Learning to Live with the Death of a Child
“You might as well amputate my heart!” one father exclaimed as he tried to express his pain after the sudden death of his son. Is there life after the death of a child? How could it possibly be? When a child dies, our future dies. The anticipations of coaching athletic games with your son or teaching your daughter how to ride a bike are buried in a casket. Watching them navigate their teen years or march in graduation is no longer a future to hope for. In fact our entire future is erased and we can never know what could have been. Mourning can over-take us when we fixate on the future.
Make the Choice to Live in the Present
One conscious choice a bereaved parent can make is to live in the present. It is not an easy choice to practice, however, it is one that can save our sanity and reconnect us with the relationships around us who are eager for our love and attention. Who needs me today? How can I show them my love and support? What is happening today that honors the pain in my heart? Am I making healthy choices to work through my grief? Would a parent support group be helpful? Am I aware of the grief process in my surviving children or the grandparents? Do I understand my spouse’s pain? While grief is all consuming, making the choice to recognize and come to understand others in the family is a better option than isolating from each other.
Make the Choice to Support Marriage
Here lies a potential pit for the bereaved parent. . . . We often marry a person who complements our personalities and temperament. In simple language, opposites attract. Add grief to the mix and it is like flipping the magnets and watching as they push each other away. The risk for the death of a marriage is in proportion to the health of the marriage prior to loss. If a couple’s relationship was already struggling before the death of a child, it will be a difficult season for that couple to navigate. Even when the relationship is solid, the individual responses to pain are often misunderstood, causing confusion and isolation between the couple. As a couple we have the choice to give each other the freedom to mourn in our own way. We can choose to support our partner through their pain. We can choose to keep the marriage a priority and seek to communicate and understand one another. The pain does not have to separate us after the death of a child.
One Couple’s Choice
I know of a young couple whose baby was terminally diagnosed at birth. The grief over the death of baby Tommy* just 18 months later was heart wrenching to observe. I know, I officiated the memorial service. What was outstanding to me was the couple’s commitment to remain together after the loss. When I asked Tommy’s mom why she and Joe* stayed together, Tanya* said, “I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life with anyone but, Joe. He and I share the same love and heartache over our son. Anyone else would never know that about me. They wouldn’t know my wonderful Tommy.” Sounds like good reasoning to me.