Thursday, May 14, 2015

"I can't imagine!" When some of us can

When a young man recently died in a car accident a few weeks ago, people looked at me and said,  "I can't imagine."

After hearing this sentiment a number of times, I said to a friend, "We don't want you to try."

People, especially fellow parents, go through life thinking that a dead child happens to other people.  I know I did. I had no clue what burying a child entails. 

Face caked with tears, flat on the ground, struggling to breathe. Hopeless. Meaningless.  Questions that will never have answers.

That is what losing a child does to you.  It's like being forced to wear a thick skin that covers every ounce of your skin and never comes off.  The first months after the death of a child are literally living a nightmare. Only there is one difference.  You don't wake up.

Eighteen years ago my son took his last breath.  I held his bloated body----swollen from fluids----touched his bald head----hairless from eight months of chemo---and watched the life escape his lungs.  He was my boy, my cherished Brave Cookie, my sticker-sharing-joke-telling second born.  He loved Toy Story, Little Foot,  and his siblings.  He once told me that he didn't want anything bad to happen to his mommy. He was four.

Up until that moment, I couldn't imagine either.  I thought God's comfort was big enough to hold me and take away my anguish, despair, agony, and sorrow. When my cousin lost her seven-year-old to a rare type of cancer four years prior to Daniel's death, I thought God would remove all her pain and wrap His arms around her so that she would be clenched in a special embrace and be given special powers to sail through the heartache.

But the pain of losing Daniel was so vast that I felt no comfort, no peace, no serenity. I was angry at God for not answering our prayers and Daniel's prayers for healing from his malignant tumor. In addition to my devastation, I now knew what my cousin had been through. She came to Daniel's funeral; I didn't realize what that took for her to do until much later.

I went to bed at night crying and woke up in tears.  I had no idea how I was going to live without my child. A hole had been ripped into my heart.  I was sure I would die from a broken heart.

They say that there is no time in Heaven.  I believe that grief is not part of time.  I think that grief is timeless, that the ache of missing a child does not fade with the passing of years.  

I haven't seen Daniel in eighteen years.  I'm now a seasoned-veteran of grief. How have I managed to come this far?  What seemed impossible on February 2, 1997, has been possible----I have survived!  But out-living a child is never easy and is daily work. Bereaved parents must work at it---contrary to popular belief, there is no sailing through. We learn to adapt, combat the platitudes, rediscover a new faith and trust in God, cultivate relationships, and all the while, continue to tell others about our sons or daughters.  One quote I like says, "I thought I would teach my child about the world, but I ended up teaching the world about my child."

Writing through the fears, sorrow, and yearning has helped me, and therefore, I've become an advocate for grief-writing. I pull others into my tribe, facilitating workshops, teaching what has worked for me. We write for hope, for health, for healing. I fight against easy answers, I challenge people to look at life differently. Allowing yourself to relinquish continual uncertainties into the hands of a God of Mystery is the ultimate freedom from trying to figure it all out.

I'm in good company.  Some of the best relationships I've made have been after Daniel's death with those who "get" me.  They, too, have lost a child to death.  We never utter small talk; our conversations are as real as red clay dirt, messy sometimes, but heartfelt. We stand together and lift balloons into the sky and light candles at Christmas.  

My husband and I carve memorials from wood. Our personalized plaques have been ordered by bereaved parents all over the world. 

My world expands; my grief for others who have to bury a child too soon grows. I see the photos of their children year after year on Facebook and know they are trying to do the best they can. 

This is the life unimagined. This is how we live.


  1. We don't want to imagine what it's like, but thanks for helping us understand!

  2. Thanks for reading, Kelli! I appreciate YOU!

  3. What an awesome post, Alice. I'm going to go hug my daughter right now -- just because I can.


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