Experiencing the Death of a Child
Child loss comes in many forms and timelines, not only the day that your child dies. What is it truly like to lose a child? In honor of July being National Bereaved Parent month, I wanted to share my experience dealing with the death of a child.
So what is it like?
Child loss is deciding on hospice and signing a DNR, when all you want to do as a parent is continue procedures and treatments. Even when qualified medical professionals tell you it would be futile, and you take the advice (as you should), your heart is screaming for you to fight for their lives.
It’s cradling their still-breathing body as the monitors are turned off, and you try to memorize every feature. Their sweet nose, tiny toes, perfect little hands. Running your fingers through their thick, dark hair. You’re soaking in every detail, just in case this moment is their last breath.
Losing a child is uncertainty, even after death. Not knowing if you should continue holding their body in your arms even when their soul has left, or leave them before you witness your child taken to the funeral home with people you don’t know, in a car that doesn’t belong to you. It’s seeing the funeral director become teary eyed and unsure of what to do or say when you’re planning your child’s service with him.
It’s realizing that life doesn’t come with a manual on how to live life at home without a baby, when you used to have one. It’s stuffing every item that belonged to him into the nursery for a full year so that you don’t lose yourself in your emotion each time you look at one of his pieces of clothing or toys. Trying to write a eulogy for a funeral service that you don’t want to attend, but have to because your sweet boy deserves to be remembered beautifully 100 times over. It’s finding old medical supplies, but being unable to part with them because they “belonged” to your little one.
Child loss is feeling a sense of guilt because you were supposed to keep that baby safe, and you couldn’t. It’s wondering how you’ll survive when your day to day life should be returning to normal, coupled with seeing the whole world be glad that they are not you. Child loss makes you distant at certain times of the year, when it all becomes too much. You experience staying on Earth, even when you feel as though there is nothing left for you.
Losing a child is uncertainty about parenting, and sadness when you see children that would be the same age as your child. It’s all of the missed milestones, school activities, sports, and love that will forever be missed with your little one who is no longer there. It’s experiencing life with your new baby, where for a split second, you forget that you’re missing someone so very important in your family. When that second passes, you feel immediate guilt for not noticing the lack of their presence in that happy moment.
In the same breath, there’s positivity that comes. It’s knowing how precious life is, and how important it is to be present with your family and friends. You enjoy so many of the small things. The giggling, dancing, drawing with sidewalk chalk on the driveway. Laughing with friends, and celebrating others. It’s understanding that age is a privilege that not everyone gets to experience, and knowing that you should always tell people how important they are to you, no matter how vulnerable it makes you. Child loss teaches you how to create beauty out of something that would primarily be seen as ugly. You will learn humility, grace, and most of all strength; but you will never forget.
Child loss is realizing that time doesn’t stop, and the world does move forward. This forces you to move forward as well. Unfortunately, this experience is something that brings grief in waves, most likely for the rest of your life. You will have a missing piece. No matter how much time has passed, the space of your missing child will last a lifetime. However, you get to choose whether to fill that space with beauty and softness, or with fear and negativity. I have always found that radiating kindness from that empty space can be difficult, but is more productive than becoming hardened to the world. Honestly, my son was such a happy baby, I would feel uncomfortable not spreading love and sunshine in his memory.
For the families and friends of those who have lost a child, please don’t shy away from us. Listen to us, and sometimes let us share our feelings. We can’t take care of you by pretending that we are fine all of the time. No matter how much time has passed, everyone deals with grief differently, and it’s okay to ask what the person needs. I promise, we will appreciate it, just like we cherish your friendship every single day. If you see us teary-eyed, it doesn’t mean we are weak, or we don’t enjoy life. It’s actually quite the opposite. We realize exactly how precious and fleeting life is now, we just wish that all of the people we loved were on this Earth with us creating memories.