Ten Things I’ve Learned About Child Loss

I’ve had awhile to think about this. Six years is a long time to live with loss, to live without the child I carried, raised and sent off in the world.

So I’ve considered carefully what my “top ten” might be.

Here’s MY list (yours might be very different):

There is absolutely no way to prepare your heart for the death of a child. I have always been an avid reader. Over the years I’ve read dozens of accounts both real and imagined centered around child loss. I’ve seen well-scripted movies and television shows depicting it as well. And, like many parents, I had my moments when I imagined what it might be like for one of my children to leave the house and not return. But nothing-NOTHINGI read, saw or imagined was remotely as devastating as the experience of child loss. In the space of a few words, a few seconds, a single awful door knock, my world was utterly and completely shattered. It’s really no wonder that it takes a lifetime to even begin to put the pieces together.

Most people are doing the best they can to respond to our pain. When Dominic first left us, I was a walking nerve. Anything someone said or didn’t say, a look, a social media post or dozens of other things provoked a reaction: “How could they!?” But eventually, when I was able to think more clearly I recognized they were wrapped in the same protective bubble of “hasn’t experienced child loss” I once enjoyed. How could I expect them to know what to say or do when truth is, I still (to this day) stumble over my tongue when confronted with a parent who joins our ranks. Now I try to receive even the most bumbling efforts as grace gifts offered in hope of encouraging my heart.

Grief lasts longer than sympathy. I’ve written before about the cost of compassion. It’s so much easier to send a card, send a meal, show up at the house or funeral than to walk beside someone for a month or year as they try to pick up and reassemble the fragments of a shattered heart and life. Grief is not the same as mourning. Mourning is a shorter period with lots of outward symbols and rituals that warn others of our broken hearts. Grief is the burden of loss, sorrow, missing and pain that is left behind after everyone else goes home. Grief is lonely.

The circle that will walk with you for the long haul is going to be smaller than you expect and will be comprised of some folks you’d never have imagined. We all have an image of which people will run toward us instead of running away should disaster strike. I did. And some of those folks were there. But others weren’t. After decades of pouring our time, energy, effort, love and lives into more than one church family, I was surprised at who showed up, who stayed away and who was willing to go the extra mile. Of course at the beginning there were hordes of folks and we were very appreciative. But one by one or in groups they quit calling, coming or even texting. The tiny band that has stuck it out is precious. I am so, so thankful for them.

Life goes on without our permission. At first, I just wanted the world to STOP. I wanted every single soul on this planet to realize-at least for a second-that my son was no longer among the living. But of course it didn’t. Not only did the world not stop, it seemed to race ahead. I’ve written before about our family’s busy, busy two months (Graduations and Weddings and Trips, Oh My!) after Dom ran ahead to Heaven. That was just the beginning. In the six years since he’s been gone, there have been all kinds of large and small crises that have rocked our world. I don’t have a pass to slip through my remaining years without trouble or trial.

Loss keeps happening and comes in many forms. Life is risky. If you dare to love, you risk loss. I made a decision early on that I would not cut myself off from those I love in hopes of saving my heart more sorrow. Friendships melt away under the burden of grief. Life circumstances change in unpleasant and unexpected ways. Health deteriorates. Loved ones die. I’ve experienced all these things in the last six years and will experience them until I join Dominic in Heaven. I won’t rail against every one as an injustice or act surprised.

Laughter and joy return if you make space for them. I remember the first time a small chuckle escaped my lips after Dominic left us. It felt like betrayal. How could I laugh when my heart was utterly shattered? Where did that come from? But I learned, over time, that laughing was not dishonoring my son. Laughter is a gift. It’s a way of knitting together some of those broken pieces. It’s a means of allowing light back into a darkened soul. I also learned that joy and sorrow are not opposing feelings. You don’t have to shove one aside to feel the other. You simply have to expand your heart to make room for both. But it IS a choice. I can refuse laughter, joy and light and hunker down with my sadness, sorrow and despair. I have to decide.

