During a recent conversation with a friend I shared a fond memory of her teenage son who passed away several months ago. There was a catch in her throat as she responded, and for a moment I regretted my words and wondered if I had said the wrong thing.
Later, during a quiet moment, I had the opportunity to ask her about it. I felt comfortable doing so because she had been open about her journey so far. She was gracious enough to give me the space to ask some personal and even painful questions. The truth is, though, that after you lose a child there isn’t much that is not painful. She told me that it was okay that I mentioned her son, and even okay that it made her cry. Actually, she continued, it was good that I said his name and it always makes her happy to know that he is remembered.
She told me that when people say his name she knows that he is remembered, and she feels like it honors his life and his memory. That is comforting to her, even if she might cry. It still isn’t easy to hear his name spoken sometimes, but she never wants to stop hearing it.
I personally have never experienced the loss of a child. Friends of mine have, and I cannot even begin to fathom the depth of their pain. I can, however, listen to them as they share their thoughts and experiences. I can also be there for them when they don’t feel like talking, even if it is by giving them space and letting them know that I am nearby and available should they ever need me.
Two of my friends in particular have been gracious enough share some of their journey with us. I continue to grieve with them for their losses as I stand in awe and appreciation of their strength and courage, honesty and vulnerability. The rest of these words will be written from their perspective. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
My child is gone, yet everywhere I go there are reminders. I see glimpses of them, memories, in places we went to together. Sometimes I can’t bear to visit there again because it’s too painful to see that place without my child in it. Other times I go there just to feel closer to them by being in a place where my child once stood.
Large group gatherings can be hard so I often avoid them. Sometimes I feel people’s eyes on me, watching me. I feel like they are whispering, “There’s the woman whose child died.” Plus they get uncomfortable when I cry, even though it doesn’t make me uncomfortable to be crying. Their stares and whispers cause me to be even more grateful for my friends who “get it”, but sometimes I don’t even have the energy to be around them. I get through each day, and that is an accomplishment in itself.
There are other people besides me who miss my child, but they miss me as well. They expect me to be the same person I was when my child was here, even though sometimes I don’t remember who that was anymore. They think that once enough time has passed I should “move on.” Or they expect me to do things I used to do, and get back to life as normal. Don’t they know that without my child NOTHING is normal? There are days I just can’t pretend to be “normal”. Sometimes the grief is so heavy that I can barely even lift my head from the weight of it.
I wish people would stop telling me, “Your child is in a better place.” I know they mean well, but it is in no way comforting to hear those words. It hurts, because there is no other place I want my child to be except with me.
Then there are the people that avoid me because I remind them that life is fragile. They would rather not think about such things. Negative emotions like sadness makes them uncomfortable. They don’t know what to do when something can’t be fixed, or they are afraid that they will say something that will cause me to cry. They think that means I am upset with them. Actually, I cry all the time. I wish they knew that if something they said makes me cry that usually doesn’t mean they said the wrong thing. It just means I am crying. I am strong enough to cry in front of other people and let them see me at my most vulnerable. Yet often other people are the ones not strong enough to allow me to cry. They want me to stop so that they are more comfortable. So I just stay home and keep to myself, because that is less exhausting than having to wear a mask all the time. Plus hiding my pain for the sake of other people’s comfort feels like I am being disrespectful to the memory of my child.
All around me people keep going about their day-to-day lives, and for them everything is the same. The world keeps turning and I am expected to be a part of it even though, for me, everything is different. In the most difficult moments I wonder~ how can I go on if my child is gone? Why would I want to? And then I remember the faces of the people in my life, the people that I love. I remember that they love me back, and that helps ease the sting a little bit.
When the sadness hits I need to know that my child is remembered. That they mattered. That their time on this earth made a difference. I want to know that I am not the only one who misses them, the only one who hurts. I want to hear about the moments that they thought of my child and recalled something they said. It makes me smile to know they stopped by the memorial garden and said a prayer. I also need them to listen when I talk about my child. Talking about my baby is so healing and comforting. My child may have been older, but they will always be my ”baby”, and I will never stop needing to share the same memories. Over. And over. And over.
The firsts are hard, like the first birthday or first Christmas without them. Everyone knows that, but what they don’t tell you is the lasts are hard, too. Like the year that would have been their last year of school. It was harder than I ever dreamed possible to see all the pictures of my child’s classmates graduating without my baby walking among them.
Sometimes the tears catch me by surprise, but I have learned to just let them come. To just let myself “feel” no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I can be in the middle of the grocery store and if the tears come I try not to swallow them. I just let them seep out. I have found that to be more healing than a lot of things. I used to get a little embarrassed of people looking at me, but I have come to realize that if they knew why I was crying they would probably hug me. Just because they don’t know doesn’t mean that it’s not okay for me to cry.
Besides, crying doesn’t mean I’m not strong. Even when I struggle and have bad days that is not a sign of weakness. Every day that I keep going is a victory in itself. I am strong enough to honor my child’s life by living my own.
I will never stop grieving, but that just means I loved someone who is no longer here with me on earth. I am a mother, and nothing will ever change that. My heart is big enough and strong enough to contain love as well as pain, happy memories as well as regret. My child will always be a part of me. I carry them with me wherever I go, whatever I do. But sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that you loved them, too.
So please, say their name. We can cry together.
Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Certified Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist
Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234