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The Worst Nightmare: When You Lose a Child

Rosanne Ullman | October 12, 2017 | 8:50 AM
Photo By KatarzynaBialasiewicz for Getty Images

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, providing compassion for parents who have lost pregnancies through miscarriage or other reasons, and who have lost babies from stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, accidents and other causes. However, there’s no month that recognizes the loss of older children. If you or a client has lost a child of any age, you know that it’s something no one gets over.

In a piece called “I Wonder What She’s Doing,” Chicago writer and activist Nancy Rothstein, who lost a 16-year-old son, urges people to reach out to any friend who has lost a child. She writes:

She must be sad today.
I don’t know how she gets through the day.
A heart heavier, a sadness more pervasive than I can imagine.
I’m lucky it’s not me.
I won’t even go there.
I feel sorry for her.
Such a tragedy.
I can’t stop thinking about it. About her.
About her family.
I don’t even know what to say to her.
And then, a voice came to me. My other voice.
The one that starts in my heart.
And it said, “Call her.”
I reached for the phone.

Andrea Miller, another mom who has experienced the loss of a child, lists the seven things she learned from that sadness:

  1. Love never dies. “Just as parents of living children unconditionally love their children always and forever, so do bereaved parents,” Miller writes. “My son’s life was cut irreversibly short, but his love lives on forever. And ever.”
  2. Bereaved parents share an unspeakable bond. “It’s a pain we suffer for a lifetime, and unfortunately only those who have walked the path of child loss understand the depth and breadth of both the pain and the love we carry.”
  3. I will grieve for a lifetime. “There is no ‘moving on’ or ‘getting over it.’ There will never come a time when I won’t think about who my son would be, what he would look like and how he would be woven perfectly into the tapestry of my family....The loss of a child is not one finite event; it is a continuous loss that unfolds minute by minute over the course of a lifetime.”
  4. It’s a club I can never leave, but is full of the most shining souls I’ve ever known. “We all wish we could have met any other way but this. Alas, these shining souls are the most beautiful, compassionate, grounded, loving movers, shakers and healers I have ever had the honor of knowing. They are life-changers, game-changers, relentless survivors and thrivers. Warrior moms and dads who redefine the word brave.”
  5. The empty chair/room/space never becomes less empty. “There is and will always be a missing space in our lives, our families, a forever-hole-in-our-hearts. Nothing can fill it.”
  6. No matter how long it’s been, holidays never become easier without my son. “Consider supporting and loving some bereaved parents this holiday season. It will be the best gift you could ever give them.”
  7. Because I know deep sorrow, I also know unspeakable joy. “I live from a deeper place. I love deeper still....Because I’ve clawed my way from the depths of unimaginable pain, suffering and sorrow, again and again, when the joy comes—however and whenever it does—it is a joy that reverberates through every pore of my skin and every bone in my body. There is nothing—and I mean absolutely nothing—I take for granted. Living life in this way gives me greater joy than I’ve ever known possible. I have my son to thank for that. Being his mom is the best gift I’ve ever been given. Even death can’t take that away.”
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