The Agony of Losing A Child

The Agony of Losing A Child

by Caroline Yates

Caroline is the mother of four children, three this side of heaven. She wrote this Letter to the Editor for local paper after her son died and kindly gave permission for us to re-print it.

We recently marked the ninth anniversary of my son Frank’s death at age 19 in an automobile accident.

I read the story about Laura Hurd (“College hockey star killed in crash,”). Her parents are just starting on their grief journey. This is a journey we never want to have to take, but we are thrown into it. Now is the time of year when more young men and women seem to die in accidents. I don’t know if there is a statistical measure for it, but in summer the numbers seem to go up. In honor of Frank, and in order to continue to move forward, I wanted to write about what it is like to be a bereaved parent. Perhaps someone you know and love will be experiencing that now. I hope some of my words will help the bereaved parents and those around them who don’t know what to say or do.

When my son died, it was not only an emotional hurt. I felt physically ripped apart. It was pure agony. My emotions were no longer on an even level. Everything was intensified. I was no longer the same person. I never will be the same person. My life has been cut in two: before and after Frank’s death.

Of course, my friends wanted to see me happy again. They wanted to see me get on with, and enjoy, life. But I didn’t know how. I felt guilty when I would laugh.

For the first year, my biggest accomplishment was getting up in the morning. I did not want to do anything social because I felt set apart. I was afraid of the question, “How many children do you have?” I wanted to be around other parents who knew how I was feeling, but I didn’t know any. I needed to know I was normal, even though I felt alien.

What can you do to help a bereaved parent in the first (and probably the second) year?

Make a meal every now and then for the bereaved family. I didn’t want to cook for a full year after Frank’s death; we ate a lot of pizza and McDonald’s.

Find out about groups such as Bereaved Families  – the dates of meetings, etc. – and offer to go the first time with the bereaved parent.

Please don’t compare the bereaved parent’s loss with losing a pet. (I am not saying that pets are not an important part of life. I am an animal lover, and I know they bring much joy.)

Having other children does not make losing one child any easier, so please don’t expect the parent’s loss to be less painful. Perhaps, in some ways, it is more difficult, because our children need us the most at a time when we are unable to be there for them. Many of them see their sibling as the most wonderful child in the family and feel that they don’t measure up; that perhaps it should have been them who died. Help these children know that they are special and loved. Also, when you have already suffered a loss, having other children makes the reality that another child can be taken from you more intense. It can be extremely frightening.

Send a card. Mention the lost child’s name.

Do not be afraid of the parent’s tears. Let her cry. There’s no need to have the right thing to say.

Don’t just say, “If you need anything, let me know.” The parent will not call, will not let you know. The parent is alone and does not know how to reach out. Check in on her.

One day the parent will be able to be a friend, a sister, a wife, a mother of living children, a cousin, a worker, a volunteer, a coach, again. But now, she is a grieving mother. It is all she can do. It is all she can see. Give her time. But know that time alone will not heal her broken heart; she will need help. Your friendship and love will be part of that help.

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