In the Days Following a Child’s Death: One Mother’s Perspective

Children died Friday. They died in schools, on highways, in hospitals, and in their own homes. On Friday, their mothers joined a sisterhood I’m in. They are now one of us. We are one.

By now, she is exhausted. She discovered early-on one of the hardest truths. Sleep is cruel. She longs for it because it offers her hope of escape, and in it she can still see her son or hear her daughter’s voice. Yet in it, she also re-lives the words no parent wants to hear, and by now, she knows there is no escaping them. They reappear in her dreams, and she cries out in her sleep or bolts upright in bed hoping it was just a nightmare only to rediscover her living hell. By now, she has discovered the cruelest of sleep’s tricks, that when waking, there is a foggy moment of forgetting that precedes the remembering, “My child is dead.”  Each time she remembers, she feels the same knife to her heart she felt when she first heard the words, and she has felt that knife again and again and again by now.

By now, many of her friends and family members have held her for the first time since her child died. She has discovered that when she makes eye contact with each new person, she relives the words, the horror, the moment of  realization of “My child is dead.” More knives to the heart. She is exhausted by it, and she will be surprised by the relief she feels when she has finally seen every friend and loved one for the first time.

Hopefully, she will encounter very few well-intended remarks that resemble anything related to “God’s will” or “a better place,” and instead will hear for years to come things that begin something like “I remember when,” and “I’ll never forget the time,” or “What I always loved most about.” Hopefully, people will feel comfortable talking about her child because she will want to talk about him or her, and she will want others to be comfortable with that.

The house will be filled with people and noise, but by now she knows there is no noise in the world that will drown out the deafening silence created when a child’s voice is missing.

People will bring food and try to get her to eat. She will push food around her plate to try and convince all those watchful eyes that she is indeed eating, but she isn’t.  Don’t worry, though.  It won’t kill her. She is convinced her heart will do that first. She thinks surely no heart can possibly survive this much pain, and she will often wish it would simply stop beating. But it doesn’t – no matter how much she is sure it will and no matter how much she wishes it would. By now, she has discovered that the pain of bringing a child into the world pales in comparison to the pain of being asked to let one go.

People will try to give her pills to help her though this. By now, she has probably discovered that their pills dull her body and make it unable to cry or move, and she has discovered that she desperately needs to be able to cry, to scream into pillows and throw them across the room. Their anti-depressants do not help because she is not depressed. She is sad. There are no fonts large enough or bold enough, no itallic slanted enough to adequately emphasize the word “sad,” and she knows, unfortunately, there is no pill for sadness.

With so many people in the house, she may try to help with clean-up. People will raise their voices in protest. Hopefully, she has a brother who will reach out to the protestors and with the kindest of smiles and the gentlest voice say, “Let her clean. It’s something she can control.” She will remember his understanding and appreciate his kindness. He knows her world is spinning out of control and she latches on to anything from her old world. She wants it back but knows it is gone. She cannot think about the new world. She doesn’t want a new normal.

By now, she has been asked to use vocabulary words she never thought she would – words like “pall bearer,” and “casket,” and “funeral.” By now, someone has driven her to search for a burial plot. Her husband has probably thrown his hands up in despair and asked, “How do you do that? How do you pick out a piece of ground to put your child in?” No one will have an answer, but no matter what ground is chosen, it is not going to be good enough.

By now, she has been thinking about how to dress her child. Does she put that favorite outfit on and never see it again, or does she keep it for herself as a remembrance? She will struggle with that.

By now, she knows the awful truth. The worst is not over. There will be a service, one that marks the last time she will be with her child’s body. She doesn’t want that day to happen, of course. What parent does? But for her, it will happen all too soon, and on that day when everyone else leaves, she may be asked if she wants to see her child one last time. Inside, her soul will scream, “NO! No, I do not want to see my child for the last time!”  But she will probably nod her head and spend a few moments straightening a wisp of hair and saying things mothers say. A hand will touch her shoulder and a kind voice behind her may ask if she wants to close the casket herself or if she wants someone else to do it for her. If she wants to do it herself, let her. It is, after all, the last act she can perform for her child, and it is the closest thing she will have to replace all those nights when she will never again tuck in her baby.

By now, she knows that given half a chance, any one of her loved ones would take this pain from her, but she also knows these rough waters are hers alone to navigate, and while others can encourage her, it is she alone who must paddle onward. She knows her journey is only beginning, and she finds that unfathomable. It takes all her focus to get through a moment. She has trouble remembering the simplest things – how to put on her pants, how to put toothpaste on her toothbrush. She cannot comprehend weeks, months, years.

She knows you pray for her. She may not know your name or exactly when it is that you do pray, but she knows. She feels it. She depends on it. Don’t stop.

In days to come, she will get letters from strangers who often do not sign them unless it is with something like “So-and-So’s  Mom.”  She  will know that in addition to family, friends, and community, she is part of a sisterhood. She will make a promise to herself that when she is ready, she will do the same for moms in the future who make their children’s breakfasts and wish them good days and then never see them alive again.


8 responses to “In the Days Following a Child’s Death: One Mother’s Perspective

  1. Donna, thank you for sharing this. It was a very hard read and I had to stop in the midst of it a couple of times before continuing on. I know the nightmares and the dulling pain of a pill to cover sadness that is suggested. This really does help reframe my thought process in even attempting to help a grieving mother!💕


  3. What you’ve written is POWERFUL. It absolutely speaks for every singled bereaved mother present, past and future. Thank you for expressing what I have always felt about medicating the pain – so true. I preferred to feel my tears instead of dullness. As you have already gone seven years through this grief journey, I am honored to give you some perspective – but only mine. Not everyone is so fortunate to reach the place I have reached. I remember the agony; can access the horror and the ache. But I am at peace and no longer suffer over my son’s death anymore. It took me 19 years, though. I would love to re-blog or share your writing, with your permission. I have never re-blog anything before, but your post is extremely touching and meaningful for me. Let me know.

    • I feel lucky/blessed – whatever YOU want to call it – to be in the place I am today with this. I completely owe it to an experience I had on the day he died, but before I knew it. I have openly talked about that experience, even before the call came (You know the one) because I felt I was supposed to talk about it. I invite you to read about it in an earlier post I called “September: A Month for Remembering.” You may even have experienced some similar kinds of things. This was the first time I really talked about what those first days were like, and I only wrote them because I felt so horrible for the families who were being asked to do the unthinkable while cameras were trained on their every move. If only the media could know what they were experiencing, then maybe they would tread more lightly on the subject… know the feeling.
      You honor me with your request to re-blog. Certainly, you have my permission to re-blog anything I ever write. I put it out there for healing and say to God and the universe, “Let those who need it find it.”

      • I am going to read about your experience – that is so, so beautiful and truly a gift because it saved you. Yes, I think because we remember the anguish so well, our sensitivity to the newly bereaved causes tears to flow again. There is no comfort during those initial dark days and I am completely at a loss for words. I think that is why I appreciated your post so much. Keep writing, too. I’ll read about your experience and comment later on. Thank you, Donna.

        • Thank you, thank you, thank you, Judy. You should know before you read that my son died by suicide. Knowing that will hopefully make my experience even more meaningful for you when you read it. It would have been a gift of all gifts, even if he had died by other means. But because it was what it was, it is a gift that defies conventional wisdom on the thought, but is hope-filled and full of love and grace. Enjoy.

I value your thoughts and comments. Please share them!! ~Donna

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