FamilyLife Blog

There’s No Guide to Losing a Child

by | Mar 23, 2022 | Crisis, Parenting

You feel like the world is spinning around you. As if everything could come crashing down, but you are still standing. You wonder if people can actually live after losing their child, how they move on.

There is no guide for this. No step by step process, no app to download to help you process the grief. It’s just you.

Crying. Not sleeping. Spontaneously bursting into tears when the cashier scans your celery, asking, “Is this your only one?” It’s the littlest things that remind you that you are missing someone in your life.

Simply looking at a cartoon sketch of Elsa and Anna serve as a quick reminder that my daughter no longer has a sister. Whenever we arrive home, I am reminded that I no longer need that second bedroom for my other daughter. I glance across the sea of people and see a little girl, the same age my daughter would have been. Tears slowly trickle down my face. My heart hurts, not because anyone intentionally tries to hurt me.

The ache is within. My arms are empty.

My body shows the scars from this child of mine. I weigh more than I used to. I have more stretch marks. There is a scar showing from when she was born. But deeper than all that, there is extra weight on my heart. There are stretch marks where my emotions have been stretched thin. There is a scar on my heart that will always be there. It doesn’t matter if she passed away last week or years ago, it feels like it was yesterday.

I often feel at a loss of where to begin to sort through my feelings of grief. But there are a few things that have helped me and my husband to process the pain of losing our child. In our book Life After Hope, we write in depth about this process. Here are a few things I have to remind myself on a regular basis.

1. It’s OK to Still Hurt

Even though I gave myself time to grieve, pulling away from any obligations that I could, when that period was over, I still was hurting. In fact, it felt like it hurt more. Yes, I didn’t cry 100 times in a day. Sometimes I even went days without crying. But then there were moments when sadness hit like a tidal wave at the most inopportune times.

It’s OK to hurt. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to be still. It’s OK to be angry. And it’s definitely OK to feel. Men and women, we all need to feel the loss, while moving into the present and the future. Do not be afraid to move ahead, the memory of your child will forever be with you. You will never forget your loss, and it may still hurt. That’s OK. Just soak in the OK.

2. People Will Hurt Your Feelings

In my experience, most people do care and they try to express that (or not!) in their own way. Is it always helpful to you? Definitely not. But do they mean to hurt you? Definitely not.

Most people honestly do not know what to say. Think of yourself in their shoes. How many times did you ignore someone in the grocery store, or blunderingly tell them you are sorry to hear of their loss, and then awkwardly switch topics? Death is not exactly a casual chatting subject. It is uncomfortable.

My tip? Next time someone tells you to be thankful you have an older child, or that you can have more kids, or that God has a plan, or this child was too good for this earth… punch them in the face. Just kidding! Please don’t do that! (But let me tell you I have thought seriously about it!)

Instead:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Talk directly to that person. Maybe it even requires talking to that person who is avoiding you OR just smile and move on — not every encounter requires the same response
  • Be honest, especially with those who are close to you
  • Remember, they really do mean well
  • Find the nearest bathroom and cry it out… or punch a wall, or throw a snowball… or just let it go. The last one is my go-to. Don’t allow people’s comments or actions to define your grieving process. Most likely, they care. That is the take-away here: people care about you.

3. You Are Not Alone

If there is one thing we have experienced over and over, it is this: people really do care. Maybe it’s one person in your life, maybe it is an entire church group, or your family, or your two best friends. Or maybe it’s me. I care about you.

You are not alone in this loss.

There are many people who have gone before you and many who will come behind you. I have had the privilege of hearing many child loss stories that I had never heard before. People don’t generally volunteer that information when you first meet them. But if they know you have lost a child, you can get to know them on a whole new level. You are not alone.

You can find resources, groups, a friend, a church, and most of all, a God who cares about you. Even if you are angry at Him for this, don’t worry, He can take that. He created you to be in community. You’re not a lone ranger in your grief; you can walk out your journey next to Him and others.

4. The Memories May Fade

You might not remember certain details of your child. What they sounded like, what they said. It all might seem very vivid, or it may seem like a blur. But it was real. Don’t ever dismiss it as not a big deal. You lost your sweet baby, your teenager, your adult child… this is not the norm. But it is your reality, and your responsibility to grieve hard and well.

5. Everyone is Different

It would be a huge misnomer to think that we all grieve similarly. OR that we will follow the six steps of grieving in some sort of methodical way. Grief is messy. Your situation is unique from mine. You are different than me. You are entitled to journey through grief at your own pace, in your own time.

But my encouragement is to do this: be sad. Don’t simply brush the hurt under the carpet, burying yourself in work, family, or having a few extra drinks to numb the pain. Face it head on, wrestle hard with it, and know that you are in the position to win. This is a battle to fight, but you will conquer. It may take the rest of your life to sort out the details, but know that you will be victorious over this thing called death.

6. Journal

Yes, even those of you who wouldn’t normally write down your thoughts. Grab a pen and notebook — or your device — and write out what happened. And continue to write how you are feeling. Especially those days you are missing your child the most. Writing connects your brain, your heart, and your body in life-changing ways. There is even neuroscience to back this up!

7. Sweat it Out

Sometimes you just need to go for a walk or jog. Or jump in a pool, or maybe even sit in a dry sauna. Get off the couch or out of bed. Your brain and body need stimulation.

Ask a good friend to go walking with you. Get an app and start jogging. It really doesn’t matter what you do, just do it! If your body is healing physically from a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death, take it easy. Don’t push yourself too fast, take your time. But allow yourself to experience the catharsis of sweating a little.

8. There is Purpose

I’m not going to tell you anything trite and sentimental here. But what I do want you to know is that death was never the intention. God created us with purpose, to live full and fulfilling lives. Unfortunately, our lives are thwarted with disease and death. Yes, there are miracles that defy the natural, and sometimes we see this. But we also see the natural happening in our life, and lives are taken before their time.

We have to choose to see purpose in this.

We have to choose to see that we are a small part of a big picture.

And we have to know that what our child accomplished in their time on earth — whether it be two months, two years, 12 years, or 21 years — is a fullness of life that will take us a lifetime to accomplish. WE have the privilege of honouring them for the rest of our lives, and spreading the news: there is HOPE.

There is a whole other life waiting for each of us. This gives me hope. In eternity, I will see my little girl again, fully restored in the presence of Jesus.

Used with permission. Originally published at reimaginehope.com.