There's No Guide to Losing a Child
Updated: May 4, 2021
You feel like the world is spinning around you. As if everything could come crashing down around you, but you are still standing. You wonder if people can actually live after losing their child, how they move on.
There is no guide for this.
No step by step process, no app to download to help you process the grief.
It's just you.
Crying, not sleeping, or spontaneously bursting into tears when the cashier casually asks while scanning your celery, "is this your only one?" The dilemma, do I tell her what she really doesn’t want to know, or do I just nod and smile. She doesn’t mean to hurt you. None of them do. But it’s the littlest things, the comments or actions that no one could intend to hurt you with, but those little reminders that you are missing someone in your life.
Simply looking at a cartoon sketch of Elsa and Anna served as a quick reminder that my daughter no longer had a sister. Whenever we arrive home, I am reminded that I no longer need that second room for my other daughter. I glance across the sea of people and see a little girl, the same age my daughter would have been. Tears slowly trickle down my face. My heart hurts, not because anyone intentionally tries to hurt me.
The ache is within me. My arms are empty.
My body shows the scars from this child of mine. I weigh more than I used to. I have more stretch marks. There is a scar showing from when she was born. But deeper than all that, there is extra weight on my heart. There are stretch marks where my emotions have been stretched thin. There is a scar on my heart that will always be there. It doesn’t matter if this happened last week or thirty-five years ago, it all feels like it was yesterday.
As we sort through these feelings of loss, and often feel at a loss of where to begin. But there are a few things that have helped me (and my husband) to process the pain of losing our child. In Life After Hope, we walk in depth through this process. As I write, I’m reminded to implement these tools on a regular basis.
1. The hurt is still there. Even though I gave myself a time to grieve, pulling away from any obligations that I could, when that period was over, I still was hurting. In fact, it felt like it hurt more. Yes, I didn’t cry 100 times in a day, sometimes I even went days without crying, but then it could hit like a tidal wave at the most inopportune times. The hurt is still there, because we have lost someone dear. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be still. It’s okay to be angry. And it’s definitely okay to feel. Men and women, we all need to feel the loss, while moving into the present and the future. Do not be afraid to move ahead, the memory of your child will forever be with you. You will never forget your loss, and it may still hurt. That’s okay. Just soak in the okay.
2. People will hurt your feelings. I think it would be the rare person that would intend to hurt you with a pointed comment. In my experience, most people do care and they try to express (or not!) in their own way. Is it always helpful to you? Definitely not. But do they mean to hurt you? Definitely not. Most people honestly do not know what to say. Think of yourself in their shoes. How many times did you ignore someone in the grocery store, or blunderingly tell them you are sorry to hear of their loss and then awkwardly switch topics. Death is not exactly a casual chatting subject. It is uncomfortable. My tip? Next time someone tells you to be thankful you have an older child still, or that you can have more kids, or that God had a plan, or this child was too good for earth... punch them in the face. Just kidding! Please don’t do that! (But let me tell you I have thought seriously about it! Thank the Lord for keeping us from this!). Instead,
Take a deep breath.
Talk directly to that person (maybe it even requires talking to that person who is evading you OR just smile and move on–not every encounter requires the same response!)
Be okay to be honest, especially with those who are close to you.
Remember: they really do mean well.
Find the nearest bathroom and cry it out… or punch a wall, or throw a snowball... or just let it go. I would go with the last one as my go-to. Don’t allow those comments or actions to define your grieving process. Yes, they are not you, but most likely they care and that is the take-away here,
people care about you.
3. You are not alone. If there is one thing we have experienced over and over, it is this–people really do care. Maybe it’s one person in your life, maybe it is an entire church group, or your family, or your two best friends. Or maybe it’s me. I care about you. You are not alone in this loss. There are many who have gone before you and will come behind you, grieving the loss of their child. I have had the privilege of hearing many child loss stories that I had never heard before. People don’t generally volunteer that info when you first meet them. BUT if they know you have lost a child, it’s a whole new level of hearing these stories. You are not alone. You can find resources, groups, a friend, a church... most of all, a God who cares about you. Even if you are angry at him for this, don’t worry, he can take that. He created you to be in community, to not be a lone ranger in your grief; to walk out your journey next to him and others.
4. The memories may fade and you might not remember certain details of your child. What they sounded like, what they said. It all might seem very vivid, or it may seem like a blur. But it was real. Don’t ever dismiss it as not a big deal. You lost your sweet baby, your teenager, your adult child... this is not the norm. But it is your reality, and your responsibility to grieve hard and well.
5. Everyone is different. It would be a huge misnomer to think that we all grieve similarly. OR that we will follow the 6 steps of grieving in some sort of methodical way. Grief is messy. Your situation is unique from mine. You are different than me. You are entitled to journey through grief at your own pace, in your own time. But my encouragement is to do this... grieve. Don’t simply brush the hurt under the carpet, burying yourself in work, family, or a few extra drinks to numb the pain. Face it head on, wrestle hard with it, and know that you are in the position to win. This is a battle to fight, but you will conquer... it may take the rest of your life to sort out the details, but know that you will be victorious over this thing called death.
6. Journal! Yep, even those of you who wouldn’t normally. Grab a pen and notebook, or your device... and write out what happened, and continue to write how you are feeling. Especially those days you are missing them the most. Writing connects your brain, your heart, and your body in life-changing ways... there is even neuroscience to back this up!
7. Sweat it out. Seriously. Sometimes you just need to go for a walk, jog, workout, jump in a pool and swim it out... sit in a dry sauna. Move your body. Get off the couch or out of bed, don’t tell yourself it’s okay to just bury yourself in grief. That’s not okay. Your brain and body need stimulation. Get a good friend to go walking with you. Get an app and start jogging, it really doesn’t matter what, just do it! If your body is healing physically from a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death... take it easy. Don’t push yourself too fast, take your time, but take the time to take seriously the beauty of getting out and sweating a little.
8. There is purpose. I’m not going to tell you anything trite and sentimental here. But what I do want you to know is that death was never the intention. God created us with purpose, to live full and fulfilling lives. Unfortunately, our lives are now thwarted with disease and death. Yes, there are miracles that defy the natural, and sometimes we see this. But we also see the natural happening in our life, and lives are taken before their time.
We have to choose to see purpose in this.
We have to choose to see that we are a small part of a big picture.
And we have to know that our loved one accomplished in those 2 months, 2 years, 12 years, 21 years a fullness of life that will take us a lifetime to accomplish. WE have the privilege of honoring them for the rest of our lives, and spreading the news–
there is HOPE.
There is a whole other life waiting for each of us. THIS gives me hope. In eternity I will see my little girl again, fully restored in the presence of Jesus.