This post might be a bit controversial. And that is perfectly fine. It’s a tough one for me to write. I think it should be included in all those what not to say to grieving parents articles that I’ve read. But no one ever has said it before that I have found.
Right after Mike died when I went back to work some of my co workers were talking to me about Mike and the comment was made that I would see him again one day in Heaven. Another coworker said “Everyone wants to think they will see their loved ones again in Heaven. Yet we all know that it doesn’t work that way. Not everyone will make it in to Heaven”. That day totally wrecked my relationship with that coworker. I am still cordial to him and say hello, but I can’t get past that statement. I don’t share with him or have the same respect. To even make that kind of a statement to a grieving parent is not kind or helpful at all. The bottom line is as our Mother’s taught us if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. And perhaps he meant nothing by it. But if the is the case his timing was way off. He never met my son, had no clue what he was like past what I shared at work. To me it sounded as if he was judging my child and making the assumption he wasn’t in Heaven.
I have heard from well meaning christian friends “Did Mike know Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior?’ I am pretty certain there are many parents out there who won’t find that question comforting. They are left with no idea how to respond. Perhaps they are christians who really truly don’t know the status of their child’s salvation. Perhaps they are parents with a different belief set. If they aren’t sure what their child believed this will not make them feel better at all. It only leaves them with doubt, confusion, and more questions.
Life is hard enough after your child dies to then have to worry and wonder where you child is spending eternity. Please choose your words carefully when you are talking to grieving parents.
I did not write a post in August. I was struggling with my own grief. This is my house. The house Mike lived and died in. I was left with a decision to keep, rent, or sell it. My younger son lived there when he graduated from college for 3 1/2 years, but needed to move to be closer to his work.
I wasn’t prepared to deal with the reality of having to sort through my sons’ belongings that I had haphazardly shoved in bins, boxes, and totes. I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotions and feelings that would bring up. Could I sell the house? Would I be loosing more of him? I spent every weekend sorting, cleaning, moving stuff from one home to another. Taking donations of things I no longer wanted or could use to donation sites around the city. I threw out some things no one wanted. I sold a few items and donated some to people I knew could use them.
It felt good to help others. It felt horrible to sort through Mike’s things and know he’d never use them again. I saved some things that normally I’d have put in a box and given to him to clutter up his house. The decisions to keep or not to keep were tough. In the end I wasn’t ready yet to throw away the kindergarten scrap book his kindergarten teacher made for him, or the 100 drawings and craft project he brought home from school and day care. The report cards and his high school homecoming king sash and prom moments. These are the things you are supposed to box up and give to your kids when they have their first home or baby.
The reality is no one will ever look at them again. I gave away his Hershey Bears Hockey Puck hat he wore to hockey games, I gave way the engraved beer stein he had from a wedding or birthday, or something. I couldn’t bring myself to throw away a single photo even though I have 10 copies of the same one. If the goal is to make it easier on my other son when I am gone I should throw them out. But in reality it is too hard on my fragile heart,. So for now they are in a bin in the garage waiting for the day I am strong enough or the day Mark has to decide what to do with them.
I will be honest I didn’t take as good of care of myself as I should have. I filled the empty feeling with pizza and chinese, and Royal Farms chicken and a glass or two of wine. So one day as I was depressed and crying I got coaching with my life coach who told me it was ok to be sad. I didn’t have to change any of that. She told me to just sit with the sadness and feel all of it. I did. I sat. I listened to my body and quit trying to quiet that inner voice with food and/or wine. Before long I realized that I was sad, and times were tough, but I’ve done tough before. I began to treat my body better. I made better choices than to numb with food and alcohol. I decided to choose to think it was ok to sell the house and the right family would come along at the right time and make it theirs.
So, as tough times come up, the first birthday, anniversary Christmas, special days. etc. It is ok to be sad. Feel all of your feelings then choose how you want to think to get through the days. Choose to treat yourself with love and care and tenderness. You can get through tough times. Call your friends and family when you need help. I texted my family and said “I can’t do this alone,” and they were there helping me sort, making me laugh at memories and photos we found. And encouraging me and letting me know it was ok to throw out the tattered up beach towel that isn’t useable anymore.
