There is a special closeness among parents who have lost a child. The sense of physical loss, the feeling that something of your own body has been torn away, the sense of having lost a part of the past as well as a part of the future, the struggle to make sense of this death could never be adequately expressed in words. But another bereaved parent knows all this and we are apt to fall into each other’s arms in wordless understanding.
One mourns the loss of a life not fully lived and the absence of the child in one’s own future. Expectations that were perhaps never consciously recognized surface and take on an importance all the greater for having been shattered. Doubts arise about one’s ability to survive this loss and to ever know again what it is to enjoy life. Numbness and despair seem to be permanent. Others who have suffered such a loss can be especially important to you now for they are able to assure you that you, too, can survive and that life can once again become meaningful.
The need to let go ultimately of one’s child and of the hopes that were held for the child may take longer than you imagined possible. The road is neither easy nor short. Your mind will search for ways that you think might have saved your child, you will be assailed by a thousand “what if’s” until you finally realize that you cannot change what has happened and that you are not responsible for causing your child’s death. Equally torturing are the “why’s” that you seek to answer. But these, also, must finally be given up for there are no answers that satisfy. Through all of this, the pain persists. These are the things that are important to share with understanding listeners. Spouses often grieve very differently but both need to express the feelings of despair, guilt, anger and emptiness and the sense of worthlessness that can arise. Each parent needs to be able to share the sadness which fills his or her heart. The openness to your feelings, the willingness to look at the conflicting emotions and to work through them and, at last, being able to relinquish the need to control or to possess, all of these are milestones in the healing process. And know that you will always cherish the memories and the gift of joy that was your son’s or daughter’s life.