In a few days I’ll take my girls to the cemetery, for one of our regular visits on the anniversary of their brother’s death. It’s been eight years now, but the pain still hits when you least expect it.
Last week, in my hometown, another set of parents endured the unimaginable, this time because their seven-year-old drowned in a tragic accident. I’m sure, though, that they are not the only ones with fresh wounds. There are others who are grieving today: parents who have miscarried, or lost a baby like I did, or had accidents, whether or not it hit the news. Even if it happened long ago, such grief does not just evaporate. After my son died, I realized that one cannot comfort a grieving parent as one would like to, because there are no words. But one can listen, one can hug, and one can pray. And so I would like to share some of my thoughts and prayers for those of us who have entered this horrible fraternity of grieving parents, in the hopes that it may help some of you, too.
When a child dies it feels as if the physical laws of the universe have been violated. You needed that child far more than you need the very oxygen you breathe, and yet that child is gone, and your lungs keep working. Your very breath is a betrayal, and squeezes your chest worse than any violence ever could. So I pray that you will be able to take each breath, and that eventually simply living won’t hurt like this anymore.
And I pray that in your grief you and your spouse will be able to turn to each other. The death of a child strains a marriage in a way little else does. It’s not fair, but you face a crossroads. I pray you will walk this valley together, and that the journey will strengthen you, rather than separate you.
I pray that people will surround you with practical help, that they will hug and that they will listen. I pray that your friends won’t scatter because they feel awkward, but that they will be patient, even when the grief seems to be lasting longer than others think it should. I pray that if your grief is from a miscarriage or a stillbirth, people will still understand the depth of your pain.
I also pray that you will be able to take each day as it comes. When a child dies, and especially a baby who did not have the chance to become part of your daily routine, on the outside it is almost as if he or she never existed. And yet, for you that child was your very heart. If you let go of the grief, it is as if you are letting go of the last thing that ties you to your baby. Remember, though, that grief is not something that disappears. Sometimes grief is overt, but other times you feel fine. I pray that you will embrace those moments when you feel peace, because there will be moments—even if it’s days, weeks, or years later—when the grief will return, unbidden, in full force. Be grateful for good days and do not feel guilty for them. Smiling is not betraying your child.
At the same time, I pray that when those good days become the norm, even if it’s years down the road, that you will not feel like you are going crazy if the grief suddenly hits you hard again. You’re not regressing, or starting at square one. This is the way of grief, and know that it never completely disappears. If we are honest, we probably wouldn’t want it any other way. So I pray that in those moments when you can’t breathe again that you will still experience peace, and know that this intensity will again subside.
I pray that you will remember that everyday that passes is not one more day further away from your child, but instead one more day that you are closer to meeting him or her again.
And finally, I pray that one day you will be able to remember with laughter, and not just with tears.