Thee will be a time when you are ready to sort through the clothing and let it go. Give yourself grace and time to get there.
After Michael died I found myself having an irrational fear of driving. Mike died in his sleep. It made no sense to me, but I would get on the highway to drive anywhere and my palms would sweat and My heart would race. I found myself scared of dying in a car accident. It was terrifying. I found I couldn’t concentrate on simple tasks. I would be in conversations with people and have no clue 5 minutes later what we talked about. I wanted to clean the house, do the laundry, and yard work, but I just couldn’t. I found myself doing nothing. At the end of a day I would look back at the day and wonder why nothing got accomplished.
I thought I was going crazy. The thing is I am not going crazy. I am grieving and grieving is hard work.
There are days you will accomplish everything on your to do list. And there are days you will feel like you accomplished nothing. Life is like that. Give yourself some grace and some space to just grieve. Know that you aren’t going crazy that you are grieving.
You might not be able to do everything you did prior to your child’s death. Keep cleaning wipes handy in your bathroom to do a quick wipe down when you don’t have the energy to do a full scrub. Keep them handy in the kitchen to wipe down counter tops. Use your crockpot to throw in some simple meals that can cook on their own. Get a meal planning service to deliver meals and groceries to your home that you don’t have to think much to fix a nutritious meal. If you can do it hire someone to mow the yard and do some of the tasks you just don’t have the energy to do.
Grief is hard, and grief is work. Give yourself the grace and space to grieve.
There is not a better time to remind others of some do’s and don’ts related to child loss
Don’t tell them they should be over it by now. We will never get over our child’s loss.
Don’t say “everything happens for a reason”. Sometimes the reason is life sucks and life is not fair.
Don’t say “I know how you feel” unless you, too have lost a child. While these losses can be hard, the loss of your grandparent, parent, dog, cat does not compare to the loss of your child.
Don’t say “time heals all wounds”. No amount of time “heals” this wound. It will get softer, but the wound never heals.
Don’t say “at least they are in a better place”. To us there is no better place than to be here on earth with us.
Don’t say “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. We truly ae just hanging on by our fingernails and many days we can’t handle it.
Don’t say “I couldn’t live without one of my children”. We weren’t given a choice.
Don’t avoid them. Child loss isn’t contagious. Just show up.
Don’t ask what we need. We truly don’t know. Just show up. Just say “can I bring you dinner tomorrow night?’
Don’t say “when you are ready to get dinner let me know.” We won’t let you know. By the time we are “ready” the offers have all stopped coming.
But there are things that you can do and say.
I am so sorry.
I am praying for you (and do it)
Tell me about your child. We love telling their stories! Even if you’ve heard them before. just let us talk
My favorite memory of your child is………. We may have heard the stories before but we never tire of hearing our child’s stories. (many of my favorites start with Mike told me not to tell you this……………)
I miss him/her too
Nothing. Sometimes we just need you to show up and listen to us. Let us talk. There are no magic words, and we sometimes just need someone to sit with us.
Give us a hug when you see us.
Remember their birthday and their death days. Send flowers, Send a meal, Send a card.
I am a phone call away. Call me anytime
Stop by, bring us dinner, stay to clean a bathroom, mow the lawn. But don’t clean our child’ rooms or wash their clothes unless we give you permission to do so.
Life is uncertain and life is precious. Let’s invest in each other and make connections. Reach out to your family and friends. We aren’t meant to live in isolation. Share our lives, our love, and our losses. Together we can make a difference in each other’s lives.
Sunday June 20, 2021 is father’s Day. Many men will be having a tough time with this day. Perhaps they want to be a dad, but so far they aren’t. they may have a strained relationship with a child, or they may have lost a child. They may have a strained relationship with their own father, or may have lost their own father. Choose to be kind to all of the men in your life this weekend’
If you know a Dad who is grieving the loss of a child be kind. Send them a note or text, or call to check on them. Father’s day will be tough for them. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first year or the thirty-first year. Those days always bring up intense emotions. Ask about their child who died. Share your memories and stories. Ask him to share his memories and stories He may or may not have other children. Include all of his children in your discussions that day. Allow them to talk about all of their children.
