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Still Standing--A Parent's Grief Journey

[Life and Death]

Still Standing

Understanding parents of loss-- the grief journey that never ends.


I want to be clear here; I have not written this so that people will feel sorry for those of us who have lost a child. I wrote it in hopes that it will bring greater understanding and support to those who are facing the most difficult challenge that life can hand us—that of losing a child.

One never thinks that our child will die before us. It is a shock that hits from out of the blue, blind-siding us and taking away our very breath. It is an event that is completely out of order in the scheme of things. We are supposed to bury our parents; not vice versa.

When my daughter died suddenly in 2007, I began a journey that I never, ever thought I would have to take. My daughter was 30 years old, a vibrant, lovely young woman, with a beautiful 5 year-old child who adored her. When she was suddenly taken from us, our entire world was turned upside down.

For about two years, I did not want to get out of bed. I was trying to get hold of the emotions I felt, hoping that someday life might be normal again. I was in shock as are all parents when a child passes. I would burst into tears over the tiniest thing; an old photo, a dessert that my Jodi loved, any little thing that reminded me of her.

I tried to make sense of it, but soon enough learned that there is no sense to be made of life or death. It just is, and we are along for the ride, good or bad, along a path that leads us through life and beyond. I needed to know if there were others out there who felt as lost and hurt as I did, so I originated a Facebook Grief group for parents who had lost a child. Did I ever find out that there were, indeed, others like me, all over the world.

I found out quickly that parents experience many different stages of grief-perhaps, not in the same order or not to the same degree, but they are all there. Shock seemed to be the universal first stage. I began to meet many parents who had lost a child and all said that at first, they felt dazed and completely stunned. I met parents who had lost more than one child at the same time, and I was amazed that they could survive at all past such a horror, but they did survive, some bringing inspiration and hope to other parents who believed that their lives were over.

I was taken aback by the wonderfulspirit and kindness of so many of the members of our group. So many were in deep pain, yet took the time to console others around them. One incredible woman who had lost her daughter to a sudden illness, spends hours online providing an ear, love and comfort to mothers of loss, every day of the week, and has done so for the better part of the last decade.

One man I met lost 2 teenage sons in a car accident while he and his wife were visiting an older son (who was critically wounded in the military), and was fighting for his life in the hospital. How does one survive that? I realized that if these brave souls could get on with their lives after something so horrible crashed their world that I might survive, as well.

This certainly brings up another commonality among parents of loss; we learn soon enough that life will go on—but that there will be a “new normal,” in which we will always live. Life is never the same after you lose a child; you learn not to expect that it ever will be normal again. Your reality has been forever altered. As time goes on, the pain softens, and there will be joy again; but life is never the same.

I met so many parents who were just plain angry. Angry at God, at the Universe, at whatever took their child. They were angry at spouses, family members and friends who just did not “get it,” and who wanted them to “get over it.” You never “get over” losing a child. Never. This is not to say that you need to sit around sulking and crying for the rest of your life, but a parent never gets over missing a lost child.

I was angry too. I knew, deep in my heart that the medical community had missed something or my daughter would still be here with me, where she belonged! I was angry with myself; I should have MADE her get medical attention. This leads to another phase of grief that all parents face; the deep guilt that encompasses us because we couldn’t save our child. Sometimes the guilt lasts forever, not serving any purpose and eating away at us.

If we gave birth to a child, then we were supposed to be able to save them, right? The What if’s, I Should-have-dones, and If Onlys take over. So many parents I’ve met are so consumed with guilt that they become paralyzed by it. Support groups are important because we’ve all felt that guilt, and normally it takes a long time to get past it. Knowing that all parents go through a guilt phase is important. You realize that, even parents far from the scene of a car accident, will find a way to make it their fault.

Everyone needs a safe place to grieve when the rest of our world has gotten past the loss. I hear often from parents, “Why don’t my friends and family understand that 6 months or a year or 5 years isn’t enough time to get past the loss of my child.” This is precisely why a group of people who walk where you walk is important. The world does move on. A parent who has lost a child will seem just fine, then burst into tears over the smallest thing. It’s normal. They haven’t lost their mind. The smallest thing can set us off.

I could give you a list of things to say to a grieving parent and especially, what not to say, but I believe that if you’ve read this, you can pull from it what you will and derive some understanding from it. How can you help a friend in grief? Be there. Listen. Give them a hug and let them know you care. The rest is a process, a grief journey that every parent has to walk in his or her own way, for as long as it takes.

Important links for Parents who have Lost a Child

Grief: For Bereaved Parents of Loss--A Facebook Group

Judy's Child loss for Moms





It's been over 6 years. It's never an easy journey, but the pain softens with time. I write about it now and then so that we can help other parents get to grief groups. There are some amazing folks there! Thank you for your sweet words.
Aug 19, 2013

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