“ When you lose your parents, you lose your past. When you lose your partner, you lose your present. When you lose your child, you lose your future”
If you are reading this because you have lost a child or grandchild, first let me say how truly sorry I am for your loss. They say time heals, although right now it doesn’t feel like it possibly could.
Whether your loss comes after two minutes, two days, two years or twenty two years… you are never prepared for it. I know for me it was very surreal, like it wasn’t really happening. I was watching everything happen from someone else’s perspective. But the hand griping my heart and squeezing with every breath wasn’t letting go, giving me the constant reminder that it was happening, and it was very real. I wished from the very depth of my soul that I was going to wake up from this horrible nightmare and Paul would be smiling and holding Clae above me waiting for a morning kiss.
The numbness that consumed my body didn’t fade right away. It seemed to obliterate time and blend days and weeks together. I remember trying to go back to work and just staring at my computer without a functioning brain.
After a couple of months I stopped waking up thinking he was still here, and then crying the morning away when I’d remember he wasn’t. The mornings were always the hardest time, but now it can be any time. Some days are manageable while others are not. As the days pass, the bad days get further apart, but when I have them they seem more intense, maybe because the numbness is now gone. Some times when the sun is shining and the heat on my face is so warm I think today is going to be a good day, and then something can happen to change that. It could be something simple like a phrase, a smell or a sound, but something simple can take one good moment and make the next one bad. Grieving parents live moment by moment.
Now that he is gone, there is this massive hole left in my heart. The hole will never heal. Some people say,’ I couldn’t do it”, or “I don’t know where you get the strength to go on.” Some days, I don’t think I can go on either, or find the courage to brave another day. But we have a band-aid that covers that gaping hole, our daughter Cyenna. Her smile and contagious giggle make us remember that tomorrow, or the next, the sun will shine again. Nobody knows how much strength they have, until they are actually forced into a situation where they have to use it. I don’t know what we would have done without her. She’s what gets us out of bed in the mornings. Without her, sometimes I think we would have just curled up beside him, and wished the worst upon ourselves. She has given us a reason to go on, a reason to survive. My heart goes out to those whose title of parent has been removed. It’s seems as though it would be an extra loss on top of something already so devastating.
“ What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sometimes it can feel like you’re losing your mind when you are grieving. Freaking out if you can’t find your child or grandchild’s blanket because you sleep with it every night. Not being able to do the same routines you did with that child because it brings up memories that are too hard to deal with so soon afterwards. There are so many odd things that we do when we grieve that others may think that we are not adjusting well. I know I did a lot of strange things during those first months that others would raise an eyebrow at. I know for quite a long time I couldn’t sleep until my clock turned 2:22 and I could kiss the heart shaped pendant that the ICU gave me which Clae has the center of , and say good night to him. Still today, I know that if something ever happened to that pendant I really could lose my mind. Grief is such a different experience for everyone that goes through it because we are all grieving someone different. It could be the same person but our role in their life was different. A mother or father, a grandchild, a sibling, a nephew or niece and a friend. They are all going to be grieved in different ways by different people but the pain can be just as intense no matter who is grieving.
It seems almost unnatural when it is a child that dies. Growing up we know that eventually we will have to bury our parents, possibly our spouse, but we certainly can’t imagine having to bury a child or grandchild. It’s just unfair. There seems to be guilt that follows this. One is survival guilt. The feeling that it should have been me that died instead. Grandparents seem to feel this more intensely, having lived a long life and possibly have had their own near death experiences. There is also a moral guilt, which is the feeling that the death was a punishment for something that you did. But the most devastating guilt is if you were somehow directly involved in the cause of death. Guilt is a strange emotion, and sometimes, even if there is nothing to feel guilty about, we will find something, even if it is irrational. But we can’t help our feelings, so the best way to manage guilt is so talk about it with someone. Or if you have trouble talking, try witting down your feelings. You have experienced a loss and you have the right to be sad, hurt or even angry but guilt is unhealthy and it accomplishes nothing. You have to forgive yourself or ask for forgiveness, if you find it will help. Why punish yourself for something that cannot be altered. Try to reroute the energy you are using feeling guilty into something positive.