Don’t tell them you know how they feel if you haven’t lost a child. Don’t compare their loss of a child to your loss of a parent or grandparent, or pet. Tell them you care and you are here to listen if they wish to talk. Consider wishing him a Peaceful Father’s Day versus a Happy Father’s Day. It may not be a happy day, but it can be a peaceful day.
If you are a father who has lost a child, be gentle with yourself this weekend. If watching social media and seeing all the photos is painful turn off social media and spend the day doing whatever it is you choose to do. Memories of your son or daughter will undoubtedly fill your mind. Find someone you trust and talk about your feelings. Talk about your child and when anyone asks you how many children you have count them in your number. You are still their father. If you have other children spend time with them. Share stories of your child, their sibling. Some memories will bring up good pain. It is ok to laugh and remember the good times. Some memories will bring up bad pain. It is ok to cry. Men can and do cry too. It doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you are human. All of your feelings are meant to be felt and processed.
As you wake up and just aren’t sure what or how to do this day. Allow yourself to just feel whatever it is you are feeling. Close your eyes and name that feeling. Is it sadness? hope? guilt? Think about what it is you are feeling. Then tune in to where you are feeling it in your body. Are your palms sweating? Is your heart racing? Is there a lump in your throat or your stomach? Is it cold or hot? Once you’ve identified where you are feeling it take some deep breaths and see what happens. Does the feeling move? change? dissipate? Allow yourself to just feel all of it. Then set your intention for the day you want to have. What do you want to feel? What do you want to think about the day? You get to choose. If you choose to be sad it is ok. Life is like that. You don’t have to be “happy” all of the time. Life is full of emotions and feelings. You are meant to feel all of them. Feelings are not good or bad. They are just your feelings. Decide what you want to think that will make the day what you choose it to be. Then intentionally think those thoughts. You get to choose how to spend the day and how you think about this day. Your brain his amazing at how it can process all of this!
However you choose to spend the day know you are still a father. Loosing your child does not change that. You are and always will be a Dad whether or not your children live here on earth or in heaven. Practice some self love. Feed your body well, get plenty of sleep and do what it is you want to do to, remember and love your child.
I wish you all a Peaceful Father’s Day. I am sending you all love and strength to get through the day.
When Mike died I became a totally different parent to my other son, Mark. I was terrified that I would loose him also. I heard of parents who lost multiple children and my gut reaction was “Oh hell no. I am not doing this again”. Mike was a wonderful young man. He was a 911 dispatcher, he worked 2 back to back 16 hour shifts went home and went to sleep and never woke up. He was overweight, but working on it. He had recently joined a gym and was working out with his work buddies after work. There wasn’t a good explanation as to why he died.
While Mark was home over Christmas break I made him go to see one of our cardiologists (I am a cardiac nurse). They looked at his EKG and they did a stress echocardiogram and told me his heart was fine. For the first several years I obsessed over him. If I texted and he didn’t immediately text back, I would call him to make sure he was ok. I worried about him. I was terrified. He casually mentioned he’d like to learn to ride a motorcycle and I said “Oh hell no! you are NOT getting a motorcycle!” He’d say “Mom, I am an adult you can’t tell me no.” He wanted to buy a tiny subcompact car I worried and pointed out how small it was and If he was in an accident with a big rig he’d never survive. He pointed out it was safer than the piece of crap chevy chevette I drove in college with no air bags. He is the proud owner of a tiny chevy spark.
Then in 2019 I went to the national conference of The Compassionate Friends in Philadelphia. I went to a siblings panel discussion. Parents could ask kids anything and the resounding theme I heard was “let us live our own lives. If My sibling was still alive I would be going and doing all these things, but now that they are gone I am not allowed to go or do______________” One brave parent said “I desperately want grandchildren” and before she could finish her thought you heard a collective groan from all the siblings.
It was during that sharing session that I realized I can not live my life in fear of loosing Mark. By demanding he drive a certain car or not do what I consider to be dangerous activities, like walking down the street, I might alienate him altogether. I realized that day that he was grieving not only his brother but the parents he once had. Because after you loose a child you are never the same again. I developed more compassion and resolved to not forbid him to do anything or demand he buy the biggest army tank out there to drive around in so he isn’t in an accident that might take his life. I realized I made my choices and I had to allow him to make his own choices.
