Originally written October, 2009
For almost three years now, I’ve been working with bereaved parents. Parents who, for a variety of reasons, have lost an infant. Some to miscarriage, some to stillbirth, some to SIDS, some to other illnesses, tragic accidents, or other causes. No matter what, the loss of a child is the unthinkable.
But there’s a bigger loss – the one society imposes on parents. The one that says “you can’t talk about your child” or, “you can, but we won’t do it with you.” What people don’t realize is every time the bereaved parent is robbed of a chance to remember and celebrate their child’s life, they live a little piece of the death all over again. Not only did the child die, but now so is their right to remember, and their sense of parenthood dying a bit also.
I’ve had people say many things to me in the past 6.5 years since I lost my son. And my reactions have varied. I went through two very rough years of grief, and eventually healing into a new normal. But some facets of my son’s life will always impact mine. You don’t go from being a mother back to not being one – it isn’t possible. If you’ve ever felt in your heart the love you have for your own child, you know what I mean. It changes you. Down to your soul. And that is not something that can be undone. The thing is, unless we’re allowed to celebrate our child, that love has nowhere to go. And that just might be an even bigger loss.
In time, as the grief process evolves, you learn to find yourself again. We find a smile, our joy, and we realize it’s ok to go forward again. There’s nothing to feel guilty about. You tuck your child safely in your heart, and you keep going with life. I smile as I write that … my life is good now. And I know where Ian is. And I’m happy. Nobody can tell me I haven’t moved on … I have..
I had someone tell me once they avoided the issue because they weren’t going to be the ones to “remind me my child died”. But the thing is, they missed the point. I feel the ache inside me, and I know what helps and what hurts. I’m not asking you to remind me of his death …. I’m telling you to help me remember his life.
What I mean is this: In this loss, parents like me have a choice.. Forgetting isn’t an option. Remembering in a way that is healthy and positive – in a way that celebrates – is.
To a parent who is so used to society averting their eyes, avoiding the subject, treating you as if you’re stuck in the past, isolating you even further than you already feel, the gift of celebration is precious. We only ask that those of you who love us help us in the ways we need help. If you don’t believe me, try it one time. And watch my face. Take note of the light in my eyes when you say “sending love to you and Ian today”… or “wishing Ian a happy birthday!!” … or “happy Mother’s Day!”… watch my smile… my astonishment… my joy. And you know what happens inside me? A “soaring” feeling in my heart – that overwhelming happiness, and the thought “my little man ROCKS!!” I’ve felt that feeling every single time. And it’s a rare moment of great joy in celebrating my son… so indulge me.
Bringing it up doesn’t cause pain. Others avoiding it does. We are not remembering a death… we are celebrating – with unprecedented joy – our child’s life. And oh what it would mean if you’d do the same. Be sure of one thing – I don’t speak just for myself. Since 2006, I have interacted with over 700 mothers just like me, and a handful of fathers. And in every single conversation I’ve had with them, the thing they wished for most from others was that they would remember, acknowledge, and celebrate.
Today is October 15… National “Wave of Light” day… tonight, at precisely 7 p.m. Tonight, the goal is that everyone light a candle for babies who have died and their loved ones. And with varying time zones, as each person lights their candles at seven sharp, the light will literally be a ‘wave’ around the world in remembrance.
People don’t know how to handle parents like me. Six years later, having healed, and found great joy in my ‘new normal’, I feel equipped to tell you how to handle us:
Remember. My child died. My child meant EVERYTHING to me. And when he died, I was stripped of endless opportunities to be his mother. Hearing his first words, seeing him walk, watching him board his first school bus, seeing him graduate, seeing who he’d marry, or what career he’d choose, or giving me grandchildren. His life ended, and those things went with it. But in their place, in his absence, I’ve learned what I was supposed to learn – how to keep living. And how to be happy.
I am still his mother. Don’t take the only piece of motherhood from me that I have left. Let me know you remember that he lived. Let me know that his life still matters to others besides me. Let me know it wasn’t all for nothing – that someone so very precious to me is still remembered by you. Afraid to? Try me one time and watch my joy. You’ll see.
If you’re so moved, please read, and repost, share with others who know the loss, anything to help another parent in these shoes. If you have questions, please ask. If you are a bereaved parent and you agree, or disagree, please say so. I’ve dealt with hundreds of parents in recent years, and everything I say above is my sentiment, but one I’ve heard from so many others.