You may not fit into the “book” version of grief. There are stages that we all go through during the grieving process but depending on who died and your relationship to them, it will be different. Men and women grieve differently. Mothers differently from fathers, and grandmothers differently from grandfathers. One thing I have noticed is that continuing to talk about the person, who has died, is healthy. Some people who may not be close to the situation, may be taken aback and not sure how to react when they hear the name of someone who has died come up in conversation. Some people may feel it’s better to never mention the name again. However, I have seen how much energy and life fills a room full of Clae’s family members when a story is being told about him. Everyone is smiling and laughing and can’t wait to add to the story. His memory lives on through all of us.
“If tears could build a staircase and memories a lane, I would walk all the way to Heaven, and bring you back again” Author Unknown
So how will you cope? I don’t know for sure, it will be something you’ll have to figure out on your own because it’s different for everyone. But I can share with you some of the things I have done to try to keep myself sane.
From my understanding there is a difference between mourning and depression, but I was afraid of sitting around the house and falling into a depression because all I did was cry, and it was too hard to try and face the world again. I was scared I’d run into a friend that didn’t know about Clae and ask how he was. Or that I’d run into someone that did know, and as soon as I saw their sad face for me I’d start to cry and wouldn’t be able to regain my composure. I think I had realized within the first few weeks of losing Clae that I’d have to approach the world cautiously. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I had gone out of the house to grab some diapers for Cyenna. I was just leaving an isle when a friend I hadn’t seen in years turned around and greeted me with a bubbly hello. She obviously had no idea, and I promptly dropped my head and fled. I felt horrible afterwards knowing how rude I had been. I was beating myself up mentally until I realized that she’d soon hear of my loss and forgive me.
So I took baby steps after that. One of the first things I did was sign up for an oil painting course. It was a safe place. I’d be doing something creative and I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone knowing that I was a grieving mother and feel like they should walk on eggshells around me. Here I could face the world on my own terms a little bit at a time. I was getting out of the house and it was forcing me to cover my tears even if just for a few hours. After a few months of being around people, I felt more comfortable going somewhere where I could run into a friend and be forced into a conversation about Clae. Even if it was going to painful to talk about I knew I couldn’t hide from the fact that I had just lost my child.
A couple of my friends helped with saving memories for me by making a memory book that was left open at Clae’s funeral service for people to write in. There are so many happy memories in there from people that I may have never known about if it wasn’t for that book. I’ve added photos and write my own memories often. I’ve even been asked to leave it at other people’s homes for them to write their own memories in. I’m sure it will be added to for years to come.
When it comes to a burial plot it’s not usually thought of in advance, and I could only even think of one when we were asked where he was going, but we were really lucky where Clae ended up having his final bed. We thought at first that the gardens where he is would be too difficult a spot because we have to drive by it everyday to go to town. I’ve found out though that I like being able to drop in anytime I want. I was stopping by every day, sometimes twice, but now I just tend to go on days that he’s been on my mind a lot. I’ve had friends that have children or siblings buried out of the way from their everyday drive so a visit to the grave yard generally means planning in advance and anxiety build up before the visit. Sometimes the anxiety can build for days and then the visit may not always be calming and peaceful. It’s funny how graveyards always seemed so scary until my little boy ended up in one. They aren’t so frightening anymore.
I guess one of the most important things that Paul and I have done since Clae’s death is to become active members of the Family Advisory board with the local pediatric hospital that handled Clae’s care, in hopes that other families will be spared the grief that we’ve endured. We’ve already made some changes in how the emergency department is run and are working closely with hospital staff in hopes of implement more changes in the near future. We are really lucky that the hospital is so open to our suggestions for improvements.
I guess finally there were things I felt I needed to do in his memory. Things I had to do to keep his memory alive. One of them obviously was to create this website. All of this writing was very therapeutic, writing out all of my emotions. Of course, there was quite a bit of editing on some of my rants, my anger, and my hurt. But all in all it was helpful to write even if it was edited or even erased.
