Bereaved parents often have several tasks before them in the days and months and years following the death of a child. And one of them is to help their surviving children navigate loss.
I have three earthbound children. And they are grieving.
Their world changed in the same instant mine did. Their hearts are broken too.
I found it hard to watch the pain I saw written on the faces of my kids. Harder still to know that as much as I wanted to be the guide in this situation, I was as lost as they were. My mama instincts demanded that I “make it better” -but I was and am, powerless to do that.
So I settled on being honest.
I decided that I wouldn’t hide my sorrow or my struggle in an attempt to protect them.
Because, really, how could I protect a heart that had been introduced so forcefully to the truth that WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL?
How could I try to manage their sorrow when mine was overflowing?
I acknowledged the pain-the pain of losing Dominic; the pain of not being able to say, “good-bye”; the pain of never knowing exactly what had happened; the pain of feeling like God had closed His eyes or looked the other way while Dominic ran off the road; and the pain of watching each other in pain with no way to soothe or stop it.
I didn’t draw boundaries around how they were supposed to behave.
I asked that we not hurt one another in our sorrow-that we not cast blame, that we not lash out-but other than this request, I made room for tears, shouts, pounding of fists or whatever else we needed to do to let out some of the emotion bottled up inside.
I do not insist that they give Sunday School answers to tough questions. I understand that they are struggling as much as I am. We are all dissecting our faith and our understanding of Who God is, what He is doing, and whether we can trust Him with our hearts again.
We talk-about Dominic and about their lives. I try to listen. Sometimes I’m not as good at that as I would hope to be.
I respect their need for space or their need for companionship. I haven’t tried to be the sole source of support for any of them.
I’m not offended if they choose to express grief in ways that are different than my own.
I am well aware that it is likely they will carry this loss for more years than I will and that they must find their own way to bear that burden.
They haven’t only lost a brother, they’ve also lost the family in which they grew up, the parents they used to have and the sense of safety that pervades childhood.
Their eyes are opened to the fact that bad things happen.
And sometimes bad things happen with no apparent reason and absolutely no forewarning.
We love one another. We acknowledge the impact Dom’s life and his leaving has left on us. We don’t sweat the small stuff (most of the time).
And we focus on making sure each one of us makes it through.
Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.
David Ogden Stiers