by Cindy K. Sampson
In my first article of this two-part series, I describe the pain of losing a child which is genuinely difficult to define. Some of my roughest days after losing my children were due to inappropriate remarks made to me from well-meaning individuals. People attempted to ease my pain by giving advice, saying certain typical phrases associated with loss and sometimes saying nothing at all because they were unsure what to say.
No two situations are the same, which often makes it difficult for people to know how to react to devastating news. However, I’d like to offer some advice about what to say and do and what not to say and do.
We Don’t Move On, We Move Forward
Please understand that it is challenging for us to heal and move on. Child loss is something you learn to live with at best. We move forward in that we try to honor our children and keep them a part of the world but “moving on” connotes putting your child in the past as you would a failed business or relationship. Our children will always be a part of us as we will be their parents indefinitely.
I view Lois in the present tense and have corrected people when they say, “I had a daughter.” I have a daughter in heaven who also resides within my heart. I am still a mother and Lois will always be the light of my life. When people refer to me as having been her mother, it has given me a sense of having an alternate status as a parent, as if I am sitting on the sidelines because I no longer qualify for that team called Parenthood. I am a mother.
When people ask how old Lois and Little One would have been, I state their current ages in heaven, Little One being 18 and Lois being 17 at the present time.
Our Loss Is On-Going
People sometimes give me the impression that I should be “okay” or “fine” at this point in my grief process. Through the years, I have felt pressured because of many pleading looks and incessant inquiries. Things are, and will always be different for me. This is not to say that there are not happy times in my life, peaceful times, fun times. A continual void has been left in my life and each day, I struggle to cope with it.
Many people have tried to explain to me how I “should feel” about losing my children. However, people need to understand that the road of grief is difficult to navigate. Grief is an individual experience and child loss is the most unique type of grief. People looking from the outside in and assigning their views to my specific situation often intensify, rather than relieve, the hurt.
Clichés are not helpful. The frequently used and in my opinion, most hurtful ones during child loss are “She’s in a better place” and “Everything happens for a reason.” God planned heaven and Earth to be as one. The reason it is not, is a result of Adam and Eve’s sin.
People may not think deeply when offering a cliché, thus not realizing its impact. A cliché is a statement seldom well thought out; it is a statement with no personal meaning behind it.
Be Careful With Biblical References
While I realize that God allowed these events in my life to happen, rather than questioning why, I put my faith and trust in him to sustain me. I stand on Ezekiel 18:32-33: “God takes no pleasure in death and he does not want anyone to die.” Beyond that, biblical references often are not suitable when addressing a bereaved parent. People have attempted comparing my situation with biblical characters who lost children, proclaiming to me that I should feel honored that God trusted me enough to take my children.
Be Gentle With Advice
As bereaved parents, we do not need to be told to “stay strong” because some days it takes all our strength just to breathe. The general public tends to compare child loss to all other losses but honestly, there is no comparison.
Many people have told me that they know exactly how I feel because they lost their parent or grandparent. Chronology tells us that our aged parents and grandparents are supposed to die before we do but our children are meant to live on past us. Some members of my bereaved parent support group have had the loss of their child compared to the loss of a pet.
Thanks be to God, there are some positive things people can say and do to help us locate light in the Tunnel of Loss we inhabit. Simply saying that you are sorry and cannot imagine the loss is comforting because you are validating and accepting us where we are. Also, saying that you do not know what to say may be the most helpful thing of all. This communicates to us that you care about our situation but do not want to do anything that may worsen it.
Most bereaved parents want to talk about their children so unless you have been advised otherwise by the parent, please talk about them. Share stories and memories you have about the child if you knew them and ask questions about them if you did not. Emotions fluctuate for bereaved parents. Don’t be alarmed if we cry when discussing our children and know that sometimes these are tears of joy.
I have encountered many poems focusing on grief during my journey, but my favorite one is from an anonymous author: “If you mention my child’s name, you may make me cry but if you don’t, you will break my heart.” This message conveys my sentiments perfectly.
Most of all, we need prayer. Remember that the very essence of our lives has been forever altered and we sometimes operate from a very low point of stability. We are fragile. There is no “new normal” for us because our lives will never be normal again. Know that we are sorry if we are no longer the family members or friends we once were, because sometimes we are still lost in a cloud of our loss.
Know that your love, prayers, and support will help us locate light in our tunnel of loss. We understand that our lives in a sense are darkened to a degree until we see our beautiful children’s faces again in heaven. But the acknowledgment of our children’s everlasting value and of our being parents will downplay the darkness of our tunnel. Your kindness will help us find peace in realizing that while the tunnel will be a permanent feature of our time in the world, there are no tunnels in heaven. In heaven, there is only a well-lit path to our Savior and loved ones awaiting us.
Written in memory of her children-Little One and Lois Kathleen Sampson