The entire family was there when Clae passed away. We all cried very hard and openly. Men and women alike. Society expects women to cry but only accepts men’s tears for the first few days. But tears can heal our hearts and sadly men don’t allow themselves to cry openly for long. Sometimes I think it may have been worse for Paul, because not only was he grieving the loss of his son but also society expects him as a man, to be strong, so he was. He was the one that keep life functioning, as my pain was obvious, his was just as intense but without the ability to cry openly for months afterwards. Sometimes I wonder where Paul got his strength. Then there are the grandparents who suffered dual pains. Not only were they grieving the loss of their grandchild but also they had to watch their children go through inconsolable pain on top of it all. The Grandmother feels so powerless knowing her embrace alone cannot mend her child’s pain, while the grandfather still has the role to play and be that strong man for his family, yet has to hide his tears from society.
I guess I hope that some of what I write may help you on your road to healing. It certainly won’t happen over night and there will always be a piece missing, but I think it’s true what they say… the first year is the hardest. It has been just over a year now that I am writing these final words. I still have some really bad days… but there are many good ones now too. And you will be surprised at how quickly a year will pass. I remember when Cyenna turned 6 months old and it seemed like I just blinked those four months away. It was all a blur because I was hurting so much that the days blended together. But, through all of that, I wasn’t the only one hurting. Everyone who knew Clae was hurting in some way.
The following are some poems that I find very beautiful. Most of them were given to us after Clae died at his funeral.
Don’t Tell Me
Please don’t tell me you know how I feel,
Unless you have lost a child too,
Please don’t tell me my broken heart will heal,
Because that is just not true,
Please don’t tell me my son is in a better place,
Because I want him here with me,
Don’t tell me someday I’ll hear his voice, see his face,
Beyond today I cannot see,
Don’t tell me it is time to move on,
Because I cannot,
Don’t tell me to face the fact he is gone,
Because denial is something I can’t stop,
Don’t tell me to be thankful for the time I had,
Because I wanted more,
Don’t tell me when I am my old self you will be glad,
I’ll never be as I was before,
What you can tell me is you will be here for me,
That you will listen when I talk of my child,
You can share with me my precious memories,
You can even cry with me for a while,
And please don’t hesitate to say his name,
Because it is something I long to hear everyday,
Friend please realize that I can never be the same,
But if you stand by me, you may like the new person I become someday.
Judi Walker © 1998 In Memory of Shane
Just Say “I’m Sorry”
You don’t know how I feel; please don’t tell me that you do
There’s just one way to know — have you lost a child too?
“You’ll have another child” — must I hear this every day?
Can I get another mother, too, if mine should pass away?
Don’t say it was “God’s will” — that’s not the God I know.
Would God, on purpose, break my heart, then watch as my tears flow?
“You have an angel in heaven, a precious child above.”
But tell me, to whom here on earth shall I give this love?
“Aren’t you better yet?” Is that what I heard you say?
No! A part of my heart aches and I’ll always feel some pain.
You think that silence is kind, but it hurts me even more.
I want to talk about my child who has gone through death’s door.
Don’t say these things to me, although you do mean well.
They do not take the pain away; I must go through this hell.
I will get better, slow but sure–and it helps to have you near.
But a simple “I’m sorry you lost your child” is all I need to hear.
My Mom Is A Survivor
My Mom is a survivor,
or so I’ve heard it said.
But I can hear her crying at night
when all others are in bed.
I watch her lay awake at night
and go to hold her hand.
She doesn’t know I’m with her
to help her understand.
But like the sands on the beach
that never wash away…
I watch over my surviving mom,
who thinks of me each day.
She wears a smile for others…
a smile of disguise!
But through Heaven’s door I see
tears flowing from her eyes.
My mom tries to cope with death
to keep my memory alive.
But anyone who knows her knows
it is her way to survive.
As I watch over my surviving mom
through Heaven’s open door…
I try to tell her that angels
protect me forevermore.
I know that doesn’t help her…
or ease the burden she bears.
So if you get a chance, go visit her…
and show her that you care.
For no matter what she says…
no matter what she feels.
My surviving mom has a broken heart
that time won’t ever heal.
