Losing a Child: The Loss, The Surrender, & Tips to Help

You become the best actress possible.

The Oscar.
The Emmy.
The Golden Globe.

All the awards go to you when you are forced to survive the death of your child.

The Loss

A child’s last heartbeat triggers the deformation of their parents’ hearts.

To lose a child is to lose a piece of yourself forever. The realization that everything– from your morning cup of coffee to your marriage to every relationship and experience in your life– is forever changed seeps into the marrow of your bones and this realization forever changes you. Your heart, as it was before the death of your child, will never be seen again.

Your choices.
Your missteps.
Your successes.
Your plans and promises.

Everything crashes down upon you until the weight of your pain is so great that you struggle to breathe. Your tears fall before you even open your eyes in the morning because you know the reality of your child’s passing will crash upon you over and over again as you stumble through your day… feeling lifeless, purposeless, and helpless. You’re afraid to be awake, just as much as you’re afraid to close your eyes.

You are angry.
You are devastated.
You are bombarded with a million what-ifs.
You sleepwalk through your day with a single goal: Survive.

The Nightmare Becomes Reality & ‘Normal’ Disintegrates

It can be extremely lonely as a grieving parent.

The world continues without you and although your mind knows it should, your heart has no comprehension of how you can possibly continue with it. Your day becomes a flipbook set on repeat, every day flipping through the same pain and questions. And the number of times you see horror or sadness flash across someone’s eyes when you speak to them about the child you can no longer hold, it catapults you back to the exact moment your nightmare began.

Normal is not something you ever seek to be again because you are wise enough to know you can never go back to life as it was before your child died. Instead, you do your best to exude the traits that are deemed normal so that others will feel normal in your presence. The word ‘normal’ is what inspires your acting when you’re around others; it’s not what will ever describe your reality.

The Surrender

When parents lose a child, every dynamic and relationship in their life changes. It’s difficult to know how to be the friend and support a grieving parent needs because what they need and want most is the child they lost. What they need and want is exactly what you can not give.

Sometimes the best thing you can do when someone is grieving is to let them feel the pain. Although it’s tempting to say “it’ll get better,” that is a phrase that should be banned around a grieving parent forever, not just when the loss is fresh. For a parent, the loss will be as fresh and raw thirty years out as it was the day their child died. The difference in response the thirty years brings does not represent a lessening of pain but rather a more perfected approach to compartmentalizing the pain… a more perfected approach to their acting.

Tips to Help Parents Who Grieve the Loss of Their Child

Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing how to best respond to a grieving parent. If you’re lucky, you don’t have a personal perspective on this situation. Your feeling of helplessness with how to help a grieving parent, regardless of how frustrating it is for you, is your blessing. This is a situation where misery does not love company.

Family Life published a piece entitled 10 Ways to Help Parents With Grieving Hearts. It is written by a mother who lost her son, Jaden, in an automobile accident at the age of 22. As I thought about the unthinkable deaths of children too young to meet the heavens, her advice hit home:

  1. Be there.
    “Commit to walk with me through the valley no matter how long it takes. It may take a while. Statistics show that a parent is considered newly bereaved for five years. I may tell you I want to be alone. Yes, you should honor that. But know that I don’t mean forever, just maybe right now. What I really want is for you to be there.”
  2. Pray for me.
    “Don’t stop, although I may even tell you to. My faith has been shaken and I feel as though I have been betrayed. I question how God could have allowed this to happen. I may even be angry with Him for a time. I need your prayers. I am too wounded and weak to pray for myself.”
  3. Don’t expect very much from me, especially those first few months.
    “It is a challenge for me to get out of bed and on a good day, I might remember to brush my teeth. Even though my world has stopped, life continues. I have to cook, clean, take care of my remaining family, and often go back to work. Help me. Bring over a meal. Take my children to the park or a movie. Do my laundry. Run to the grocery store for me. Don’t wait until I ask you; I probably won’t.”
  4. Remember special events– not just that first year, but every year.
    “I will always be a mother who misses her child. Transfer those dates from one calendar to the next and send a card, drop a note, make a phone call. Be there!”
  5. Don’t offer advice or give me cliches.
    “I don’t need a sermon on how best to grieve. Don’t offer me cliches such as, ‘Time heals all wounds,’ ‘He’s in a better place,’ or, ‘It was God’s will.’ Don’t assume that you know how I feel. Even other bereaved parents don’t truly know my grief. We are each unique, so don’t lecture me. Just walk with me and be there.”
  6. Say the name of my child.
    “I love to hear it! Remember a story about him and share it with me. Let me talk about him; don’t change the subject. I may tell you the same things over and over and over, but please just be there.”
  7. Accept that I am different now.
    “I will never be the person I was before. A mom told me the other day that she was watching old videos and as she saw herself laughing and having fun with her daughter, she missed her. She also said, ‘I missed me.’ We have lost our innocence. We have lost a portion of ourselves, and we are different now.”
  8. Don’t judge me.
    “I may wear a T-shirt with his picture and visit his grave every day, sometimes twice a day. It may make you uncomfortable if my office cubicle looks like a shrine to the one I lost. Please give me some time.”
  9. Visit the cemetery.
    “And when you do, leave a note, a flower, or maybe just tell me that you stopped by his grave. It means so much.”
  10. Watch for the signs.
    “Be alert to behavior that may be dangerous. There are those who cannot move beyond their pain; encourage them to talk to someone in the professional field. Search out a support group for them, and offer to go to it with them.”

You are Seen, Your Child is Remembered, & You are Not Alone

For most, the day they meet their children they know that a part of their heart will forever live outside their own body. Their child’s happiness quickens their own heartbeat. Their child’s pain cuts them to the core. So it’s no surprise that the loss of a child, of a piece of one’s own heart, creates a wound that leaves a scar that never disappears.

To all those missing pieces of their heart, let what you are reading right now be a tangible sign that you are not alone… that others are trying to understand how to help… and that your pain doesn’t go unnoticed and that your child is and will continue to be remembered.

Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach