When a child dies the earth shifts for everyone who loved him or her. Whether the death was due to an accident, an aggressive infection or the end of a long term illness, when a child is taken too soon there is an avalanche of emotions.
After a five and a half year battle with leukemia my son Cory died. We had just celebrated his ninth birthday. My sister-in-law Anne died after one and a half years fighting pancreatic cancer. She was 40 but her parents felt every bit as horrible as I did. Your child is always your baby no matter how many years they spend on this planet.
The Newtown anniversary just passed this week and the sweet images of the little smiling faces of the victims made tears flow for many people not just the families. How does anyone survive when a child dies? Not to sound trite but it is simple. You have to get up and face each day. You have to go on one step at a time with one foot in front of the other. For a while the sky wasn’t as blue for me and the things that I had liked to do weren’t as much fun. My desire to do the formerly fun things was not the same. So many things weren’t as important. That felt like depression. The world seemed to stop for a while. It was puzzling how other people could continue on with their lives like nothing bad had happened. My world had crashed and burned. Honestly I wasn’t outraged or anything but I was sad that Cory’s death didn’t seem to have impacted others as much as it had me. I was wrong of course. I was not the only person who loved and missed Cory. But that is the way it felt at the time. I was wandering around in a fog for several months. But, I pushed myself to get up every day and take care of my daughter and myself…went to work, etc.
For those who have lost a child my advice is to take your time getting back to regular activities. If time is what you need take it. If keeping busy helps as a distraction go for it, but whatever you do – don’t act as if nothing happened. It doesn’t work. Celebrate the child’s life. Honor his or her memory. Keep talking about your child even if you think you are making others uncomfortable. Creating a shrine helps some and for others it prolongs the agony. Everyone is different. I cannot emphasize that enough. We all grieve differently and no two people follow the same timeline. Do not judge yourself by others’ experiences or expectations. Be kind to yourself. You will miss him or her so much that it hurts beyond description but you also need to focus on the good memories. And, when you are really down ask yourself what your child would want for you or from you. Seek professional help if you need it. There is no stigma. Grief is not a mental illness. The fog will lift eventually and you will begin to notice how blue the sky is or how bright the sun shines. You will laugh again. Don’t feel guilty when that happens. Your child wants you to be happy and healthy.
Those who support grievers need to follow the cues of those you are supporting. Please do not try to fix anything. Just be there to listen and give hugs. Cry with him or her. Whatever you do please do not start telling stories about other people and what they went through or how courageously he or she handled the loss of a child or other loved one. Be present. Cook, bake, clean, organize or help with childcare but most of all just listen when the parent talks about his or her child.
“Time heals” sounds like a good thing to say but don’t. Time doesn’t really heal anyone’s grief. What happens with time is that we grievers get used to the physical body being gone from our sight and touch. So, saying time heals doesn’t really help. Be kind. Be supportive. Live aloha.