I am guessing that reading the following sentence will make you want to move on to something else, but I beg you to please read this all the way through because there are so many who desperately need you to understand them. July is National Bereaved Parents Month. There, I said it, now please stay with me to the end of this blog.
Up to this point, I have not even mentioned that fact, even though we have a national ministry to grieving parents. Why haven’t I? Because there are no words to describe what it means to be a bereaved parent.
I can’t put words to the agonizing and tormenting darkness of the pit we were hurled into. Or the gut-wrenching pain of having our child amputated from us with no anesthesia.
There is no way to share how this emptiness never ever leaves us, or how there is a permanent gaping wound that doesn’t even scar but is something we have to constantly nurse and give attention to.
We can’t explain in a way that makes sense why we can’t come to family events, or “get back to normal.” There is no more normal for us, ever, while we are on this earth. We are now a “before” and “after” person.
Everything is now bittersweet, and quite often more bitter than sweet. We want to celebrate the graduations, the weddings and the precious new births and join the family holiday festivities. And we do, in our own way. But each life event is another slap-in-the-face reminder of who isn’t there and should have been. We can’t help but feel the aching emptiness. And being in a happy place surrounded by people who are celebrating, doesn’t necessarily make us feel better like some people tell us it will, but often just compounds the grief and brings it all back.
When you have a child go away, maybe to camp, or to stay with grandma for a couple of weeks, or go on a mission trip, or head off to college, or move across the country for a job, your heart aches. You won’t be able to be part of their lives on a day-to-day basis. We get it, we really do. It is a valid issue. But please know that it is hard for bereaved parents to hear those around us lament about their child being out of their presence for a while, because you still have access to them through the digital highway. And at some point, you will be with them again. We have none of that. Period. For the rest of our time here on earth.
We will never have a conversation with them to hear their voice. We will never hear them laugh. We will never see their face. We won’t know what they look like two years or ten years or twenty years from now. We will never buy a birthday or Christmas gift for them. We will never hear them say, ”I love you” or be able to give them a hug. EVER… all we have now are memories of who they were…
People tell us we are so strong and that they could never do what we are doing. Well, guess what? We had no choice in this event in our lives, and we aren’t strong! There are times we literally cannot breathe. We can’t even get out of bed. Sometimes a good day is making it to the shower or fixing a meal for our family. And when we have to pour all our energy into being at work for the day, when we get home we fall apart, every single day for a very long time. (I am talking for months and years.)
I have had people tell me someone that they know lost a child a few years ago, but they are doing fine now. It always makes me cringe, because I know they aren’t. You see, it becomes our job to make those around us comfortable with our grief. We have to put on our masks and convince those around us that we are okay, because if we don’t, either people don’t want to be around us, or they try to fix us and tell us we should be doing better by now. So we pretend, so they don’t have to grieve with us.
Did you know that most experts say five years and under is considered fresh grief for a parent who has lost a child (of any age)? And that the death of a child is considered traumatic grief? We are dealing with a literal trauma in our lives. And many of us are also dealing with PTSD, depending on the circumstances, such as seeing our child die or finding their body. Those are images that play in our minds over and over and over again. And as grieving parents, we can’t help but torment ourselves with the “what ifs.”
Yes, we can, and do, at some point figure out how to live with a part of our very being amputated from us. We learn to live our lives around the grief as we daily miss our child, seeing reminders of him or her everywhere we turn. But it takes a long time to figure out how to do that, and we will always be hit with grief triggers for the rest of our lives. If you are with us when that happens, please see it as a sacred place and moment, and know that it is an honor for us to let you in. Let us know it is okay to still miss our child deeply, and show grace, allowing us the time we need to lean into the memories and the grief.
As believers in Christ, we are good at rejoicing with those who rejoice, like Romans 12:15 tells us. But we aren’t very good at the second half of that verse, where we are told to weep with those who weep. (Some versions say to mourn with those who mourn or adds “sharing in their grief.”) And by the way, I notice that God doesn’t tell us to try and fix them if they are mourning for what we think might be too long of a time. He just tells us to join them in their place of sorrow.
If you aren’t sure what to do when you are with a bereaved parent, here is something that might help.
Another very special gift you can give to a bereaved parent is to let us talk about our child. Ask us questions about him or her. Let us show you pictures and tell you stories. One of our greatest fears is that people will forget our child lived and that his or her life mattered.
So, to answer the question, “How do I do it?” Even though I am almost eight years into this unwanted bereaved parent journey, sometimes it is still just hanging on one day, one minute, one breath at a time. And I am thankful that I don’t have to choose to either lean on God or to fall apart. I lean on God while I fall apart. I continue to find ways to honor the life and memory of my daughter, Becca. I connect with other parents who are ahead of me on this journey who can encourage me, and I connect with other parents who find themselves behind me on this journey.
I also look for friends who allow me to be who I am now, and not try to hang on to the person I used to be. Unfortunately, there aren’t many out there. Most of them are also bereaved parents who get it.
I don’t take it lightly that you have read this all the way through, and we bereaved parents thank you from the bottom of our shattered hearts. I hope and pray that by reading this, you have a better picture of what our lives are like and can now be one of those needed friends for those of us who are bereaved of our child.
To receive two free chapters from the book Come Grieve Through Our Eyes: How to Give Comfort and Support to Bereaved Parents, just let us know below where to send them. (Your email address will be kept private.)
Laura Diehl is an award-winning author, national speaker and singer. She and her husband, Dave, are the founders of Grieving Parents Sharing Hope (GPS Hope). Dave and Laura travel full time in their Hope Mobile (a 38-foot motor home) to be more easily available for speaking and ministry requests.
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GPS Hope exists to walk with grieving parents through the suffocating darkness of child-loss to a place of hope, light and purpose.
We also support families, friends and coworkers who want to know how to support these parents both short and long-term.
- If you are not a bereaved parent but want to support those who are, or want to follow us as we give hope to these precious parents, please connect with us at Friends of GPS Hope on Facebook.
- If you are a bereaved parent, we encourage you to connect with us on Facebook and subscribe to Laura’s YouTube channel for grieving parents.