I wish I didn’t have the credentials to write this letter. What I am about to write has been learned through the hardest road of my life: the road of grief over my child who died suddenly and tragically. When tragedy occurs, it stirs up a multitude of emotions in every human. Not just the ones involved in the loss. As it should. The definition of the word itself means an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress.
Every tragedy is different. Every beautiful child and family is unique. Out of respect for each story, I am not focusing on specific tragedies. My note is to help give you insight and some understanding of how you can love me, the parent in the middle of my worst nightmare filled with such anguished grief, well.
From my heart to yours, please remember:
*It is not helpful for you to post social media stories of how you were “so close” to the tragedy and how horrified you are about what has taken place, while you simultaneously hold your own kids in your arms and speak of how grateful you are that they are safe. I am glad your children are safe, but I was not given that privilege. Please be respectful of me and give me space. Even space on technology. Do not provide more chances for me to hear how unlucky I was from the tragedy. How the odds just must not have been in my favor. Instead, something you could do is take your kiddos and choose to play in the warm sunshine with them and make the most of the moments you have with them. I would give anything to do that with my child who is now gone.
*Keep space for grief. Especially your own grief that you feel about whatever tragedy has taken place and how it has impacted you. Please know a way you can care for me is to take care of your own self so you are better able to be a healthy, functioning member of the community. I have lost a child and need community now more than ever in my life. And not just for a week or two. But for the long haul. Sit in silence. Hear the inner thoughts. Feel the feels. Ask all of the questions. Seek help and support. Take care of yourself. When you don’t do this, you instead lean into control by fixating on the details of what went wrong in my tragedy and whispering with friends about all the new information you found out, and game-planning how you will protect yourself from anything like that happening to you. I want you to know that I hear the whispers of “can you believe?” and “I heard…” as I walk by. I see the looks of pity and “thank God it wasn’t me” eyes. It’s not helpful, it’s hurtful. When you have taken care of yourself, you have more space to be a healthy support for me.
* Please stop saying my child is in a better place. Or that Heaven just gained an angel. To me, my child who has only known the safety and love of my arms through sleepless nights and bedtime cuddles is still best in my arms. Would you still say that phrase to yourself if it was the child we were talking about? Please stop trying to make yourself feel better about your faith by repeating coined phrases that might still hold for you but for me those words hold no weight to my current grief. Phrases like “God never gives you more than you can handle” burn rage in me. What you can do is quietly pray for me. What you can do is intercede for me to the Father that somehow, I will not succumb to the weight of doubt and pain. How a “good, good Father” has allowed my child to die while you still get to tuck yours in at night will never make sense. I know God has numbered our days. Why did my child get such a low number? The road of questions and struggles losing a child takes on a soul is a long one. And I will work those struggles out with my Maker Himself. Stop trying to mend me overnight. Please.
*It’s ok to say nothing. Let me make this easier for you: there is nothing to say. Losing a child is the ultimate loss. In light of such extravagant loss, human language falls short. What you can do is reassure me of your presence. Rather than, “I just cannot imagine” which comes across as “so glad it wasn’t me,” you could say “I just want you to know I am here” or “I’m keeping space with you.” Which ultimately means you are just holding this sacred space of loss and you don’t have any expectations of me. It may not seem like that is doing much, but it means tremendously more to me than you know.
* When you continuously watch the news and support the news stations who sensationally report on the tragedy please know that the released videos of the tragedy and talk of the timeline of events, gut me. They are a before and after of when my child was alive, and then gone. I wish the media would stop talking about the timeline in such a sterile, black-and-white way when the events were anything but sterile. Horrifying, traumatizing, panic-inducing, and devastating are words to describe it. If this was your child would you want them to handle the story differently? Would you want to protect those final moments of your child’s life in a way that felt honored and not splattered across the nation? And when the media interviews you about my child and I hear you talking about how you knew my child can you understand that hearing my child spoken about in the past tense is traumatizing too? That I am so shocked by the events that have just taken place that I can’t even begin to believe my child is truly gone. Their clothes are still scattered on the floor of their room. Stuffed animals still smell like their scent because they would hug them at night as they slept. Dishes from their last meal at home are still in the sink. Halfway colored coloring sheets sit on the art table. My child is still so much alive to me and it is going to take a very long time for my brain and heart to catch up with the reality that my child is not coming home.
I am one mom in, unfortunately, a crowd of many who know the loss of a child. This is my voice. I hope you hear it full of great love, not great anger. Full of big hope and not big despair. A voice that has fought hard through the valley of the shadow of death to share my heart with you today.