5 Lessons Learned after 5 Years Living with Loss of a Child
Since the dawn of time, there have been parents who have lost children and struggled with how to proceed in that painful new reality. And after centuries of introspection by our greatest minds, all we have today is the cliché you’ve all heard by now — “Everyone deals with loss their own way.” In other words, there is still no answer.
Below are my own personal findings on the subject. Integrate, Emulate, Communicate, Educate, and Appreciate.These simple practices might give you some direction forward. They did me.
Best wishes for all of you, and the road ahead.
Instead of rejecting the pain of loss, and thereby pushing away thoughts about your child (which only separates them more), integrate him or her into your newfound understanding of life. If you manifest them in a lifelong endeavor — for example, a project that attracts others to join you in celebrating them through some welfare in the community — you keep them close, and they remain a part of your daily life, in a positive way. The more time this endeavor consumes, the more time you are spending with the one you love and keeping them close. Don’t attempt to keep him or her at some “safe” distance emotionally. As harsh as it sounds, try to embrace the loss — and in so doing, embrace him, more effectively.
Your child had certain interests, passions, and traits that were unique to them and the family. Continue to believe in and openly support those things he or she did. The characteristic you choose to celebrate might give you the idea for how you integrate this loss into the rest of your life. If your daughter was into alternative music, start supporting young musicians. If your son liked to play baseball, support a local team of other kids like him and enable his influence to make a difference still today. If you do this, and do it regularly, you will find that there are many people out there who will come to know your child, think of her fondly, and celebrate her life regularly with you through involvement with your initiative.
Your child’s life is infinitely relevant. The impact he or she had, no matter how short the life, is evident in the depth of the loss you share with so many others. To live as if your child’s influence stopped when his or her physical presence did is unfair to you, your child, and others who loved your child. If your son moved to another country, out of sight and sound, you wouldn’t drop all references to him in ordinary conversation. Because his influence continues. The more you keep him close in conversation with family and friends, the easier it is for them to express their love and respect for his life, and the more he will continue to have influence in the family and the world.
Learn about loss and the true extent of it — in the world, in your town, and in your neighborhood. As tempting as it is to think so, you weren’t singled out and robbed while the rest of the world merrily continues on without suffering loss. We think of the loss of a child as uncommon because nobody hears about it. Nobody hears, because nobody talks. And nobody talks because the subject itself scares everyone. But the fact is that since the beginning of time, parents have lost children prematurely. You are in the company of Thomas Jefferson. Abraham Lincoln. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Even those who went on to make the world laugh, such as Charlie Chaplin. Not to mention the thousands of parents who kept America going when their children were dying in two World Wars, and mothers and fathers who still get that dreaded message from the military today. Once you become aware of how common the loss of a child really is, you have a corrected perspective, and you feel less like a lone victim picked on by God. Families on TV rarely lose a child. But families in your community do.
I would never suggest that losing a child is something to appreciate. What I am referring to is the profoundly new perspective you gain on the nature of the universe we live in. Is the trade worth it? No, I’d rather have my son. But to sustain such an enormous blow is to wake up to what matters most in our short lives, and see those around us differently, and more accurately, with a more sensitive and understanding eye. Such extreme loss arms us, like nothing else can, to be unusually effective in making a difference for others who are suffering. You can now deliver the greatest, but rarest gift: understanding. A grieving parent once said to me, “Would I do anything to have her back? Of course. But I admit, I like the person I am now, more than the person I used to be.”
Take care and may we all get better at this, day by day.