Losing someone you love is painful. That’s the cost of loving someone.
But having to watch your own child die is pure agony, the most cruel thing that can happen to a parent.
Parents should be watching their child grow up, not being lowered in a casket under the ground.
We should be celebrating birthdays and milestones, not see their name and photo on a tombstone.
Our child brings us so much joy and happiness, hopes and dreams, yet on that dreadful day, death came uninvited to strip all that away.
From then on, it’s a dark and tumultuous journey, choked with anger and pain, one that demands all our energy just to exist.
We run on empty in the first few weeks or months, with nothing to give, even to our other children. We suffer memory loss and have problems carrying on a conversation, because our ability to focus has been eroded.
Thoughts of dying cross our minds because it is the only way we can be with our child again, the only escape from the anguish. We know we can’t, yet the thought of living another day without our beloved child kills us.
Well-meaning people encourage us with the words, “Time is the greatest healer.”
But does it really?
“We don’t get over the death of a child. We just learn to live with it,” shared Jasmine (not her real name), who lost her teenage daughter in a car accident over 15 years ago.
Yes, the pain lessens in intensity over time, it “loses its sharp edge” as another mother who lost her daughter to cancer six years ago puts it.
And just when we think that, OK, maybe we can do this, learn to let go and live with the loss, then suddenly a song, a photo, a playground, or special dates comes up to throw us right back to the raw and paralysing early days when death first robbed us of our precious child.
In her book After the Death of a Child, Ann K. Finkbeiner wrote, “I don’t think you’re ever going to get over it. You make yourself go on with your life and do what you have to do, and you ARE happy. But you’ll never be AS happy. I don’t think the pain will go away until you die.
There always … is a pain and a void that will never be filled again in your life. Very much in the beginning I felt completely dead inside. Now I don’t feel completely dead, but I feel there’s a part of me that is gone. That’s a cross you bear. A weight in your heart, a heaviness, an underlying sadness…”
Dealing with grief requires a lot of hard work and time, with no shortcut.
In the Barbara D. Rosof book, The Worst Loss – How Families Heal from the Death of a Child, Leslie Swager, a clinical social worker and former director of Bereavement Services for San Diego Hospice in the United States, who lost two children of her own, said this: “What I always stress to parents is to take care of themselves and to give themselves time.
Most people’s timetables for grieving are ridiculously short. Allow yourself two years to get to where your child isn’t at the centre of your awareness all the time… that’s if you’re straight with yourself and let the feelings come. If you try and suppress it, it’ll take you longer.”
In our tortuous journey, the one thing that will keep us sane and offer hope, is faith.
Faith in a Higher Being, and believing in life beyond earthly human existence – regardless of religion.
Emotional support is also paramount during the grieving process. You will find that only another mother who shares the same loss can truly understand how you feel.
Reaching out to others in the same situation, or doing good, also provides a sense of comfort and purpose. In the first few months, you may be too overwhelmed to do that, and understandably so. But eventually, we regain our strength bit by bit, day by day.
In the last chapter of The Worst Loss, it says, “You get through the bad days because you’ve learned that they do end. The pain overwhelms you, but then it recedes. You are stronger than you ever thought, stronger than you ever wanted to be. You never forget what you lost. You learn to value what you have.”
And to add to that, cherish what we once had.
In memory of Julianne: Nov 18, 2010 – June 4, 2014.