(By Kaye Des’Ormeaux
October 15, 1998
Dedicated to the mothers who have
lost a child & have somehow survived.)
A Man in Grief
It must be difficult
To be a man in grief,
Since “men don’t cry” and “men are strong”
No tears can bring relief.
It must be very difficult
To stand up to the test
And field calls and visitors
So she can get some rest.
They always ask if she’s doing all right
And what she’s going through,
But seldom take his hand and ask,
“My friend, but how are you?”.
He hears her crying in the night
and thinks his heart will break.
He dries her tears and comforts her,
But stays strong for her sake.
It must be very difficult
To start each day anew
And try to be brave~
He lost his baby too.
Once I saw a grown man cry
Once I saw a grown man cry
“Now there goes a man with feelings!” said I.
He was strong, able, quite built,
With muscles, gray hair and charm to the hilt.
I moved toward him slowly and said, “What’s wrong?”
The look he gave me was tear-filled and long.
“I cry for a child. My grandchild has died.”
So I sat beside him and two grown men cried.
Excerpt from “For Bereaved Grandparents” by Margaret H. Gerner
Letter from Clae in Heaven
To my dearest family
Some things I’d like to say.
But first of all, to let you know,
That I arrived okay.
I’m writing this from the bridge.
Here I dwell with God above.
Here there’s no tears of sadness.
Here is just eternal love.
Please do not be unhappy
Just because I’m out of sight.
Remember that I am with you
Every morning, noon and night.
That day I had to leave you
When my life on earth was through,
God picked me up and hugged me
And He said, “ I welcome you.
It’s good to have you back again,
You were missed while you were gone.
As for your dearest family,
They’ll be here later on.”
God gave me a list of things to do.
And foremost on the list,
Was to watch and care for you.
And when you lie in bed at night
The day’s chores put to flight,
God and I are closest to you…
In the middle of the night.
When you think of my life on earth
And all those loving years,
Because you are only human,
They are bound to bring you tears.
But do not be afraid to cry,
It does relieve the pain.
Remember there would be no flowers,
Unless there was some rain.
I wish that I could tell you
All that God has planned.
If I were to tell you,
You wouldn’t understand.
But one thing is for certain,
Though my life on earth is o’er.
I’m closer to you now,
Than I ever was before.
There are rocky roads ahead of you
And many hills to climb,
But together we can do it
By taking one day at a time.
It was always my philosophy
And I’d like it for you too
That as you give unto the world
The world will give to you.
If you can help somebody
Who’s in sorrow and pain,
Then you can say to God at night…
“My day was not in vain.”
And now I am contented…
That my life was worthwhile.
Knowing as I passed along
I made somebody smile.
God says: “If you meet somebody
Who is sad and feeling low,
Just lend a hand to pick him up,
As on your way you go.
When you’re walking down the
Street with me on your mind,
I’m walking in your footsteps
Only half a step behind.
And when it’s time for you to go…
From that body to be free.
Remember you’re not going…
You’re coming here to me.”
Christmas In Heaven
I see the countless Christmas Trees around the world below
with tiny lights like heaven’s stars, reflecting in the snow;
The sight is so spectacular, please wipe away the tear,
For I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
I hear the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear,
But the music can’t compare with the choir up here.
I have no words to tell you the joy their voices bring,
For it is beyond description the way the angels sing.
I know how much you miss me;
I see the pain inside your heart,
But I am not so far away; we really aren’t apart.
So be happy for me, dear ones, you know I hold you near
Be glad I’m spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
I send you each a special gift from my heavenly home above.
I send you each a memory of my undying love.
After all LOVE is the gift more precious than gold,
It was always most important in the stories Jesus told.
Please love and keep each other, as Christ has said to do, For I can’t count the blessings or love God has for you.
Have a Merry Christmas and wipe away that tear,
Remember, I’m spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
This is a story that was sent to me by another grieving mother shortly after Clae died.
I can only hope that Paul and I are coffee Beans:
A Carrot, An Egg, And A Cup Of Coffee
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose. Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. Her mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma. Her daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?”
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity … boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot in the boiling water softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you? ” She asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?”
Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity?
Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?