The missing never ends. You never reach a moment (as shared by many bereaved parents further along this path than me!) when you won’t miss your child. A parent’s heart carries his or her child as long as it’s still beating. It takes time to learn to live with the ache. It was several years before I could see past Dominic’s absence. When the family gathered the gaping hole where he SHOULD be but WASN’T filled my vision and made it hard to focus on who and what I still possessed. Over time the missing has grown softer. Now, missing Dominic is the background music to everything.  A quiet tune I hum in my head that keeps me company all day and invades my dreams at night. .

You will survive if you keep taking the next breath and making the next step. That first day when the house filled with people coming to support our family after the awful news, I kept asking the women sitting with me, “Am I breathing?”. It felt as if the breath had left my body when the life-shattering words fell on my ears and I couldn’t get it back. But I soon learned that broken hearts still beat. The first anniversary of his death I was horrified to realize I had survived 365 days when I was certain I wouldn’t survive the first 24 hours. Grief  is work. But if you choose to face the feelings, spend time dealing with them and allow your heart space and grace to begin putting the pieces back together you will make progress. I have. It has often been slower and more painstaking than I like, but it’s happened.

I’m still learning.

Almost every day I find another place grief is changing my life, my family’s life and my heart ever so slightly. In a few more years this list may be different.

For now, it’s my top ten.

I hope it helps another parent who might be wondering what to expect in this Life [We] Didn’t Choose.

Bereaved Parents Month 2020: Friends and Family Can Anchor a Heart


Child loss rips through a life like a tornado-wild, unpredictable, viciously destructive.

It drops from the sky like a meteorite-no warning, no defense, just crushing weight.

It wrecks havoc in absolutely every corner of a bereaved parents’ heart and life.

Read the rest here: Child Loss: Friends and Family Can Anchor a Heart

Why Bereaved Parents Month?

There are so many competing causes it’s a wonder anyone can keep up with them.

But when one or more of them become near and dear to your heart, it’s easy.

July is Bereaved Parents Month. A designation I knew nothing about until several years into my own journey as a bereaved parent.

And while I’m unsure about the necessity for declarations like National Trivia Day or National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day I am absolutely convinced of the need for Bereaved Parents Month.

This is why: Child loss is unlike any other loss a person may experience. It is out-of-order death, unnatural, unexpected and unfathomable.

Every day, bereaved parents are walking in the world, going to work , doing all that life requires and often caring for their other children while carrying a very heavy burden that mostly goes unnoticed.

Many parents desperately want to speak about their missing child but feel constrained by fear others will think they are vying for sympathy or attention. Sometimes they don’t say anything because they’ve been shamed or shushed by negative comments on their social media posts. Still others are longing to find a community where their uniquely painful experience is understood.

Bereaved Parents Month is an opportunity for these parents to share their child with the world without fear or condemnation.

It’s a chance to post articles, information and personal experience that can help those outside the circle of child loss understand the ongoing struggle of walking this path.

Hopefully it is also a season where newly bereaved parents can find resources so their own hearts feel heard, understood and encouraged.

So if you ARE a bereaved parent, please take advantage of this month set aside to raise awareness of our journey.

If you LOVE a bereaved parent, please acknowledge and affirm your friend or family member who may choose to share in person or online a little more freely this month.

Hearts hold on best when they are free to tell their story.

Bereaved Parents Month is set aside for us to tell ours.

Christmas In July: What The Bereaved Need From Family and Friends During the Holidays

What began as a cute marketing ploy to encourage folks to spend some of those December dollars mid-year is now a full blown movement.

From the Hallmark channel to Little Debbie’s snack cakes, retailers and media outlets are promoting Christmas like it’s nearly here.

For some of us, that’s welcome relief from sweltering days. But for many bereaved parents, it’s an unwelcome reminder that faster than we would like, we’ll be right back in the thick of one of the most difficult seasons of the year.

So I’m taking the opportunity during July to re-post this article that has been popular and helpful in the past.  

One of the most trying seasons for grieving parents extends from November through the first week of January. 

The holidays are hard for so many people, but especially for parents trying to navigate these family  focused holidays without the presence of a child that they love.

