In past conversations with parents who have lost children, they have said people often misunderstand how they feel and are confused about discussing their loss.
It’s not about avoiding the topic of their lost child. It’s about remembering her or him. All too often people think (or assume) they should avoid talking about a child who passed in front of their parents. Evidently, it’s the opposite for many parents.
I know a little about this as my cousin died in an accident while in college in 2003. I remain close with her parents, my aunt and uncle. For a long time, I wasn’t sure whether to talk about my cousin, Katie Wessells. Only in recent years have I felt comfortable talking with my Aunt Linda and Uncle Henry about her. I think it’s a good thing to talk about her and talking about memories. They seem to enjoy it as well.
I started recalling hearing that news on that Saturday in February 2003 – the same day the Columbia space shuttle exploded — and the days that followed once word spread this week about the fatal accident involving the death of the 14-year-old boy. He’s the same age as my oldest son and they played against each other in youth soccer for several years. They were acquaintances with many shared friends.
Like so many others, the teen’s death has been on my mind constantly all week. Beckett has spoken about the tragedy every day since. He has been moved to tears trying to wrap his head around it. In an abrupt departure from the norm, he shared his feelings many times this week about the situation. It impacted him. I hope it’s a lesson in mortality for he and his friends and pray he understands the magnitude of this situation.
I found it difficult all week to concentrate on the matter at hand before me. A major reason was this preoccupation with this family’s loss and the horrific circumstances surrounding it. In an effort to maybe help the family or close friend, here’s a piece from a parent who suffered a tremendous loss, courtesy of scarymommy.com. The letter from Jamala in May 2020 was titled, “An Open Letter To Grieving Parents, From A Fellow Child Loss Mom.”
Words seem too shallow, and even the act of writing feels like an offense in the face of your heartbreak, but I had to acknowledge your pain.
Writing to you about the road ahead also seems like an affront — yes, I have lost a child too, but by no means do I dare suggest that I know what you are feeling. We each walk along these wretched shores alone, and it is impossible for me to give a map of the terrain. Even on the same beach, each walk is completely new, because the beach is constantly changing.
Telling you of my experiences puts the spotlight back on me when you are now suddenly sitting in darkness. Your eyes have not yet adjusted to the dark, and the spotlight is blinding — navigating this paradox is a challenge I have yet to master. …
In the first weeks, when the tears escape freely in floods, and you feel an emptiness so deep, you think you now know the location of your soul, you may wonder if you will ever stop crying again. When you realize that this day is the first day you have not cried, you may feel a sadistic longing for the emptiness again, because it seemed to be the only remaining connection to your child. In some ways, it may feel easier to navigate the days where the tears come to your eyes before you open them on a new day. In that strange way, you almost know what to expect … because there isn’t room for anything other than to be wholly consumed by the hole your child left behind.
I am only three and a half months into my walk along the shores of life without my baby son, Jasper. Most days, I am no longer completely knocked over by waves of audible quiet in our childless house, or the dead weight of my empty arms. But I could be standing in line at the grocery store, listening to a podcast about nothing in particular, watching reality trash on television, or participating in a conference call at work and feel the sudden rising of a new tide of sadness within me. It could last for a few minutes or all day. I never know what to expect in this infancy of my grief.
In some ways, I equate my grief to what it may have been like to parent my son, as a first time mother. In the early days, there is crying, eating, pooping and small intervals of sleep. You are consumed, and in awe, and afraid of this new being. As you navigate this new world together, with every emotion imaginable, you know with a tinge of fear that the life you knew before has been obliterated. … The reality is that there are so many ups and downs, and frustration on both sides as this new being is still trying to figure out how to communicate with the people who love them the most, so you know what they need or when they have had enough.
Also, as soon as you start to sleep through the night again and have forged into a new normal, … you start to learn the personality of this new being, and slowly, you learn how to speak the same language. You learn to nurture and mold them, but they also fight for control. The years continue to fly by, and you continue to learn and grow together and independently. … In so many ways, our grief and parenting run parallel courses, whether you get to raise your child or not. Both are forever.