I still get a twinge of fear when I hear of an accident that has the highway shut down for miles, or when he steps on an airplane to travel I wait somewhat impatiently to get the text that says “we made it to Phoenix.” But I do my best to try not to tell him how to live his life. It’s tough, but I have to trust that I did my job as a parent and he will do his best to stay healthy and alive. I do a lot more deep breathing, pausing to feel and process all of those emotions instead of reacting to them. When the urge to say or do something to him about how he should live his life pops in my head I have to breathe and let the urge pass and tell myself he gets to choose how to live his own life.
I remember the advice I received when I didn’t particularly care for a young lady one of my kids was infatuated with. I was told “if you make a big deal of it, and forbid him to see her, He will just want to see her more.” I had to wait it out and let the young romance end in it’s own time. I still have to wait for Mark to make his own decisions in his own time knowing that all I ever really wanted was to see my kids grow up healthy happy and independent. I can’t take that independence back after I taught him how to be independent.
So my vow I made to my son is that I will do my best not to tell him how to live his life. And if he ever feels like I am too much of a helicopter mom he promises to tell me as nicely as possible to back off.
I want to offer you all a bit of encouragement today. Mother’s Day can be a tough day for many women. Women who wanted to be a mother and couldn’t, women who lost a mother, women who are grieving the death of one or more of their children, women who have children, but are estranged from them, women who are trying and waiting to become a mother. And the list goes on.
I lost my mother when I was 10 back in 1976. Mother’s Day has always been a tough one for me. As a nurse I always volunteered to work that day, or later in my career to take call for the new mom’s so they could spend the day with their new babies and families without fear of the day being interrupted. I stopped going to worship services because the obligatory sermon on Mother’s and the Proverbs 31 wife/mother was more than I could take. I have learned over the years that I get to choose how I spend the day.
Mother’s Day 2016 I choose to hike in the Grand Canyon. I started at 5:00 AM from the south rim. Hiked to the Colorado River and back out. Finishing at 7:00 PM. It was a gorgeous day and a gorgeous way to spend the day. I had no idea how different my life was to become. My oldest son passed away November 27, 2016. Had I known that it would be my last Mother’s Day with him alive would I do life differently? Perhaps. I am grateful that I didn’t know what was to come. I would have been in all out panic mode trying to change what was to come.
My son was a 911 dispatcher with a huge heart. He would probably have volunteered, and perhaps he did, to work for a coworker so she could spend the day with her children. I honestly don’t recall any more. Our lives will continue to change. If our children were still here perhaps they would have children of their own. Perhaps they’d have a job where they work weekends, perhaps they would have moved away and our Mother’s Day would look totally different. That is the way life is. And, thankfully, we don’t know the changes that are to come.
I want you all to know that even if your children are living in Heaven and not here on earth you are still their mother. You still deserve a special day of doing what you want to do. You get to choose how you spend the day. Some of you may be so new to this life that you don’t want to do anything special. That is ok. Some of you may choose to make yourself a special meal or go out for one. That is ok. You might decide to go hike the Grand Canyon, or go on a long walk or bike ride, or head to the beach. Whatever you decide to do for the day is ok. You might not want to gather with family or friends. You might find you need the comfort of being with people who understand and get you. That is ok too.
I wish for you all a peace and a day full of doing whatever it is you choose to do. On days when the memories come rushing in and I can’t stop them I may go to photos or videos and just cry for a bit and tell my son that I love him. I look for signs from him that tell me he loves me too.
Some of you might not believe in signs and that is ok. I personally, have a collection of coins, feathers and heart shaped rocks that always seem to show up when I need them most. I see a yellow butterfly and I say hi to my mom. I see an eagle and say hi to my son. I believe that our loved ones and our children can see us and send us signs that they are ok.
For a couple of years after Mike died I longed for someone to show up at my door with a child to tell me that it was Mike’s child so that I would still have a piece of him here on earth. It was my mother’s heart just wanting a bit of him. But as the years have ticked by that fantasy has faded.
