about her warms my heart. It doesn't stir up my pain. My pain is always there and it will never go away.
While I don't expect that Katie's name will be a part of every conversation, it is nice that she is remembered on her birthday and on the day she went to heaven. Those days will forever be awful for me and wrought with emotion. A simple card, hug, text, or email is always appreciated. It helps me know that you haven't forgotten about my girl.
She will always be a part of me. Every single day of my life.
Nothing will change the fact that Katie's life was cut short or that my whole family's life will be forever different. But a few things do help us on our grief journey. Please say Katie's name and please help us know that she has not been forgotten.
Here is an excerpt from my book A Journey to HEALING: A Mother's Guide to Navigating Child Loss. It is part of the appendix I included at the back of my book to help friends and family support us in our loss.
If you are a friend of a bereaved mom, or family, or even an acquaintance, please be patient with us. We may look the same to you, but we are very, very different now. We are fragile and need lots of gentleness, kindness and patience. Please know that there is no timeline to healing, that healing is the choice of the bereaved, not your choice or your timeline. We are human beings and have different wants and needs during our grief and it changes over time. No two people grieve the same. Good communication, like other areas of life, is paramount.
To help you best support a bereaved mother consider the following:
· Acknowledge our child’s passing. Say something and do something. Remember our children – say their name. We won’t be upset. We might cry at hearing their name but it brings us joy. Share any memories, pictures, anything at all.
· Understand that this journey is a balancing act for us – grief in one hand and joy in the other. Know that we can experience both and some days we need more patience and support than others. Our grief never goes away.
· Know that our lives will never, ever be the same. It’s not just the loss of our child; it’s the loss of all future moments with our child. We mourn the big things like future weddings and grandchildren and the little things too. Things like an empty chair at the kitchen table can be heart breaking for us.
· Be there for the long haul. We need you and your support forever. While your life goes back to normal after the funeral, ours is silent and lonely. We need you to stay in touch and reach out after the funeral is over for the days, months and years to come.
· Encourage conversations and memories about our children. Include them in the conversation. Don’t ignore the fact that they existed.
· Visit, send texts, emails- it all helps. The pain does not stop after the funeral and that is the time when the bereaved feel the loneliest.
· Listen. Really listen. Be present and listen.
· Write down our child’s birthday and date of death on a calendar and send a message or card on those days. You won’t make us sad by reminding us that our children are no longer here. We will never forget that. But by remembering and saying our child’s name you will warm our heart. We are all scared that our child will be forgotten. Please remember them.
· Be gentle and considerate. Ask if we want to talk about what happened. Let us talk, rant, and scream. Just listen and acknowledge our pain. Do not offer suggestions unless you have walked this path. Please stay away from the clichés.
· At least 2 days every year, we need some grace – our child’s birthday and their anniversary will always be days that we need the most understanding. However, every holiday no matter how big or small is difficult. Mother’s Day is a very challenging day for us too.
· If you want to take food to the bereaved, use disposable containers, labelled and ready to freeze. Often families are inundated with food. Minimize their workload by using disposable containers. Having to find the energy to return items can be overwhelming. Better yet, divide into smaller serving sizes and label. Another good idea is restaurant gift cards that can be used when all the casseroles and food are gone.
· Keep checking in, considerately. We may turn you down 500 times but keep asking. Give us space but keep letting us know you are thinking of us and wanting to visit when it feel right for us. Invite them out, or ask to stop by. Keep calling or texting.
· Step in and step up graciously. Don’t say “if there’s anything you I can do, just ask”. We do not have the energy or the forethought to do that. Bring a meal or a cup of tea. Arrange to take our kids to activities or take care of our pets.
· Understand that grief is complex and difficult for us to understand too. Know that you can’t fix this.
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Walking with you today and always,