I know it’s still several months away, but once school starts it seems the weeks roll past faster and faster until suddenly there’s no time to plan and the day is upon us.

I highly recommend speaking to family and friends NOW.  Make plans NOW.  When folks have plenty of time to make adjustments, it is much more likely they will accommodate a grieving heart’s need for change.  

https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/09/03/grief-and-holidayswhat-the-bereaved-need-from-friends-and-family/

What I Wanted to Know: How Do You Breathe?


It was the question I asked the bereaved mother that came to my son’s funeral.

It was the question a mother asked me as we stood by her granddaughter’s casket, surrounded by family and flowers.

And it is the right question.

Because when the breath leaves the body of your child, and you look down at the shell that used to be the home of a vibrant, living soul, you simply can. not. breathe.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2016/07/24/how-do-you-breathe/

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Sibling Grief Reactions By Age Group

Grieving parents often face the additional challenge of trying to help their surviving children process the death of a sibling.

While there are many factors that influence how a particular child understands and works through his or her grief, age at time of bereavement plays a significant role.

Children’s grief can look very different than that of the adults around them. And that grief may resurface later on as the child grows and matures, even long after the death of a loved one.

I came across this helpful article that lists common bereavement reactions by age group and have reprinted it in its entirety. It was originally published at KidsHealth New Zealand. http://www.kidshealth.org.nz

Key Points to Remember About Bereavement Reactions:

  • how any child or young person grieves when someone they love has died will depend on many things
  • babies, children and teenagers tend to grieve in bursts, and at other times will look for reassurance and comfort in their normal routines and activities
  • bereaved children and teenagers will need ongoing attention, reassurance and support – it is not unusual for grief to resurface later on, even well after the death

How any child or young person grieves when someone they love has died will depend on many things, such as their:

  • age
  • gender
  • their developmental stage
  • personality
  • ways they usually react to stress and emotion
  • relationship with the person who has died
  • earlier experiences of loss or death
  • family circumstances
  • how others around them are grieving
  • amount of support around them

Babies, children and teenagers may often seem unconcerned, playing or doing their usual activities, so adults can assume they are not properly aware of the death, or affected by it. They are, but in their own ways. Babies, children and teenagers tend to grieve in bursts, and at other times will look for reassurance and comfort in their normal routines and activities.

Bereaved children and teenagers will need ongoing attention, reassurance and support. It is not unusual for grief to resurface later on, even well after the death. This can happen as they move through different life milestones, and develop as individuals.

Babies and Toddlers:

At this young age babies and toddlers don’t have an understanding of death nor the language to say how they are feeling. However, they can definitely experience feelings of loss and separation and are likely to pick up on the anxiety or distress of close adults or others around them.

Common reactions can include:

  • looking for the person who has died
  • being irritable
  • crying more
  • wanting to be held more; being clingy
  • being less active – quiet, less responsive
  • possible weight loss
  • being jumpy, anxious
  • being fretful, distressed

How to help them:

  • keep routines and normal activities going as much as possible
  • hold and cuddle them more
  • speak calmly and gently to them – and be calm around them
  • provide comfort items, such as a cuddly toy, special blanket etc

Preschoolers

At this age children find it hard to understand that death is permanent. They are also at a stage of magical thinking, for example, thinking someone will come alive again or thinking somehow they made someone die. They understand separation though, and feel insecure and frightened when the familiar things around them change. This age group needs a lot of reassurance that they will be safe and looked after.

Common reactions can include:

  • looking for the person who has died
  • dreams, or sensing the presence of the person who has died
  • fearfulness, anxiety
  • clinginess
  • being fretful, distressed
  • being irritable; having more tantrums
  • withdrawing, being quiet, showing a lack of response
  • changes in eating
  • difficulty in sleeping
  • toileting problems, bed wetting, soiling
  • regressing in progress; for example, returning to crawling, wanting a bottle

How to help them:

