I always like to share this post around the beginning of each school year. I think it might be especially helpful THIS fall when so many are heading back to classrooms after an extraordinarily stress-filled and unpredictable eighteen months.
Siblings are often forgotten grievers. But they shouldn’t be.
They have not only lost a brother or sister but also the family they once knew and relied upon. They (if young) may not have the capacity to express or process these losses in ways adults comprehend or recognize. And if older, they may work hard at hiding grief so as not to add to their parents’ burden.
It’s so, so important for those that love bereaved siblings to pay attention, to offer support, to grant space and grace and freedom of expression. They are grieving too.
I am always afraid that Dominic will be forgotten.
I’m afraid that as time passes, things change and lives move forward, his place in hearts will be squeezed smaller and smaller until only a speck remains.
Not in my heart, of course.
Or in the hearts of those closest to him, but in general-he will become less relevant.
But he is not the only one who can be forgotten. I am just as fearful that my living children will be forgotten.
I first shared this two years ago when I was reflecting on half a decade of living without one of my children beside me. I’ve now had another year to think about why or if I’ll continue to write.
Every so often I take a day or two to reflect on whether I want to keep posting. I have to admit sometimes I worry that if I bang the same drum it will sound too loud or obnoxious in some people’s ears.
But then I get a message or comment from someone fresh on this journey and they feel seen, heard, validated and safe. So I write on.
And I find that writing still brings clarity and comfort to my soul. I still have things to say and I hope what I say still brings some small measure of light, love, life and hope to other hearts.
If someone had said, “Pick any topic to write about”, child loss wouldn’t have been in the first million choices.
No one CHOOSES child loss (Thus the name of the blog: The Life I Didn’t Choose).
But untold numbers of parents EXPERIENCE it every year. This very day, parents somewhere got a knock on the door or a phone call or sat next to a hospital bed as life slipped slowly from their child’s tired body.
Since I was already journaling and had walked this Valley for nearly a year and a half, it dawned on me that the ramblings I’d put down might be helpful to another heart. So I started THIS blog in September, 2015.
There’s a kind of relational magic that happens when people who have experienced the same or similar struggle get together.
In an instant, their hearts are bound in mutual understanding as they look one to another and say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”
It was well into the second year after Dominic ran ahead to heaven that I found an online bereaved parent support group. After bearing this burden alone for so many months, it took awhile before I could open my heart to strangers and share more than the outline of my story.
But, oh, when I did! What relief! What beautiful support and affirmation that every. single. thing. that was happening to me and that I was feeling was normal!
It’s oh, so hard to know what to do when you are watching a heart break.
You want to reach out and make it better, make the pain go away, make a difference. But it seems like nothing you can do will matter much in the face of such a huge loss.
While it’s true that you cannot “fix” the brokenness in a bereaved parent’s life, there are some very important and practicalways you can support them in their grief-especially as the weeks turn into months and then to years.
I am well aware that not everyone is blessed by an outpouring of love and support in the wake of child loss. In fact, depending on the circumstances, some families are practically shunned.
It breaks my heart every time I hear of such an experience.
Because if there is one thing I’ve learned in this Valley, it’s this: when a heart is shattered my ONLY job is to show up and do whatever is helpful-even if that means sitting silently and holding a hand.
When I asked other bereaved parents to share the things people did that blessed them in the wake of losing a child, I didn’t expect so many stories of extravagant love–of acts surpassing anything I could have thought of or imagined.
“After my daughter passed, which was minutes before Mother’s Day 2012, outside the hospital room-
When Dominic died, I didn’t get a manual on what to do. I didn’t get an orientation into how to be a grieving parent. So when some people asked how they could help me and my family, I really didn’t know.
A comment repeated often by bereaved parents is, “Please don’t use the phrase, ‘let me know if there is anything I can do’, people mean well, but this is unhelpful.”
Another mom put it this way, ” There are too many meanings to this phrase. It can mean anywhere from, ‘I really want to help’ to ‘I don’t know what to say so I’ll say this but I don’t really want you to ask’. Also it’s so hard to make any decisions–trying to figure out what you might want or be able to do is overwhelming. Instead, offer specific things you can do and make plans to do them.”
For those that want to help, here is a list of 31 ways you can provide practical and timely help to grieving parents.
And yet those first hours and days are some of the most vivid in my memory. Who showed up, what they did, what they said (or graciously and wisely DIDN’T say), how fragile and lost I felt as precious friends guided me through so. many. decisions.
I will never, ever forget the kindnesses shown to our family during that time. I will never, ever stop thanking God for the brave souls that entered into our world of pain and simply refused to be shooed or frightened away.
The death of any loved one opens a door and forces you to pass through.
You cannot procrastinate, cannot refuse, cannot ignore or pretend it away.
Suddenly, you find yourself where you absolutely do not want to be.
And there is no going back.
Many bereaved parents describe the first hours, the first days after losing a child as a fog–we feel both horrified (I can’t believe this is happening!) and numb (Is this real? Am I dreaming?).
It’s been awhile since I’ve shared this series of posts.
They were birthed in the safe space of a closed Facebook group of bereaved parents.
It was nearly two years into this journey before I even knew such groups existed but once I joined, a whole new world of acceptance, understanding and compassion opened wide before me.
And it didn’t take long to recognize that while every single journey and loss story was unique, there were some common experiences, similar challenges and shared needs.
That’s how this series came to be.
For some of my readers it will cover old ground, for some it will be fresh. For any of us walking the Valley of the Shadow of Death I pray it’s helpful and shareable (in a non-threatening way)on your own social media for family and friends.
Our journeys begin in different ways.
Just as every birth story is unique, so, too, is every parent’s story of loss.
It may be a phone call or an officer at the front door. It may be a lingering illness or a sudden one. Our children may have lived days or decades.
Their death may be anticipated, but it is never expected.