As you do Mother’s Day in whatever way you choose to do it. Know whatever you decide to do for yourself this weekend is ok. It is your choice to celebrate, or not. Know it is ok to have your own back and do whatever you feel is comfortable for you. And it is ok to try out different things and different ways of getting through the tough days. You get to choose.
This little robin has been at this window for weeks. He flies away only to return. He sees himself in the window and flies at it and hits himself in the chest/head. As I sit working in the room next door I hear the thumps as he repeatedly flies in to the window. He will fly away but always seems to return the same bush and the same window and the cycle continues.
As I thought about this bird my first thought was he wasn’t very bright. One would think he would eventually realize that the bird in the window was himself and he would stop flying in to the window. Myself and my cats have gotten a kick out of watching him fail repeatedly. I thought what a dumb little bird. He doesn’t realize how utterly stupid he is.
Then I thought that little bird is a lot like me. For the last 4 years I was doing the same thing every night. I was sad and depressed and wanted to escape my reality. I would drink wine to numb and forget my reality. I wasn’t really expecting different results I was just not wanting to have to face life and reality of living without one of my children. I would drink wine to escape and forget about life for awhile. I kept coming back to the same thing night after night. Just like the robin keeps coming back to my window.
I would come to the same conclusions over and over again. I must have done something wrong. I must have been a lousy mother. It was my fault. Over and over I would blame myself. Like the robin I kept coming back over and over again to try to catch the bird in the window. My thoughts kept returning and coming up with the same thoughts. I was in a cycle of beating myself up, feeling lousy and drinking wine to escape hoping to wake up to a new reality, or at the very least to escape from the reality I was in .
Then one day I discovered that I wanted to figure out how to live again. I wanted to stop the numbing and trying to escape. I slowly was coming out of the fog, and I wanted to learn how to see in color again. I found a life coach and learned to feel my feelings and process those feelings. I learned it’s ok to be sad and angry even. I learned that I am in control of what I think and my thoughts drive my actions. I learned to love myself and to stop the insanity of the nightly over drinking. With the help of some very brave women I am learning how to live again.
This morning as I sat hearing the thud, thud, thud of the little bird against the window I again thought how very much this little bird is like me. . I thought today that the little robin keeps failing again and again. Yet he comes back gets up spreads his wings and tries again. Just like I am learning to do.
What I am learning is it is ok to fail. It is an opportunity for growth. When I fail I have learned to evaluate and find the reason why I failed and to figure out what to do differently next time. I get to choose how I respond. I can either respond with self loathing and feeling crappy or I can respond with self love and tenderness and give myself the grace I so often extend to others, but not to myself. I have to learn to keep breathing and processing and trying again.
I have learned to listen for my little friend. I have learned to love him and I am rooting for him to keep on trying.
Sunday May 2, 2021 is International Bereaved Mother’s Day. A day set aside for the all of the grieving mom’s out there. I had no idea this day existed until I became a bereaved mother. To all the bereaved mother’s out there I give you my admiration, my love, and my best wishes for a day that lets you honor and cherish the memories of your child(ren).
My thoughts on bereaved motherhood
You are still a mother. Your child may not live here on earth but you are still a mother. Count your child living in Heaven when you share the number of children you have
You are brave. Bereaved mom’s are some of the bravest women I know. It takes a lot of bravery to get out of bed and to continue to function. You know others are counting on you and you somehow find the strength and the courage to keep on moving forward.
You are strong. So often I hear “you are so strong” and often I don’t feel strong. The truth is none of us were given a choice. We have to keep moving forward for our families and those who are counting on us
You have a story to share. Keep your child’s memories alive. Don’t be afraid to talk about him/her. This is your day to cherish your memories and share their story.
You are amazing. You get up every day and you keep moving forward in the midst of heartache, pain and anguish.
You are beautiful
You are loved.
So cherish your memories, share your story. Celebrate you however you choose to this weekend. Some bereaved mother’s will pull out ultrasound pictures and the few photos and moments they have.to look at them. Some bereaved mother’s will go to the graveside of their child and take flowers. Some bereaved mother’s might go to the scene of the accident and put flowers on a cross. Some bereaved mother’s might be to raw and to new to do anything and that is perfectly ok. Each one of has our own unique journey. There is no blueprint for grieving. You choose what you can and can’t handle and when you are ready you will know what the right thing is.
