Allowing your other child(ren) to live

Photo credit Scott Bohlen

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.

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