  • keep routines and normal activities going as much as possible
  • tell them you know they are sad – start to teach and use words that describe feelings
  • tell them they are safe, and who is looking after them
  • keep separated from them as little as possible
  • comfort them with hugs, cuddles, holding their hand, and by encouraging them
  • speak calmly and gently to them – and be calm around them
  • explain death as part of life, so they come to understand it bit by bit. Using some examples in nature may be helpful, such as watching plants grow, bloom and die or seasons change
  • provide comfort items, such as a cuddly toy, special blanket etc
  • encourage play – children can often use play to help them process what’s happened; for example, sand play, puppets, dolls, writing, drawing, painting and various physical activities

Primary School Children

Primary school children are still learning to understand death and can have some confused thoughts about it. They may think death is temporary, or that the person who has died may still feel things, such as coldness, hunger or loneliness etc. They may ask where the person is now, and have blunt questions to ask about what happened to them and to their body. Explaining death to them is very important.

Common reactions can include:

  • looking for the person who has died
  • having dreams about, or sensing the presence of, the person who has died
  • blaming themselves for the death
  • being easily distracted, forgetful
  • being anxious; having increased fears, such as of the dark, of others’ safety
  • clinginess – wanting to be near you or others more
  • withdrawing, being quiet, showing a lack of response
  • being fretful, distressed, not wanting to go to school
  • feeling embarrassment; feeling different from others; may conceal their loss
  • physical complaints, such as tummy aches, headaches, aching
  • being irritable, having more tantrums, being defiant, or developing antisocial or aggressive behaviour
  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • toileting problems, bed wetting, soiling

How to help them:

  • frequently reassure them they are safe, and who is looking after them
  • keep routines and normal activities going as much as possible
  • tell them you know they are sad – start to use words that describe feelings
  • keep separated from them as little as possible
  • allow questions and provide honest answers
  • comfort them with hugs, cuddles, holding their hand, and by encouraging them
  • speak calmly and gently to them – and be calm around them
  • explain death as part of life, so they come to understand it bit by bit. Using some examples in nature may be helpful, such as watching plants grow, bloom and die or seasons change
  • let them help in planning the funeral or something to remember the loss
  • provide comfort items, such as a cuddly toy, special blanket etc
  • encourage play – children often can use play to help them process what’s happened; for example, sand play, puppets, dolls, writing, drawing, painting and various physical activities

Older Children (10-12 years)

Common reactions include:

All of the above relate to this age group, but it’s important to be aware that by this age children know death is final. They are also more aware of how adults and others around them are reacting to death. This group may also:

  • be especially anxious about the safety of family and friends, and themselves
  • try very hard to please adults and not worry them, and so not let themselves grieve
  • feel stronger emotional reactions, such as anger, guilt, sense of rejection
  • want to take on more adult responsibilities, trying very hard to please
  • feel embarrassment; feel different from peers; may conceal their loss
  • become more focused on what’s happened and ask questions, think about it a lot, have dreams about it, and perhaps want to talk about it often to others

How to help them:

They need all of the help in the previous section plus:

  • time to talk with you and other trusted adults, when they need to
  • regular reassurance – spoken, and with encouraging physical touch (such as hugs, pat on the back etc).
  • honesty about events, and feelings
  • to know you understand their grief
  • regular encouragement
  • avoid expectations of adult behaviour – allow them to be the age and stage they are

Teenagers

By adolescence, death is accepted as part of life, but it may not have affected a teenager personally yet. Their reactions may fluctuate between earlier age group reactions and reactions that are more adult.

Teenagers will often want to be more with friends than family as they seek support. They may find the intensity of emotion overwhelming or scary and not be able to find the words or ways to talk about them with others. They may want to feel they’re coping, and be seen to be, but inside be hurting a great deal, or be putting their emotions on a shelf for a later time.

Death can so shake teens that some react with risk taking behaviour – to escape the feelings and reality and as a source of comfort; for example, drinking, drugs, more sexual contact or reckless driving.