I have never liked Mother’s Day. My own mother died when I was 10 and it’s always been a tough day for me. I gave up going to church on Mother’s Day. It was too much for me to sit and listen to all the mother stories and see all the mother’s and generations of families sharing the day together. Even as a mother I struggled with Mother’s Day. It was never a day I wanted to celebrate. And I learned over the years I wasn’t the only “motherless daughter” who felt that way. I eventually came to the realization that I as a mother I could choose to do what I wanted on that day. And when I became a bereaved mother and learned there was an International Bereaved Mother’s Day I learned that I have the choice to do what I want on that day as well. I get to choose how I remember my son and I get to choose what to do that day.
Whatever you decide to do this weekend. Celebrate you and remember your children. I wish you peace and happiness and above all love. Be kind. Be gentle, and be loving to yourself.
When Mike died I became someone entirely different. I was no longer the same mom, friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend I was before. Believe it or not in some ways I am better than I was prior to Mike’s passing. You might not see it now but one day you will look back and realize you are not the same person you were before your child died. You will realize in some ways you are more aware and more tolerant and believe it or not a better you than you were before..
I now know that life can change in the 10 seconds it takes to answer a phone or open a door. I love a bit more deeply and forgive more freely. In my head I knew none of us was guaranteed tomorrow, but you never really KNOW it until you go through the unthinkable. I have also found I know what is important in life and I don’t get caught up in the bullshit of life. When coworkers and friends begin to complain about schedules, or politics, and stuff that I don’t consider important I walk away. In the past I might have gotten caught up in the gossip, and the complaints, and joined in. Now, I am more likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt. When people are miserable or cranky and rude I am not so quick to judge or react. I am more likely to ask how I can help or what I can do. I have learned is everyone has a chapter in their book that they don’t read out loud.
I have found out what is important and I have found I need to make time for my family and my friends. No one has ever said “I should have spent more time in the office.” I have learned it is ok to say “no”. I have learned to prioritize and I have learned it is ok to focus on me and to take care of my needs. I learned that I was not indispensable and as important as I thought I was. My work could figure out and did figure out how to go on without me. I found out it was ok to take care of me, because I am not good to anyone else if I am burned out and fatigued.
It isn’t an automatic transition to this place. It takes awhile until you are ready to shift and change your thinking. I remember in the early years being with a family member who was sad (and rightly so) that her daughter was not coming home for Christmas. She had a fiancé and holidays would need to be divided between both families. As I was listening to her what I wanted to say was “Be happy at least your daughter is alive and you can talk to her any time you want.” Those feelings are normal and they are ok. Somedays you just can’t stop it. You hear the words popping out of your mouth. I personally think that is ok. It can lead to communication and honest heartfelt talks about your feelings, hopes, and thoughts. To bury our thoughts and hold it all in is detrimental to our mental and physical health.
The first time I laughed after Mike died I felt horrible. How could I laugh when my son was gone? But I have found it is ok to laugh. It is ok to have fun. It is ok to live. I love sharing Mike stories. He was a goofball. There are lots of great stories to tell about his short life. I still love hearing his stories from his friends. I really like the ones that start with “Mike said never to tell his mom this……………..” And I laugh and I cry at times and I can hear his laugh in their laughs and it makes me happy that he isn’t forgotten. Life can get easier and it can be good again.
I highly recommend keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Writing is very helpful and therapeutic. . If you aren’t a writer and the thought of writing long entries is too much. You can use bullet points and lists of feelings and thoughts you are having. There is something therapeutic about writing and getting the stuff our of your head and on to paper. But as you are writing I want you also to write 3 positive things that happened that day as well. In the beginning it might be that “I got up and got dressed today.” or “I remembered to eat before 5 pm.”. In the beginning I considered it a successful day if I remembered to change my underwear every day.
I am sending you all lots of love and hugs. Time doesn’t not heal all wounds. But you will learn to live and to laugh again. I wish peace for all of you.