Common reactions can include:

  • being easily distracted, forgetful
  • having difficulty concentrating at school
  • being unsettled in class, a change in class performance, not wanting to go to school
  • being overwhelmed by intense reactions, such as anger, guilt, fear
  • having difficulty expressing intensity of emotions, or conflict of emotions
  • blaming themselves for the death
  • anxiety – increased fears about others’ safety, and their own
  • having questions or concerns about death, dying, mortality
  • dreams about, or sensing the presence of, the person who has died
  • wanting to be near family or friends more
  • withdrawing to be alone
  • physical complaints, such as tummy aches, headaches, aching
  • being irritable, defiant, more antisocial or displaying aggressive behaviour
  • risk-taking behaviour to escape, to comfort, or to prove they’re alive and strong; for example, drinking, drugs, more sexual contact or reckless driving
  • changes in eating, sleeping habits
  • bedwetting
  • jokes or humour, masking feelings
  • saying, or acting like, they don’t care
  • wanting to take on more adult responsibilities, trying very hard to please
  • strained relationships with others – fear or awkwardness about being close to others
  • feeling embarrassment; feeling different from peers; may conceal their loss
  • a sense of loneliness – isolation
  • a change in self-image, lower self-esteem
  • possibly suicidal thoughts
  • possibly moving from sadness into depression

How to help them:

  • be honest and let them know what’s happening
  • be willing to listen, and available to talk about whatever they need to talk about
  • acknowledge the emotions they may be feeling—fear, sadness, anger
  • it can be helpful for parents, or other adults, to share their own feelings regarding the loss
  • frequently reassure them they are safe, who is caring for them, and which adults they can trust to ask for further support
  • keep routines and normal activities going as much as possible
  • talk to them about grief – what it is, that it’s normal, that everyone is different
  • avoid expectations of adult behaviour – allow them to be the age and stage they are, encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings – give them ideas of things they could try, such as doing physical activities, writing, singing, listening to music, talking with friends, reading etc
  • allow questions and provide honest answers
  • comfort them with hugs, cuddles, holding their hand, and by encouraging them
  • speak calmly and gently to them – and be calm around them
  • talk about death together; answer any questions they may have
  • let them help in planning the funeral or something to remember the loss

Bereaved children and teenagers will need ongoing attention, reassurance and support. It is not unusual for grief to resurface later on, even well after the death. This can happen as they move through different life milestones, and develop as individuals.

If you are concerned about any extreme reactions, or if you think the young person may have become depressed, contact your doctor or other trained adviser, such as a counsellor, senior staff member from their school, social worker, community or youth worker or a local family support agency.

Originally published on: http://www.kidshealth.org.nz

Repost: Should I DO Something? Yes! Absolutely.

It’s possible to stand frozen at the corner of good intentions and helpful action.

I’ve done it dozens of times.

And every time I’ve allowed myself to swallow “but I don’t know what to do” and done nothing I’ve regretted it.

Every. Single. Time.

So I’m here to tell you that when you get that urge, feel that itch, hear that still, small voice that says, “DO something“, then do it.

You may already have a good idea of what it is you need to do, but in case you don’t know exactly how to make a difference in the life of a heart hanging on by a thread, here are some things to get you started:

Read the rest here:

Should I DO Something? Yes. Absolutely.

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Why, “Just Think About All the Good Memories,” Doesn’t Comfort My Heart


I pull out the memories like treasures from a locked strongbox.

“Handle With Care” because they are all I have left.

But they are not enough.

They will never be enough to satisfy this mama’s heart.

We are supposed to have to remember our elders, our grandparents, even, maybe our spouse at some point-but not our children.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/11/15/why-just-think-about-all-the-good-memories-doesnt-comfort-my-heart/

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Nagging Guilt in Child Loss

It came up again just the other day-a mama was lamenting her son’s death and listing all the ways it might have been her fault.

It’s natural to go down that path.

But it’s unfruitful. Because none of us are omniscient or omnipresent or omnipotent.

I should have known.  I should have been there.  I should have called, texted, spoken one more warning or given one more hug.

Should.  Should?  Should!

wistful woman looking out wet window

I have yet to speak to a bereaved parent who does not harbor guilt of some kind over the death of his or her child.

Not one.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/03/10/nagging-guilt-in-child-loss/

Bereaved Parents Month: Self-Care For Families

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

Read the rest here:  Grief is a Family Affair