Parents Burying Children is Unnatural
Headstone of a Son
When a wife dies, her husband is a widower. When a husband dies, his wife becomes a widow. When parents die, their children are called orphans. There is no word or name for the parent whose child dies. Parents burying children is unnatural.
Shock set in.
"Where is my pass and who is going to validate my parking?"
A numbness settles after you get the news your child is dead. People attempt to sugarcoat the facts with euphemisms (She passed away peacefully.), but the fact remains: Your child is dead. "Emotionally overwhelming" leaps to mind to describe the feeling of receiving this news.
The brain knows when the heart is overloaded. It reverts to its most autonomic processes and denies access to conscious thought which would only cause torment, doubt and pain. The numbness is to be welcomed in the beginning. For soon, it will be replaced with active emotion.
- She is in a better place.
- She is not hurting any more.
- She is with her grandparents now.
- She is smiling down on you.
- I know how you feel.
"Horse pucky." -Sherman Potter.
1. Conceptually, dead is not better than alive.
2. No, she is not. Yet, there is little restorative solace in knowing another is out of pain when you carry the pain of grief and death, especially the death of a child. This quote just smacks of "one up".
3. That is a matter of opinion. Imposing your religious beliefs at a wake or funeral is both morally repugnant and obnoxiously rude.
4. See 1, 2 and 3.
5. Until I see the headstone of your child, no. No, no, no, no, NO, you do not.
Parents burying their children is unnatural.
This situation requires different responses than those routinely accepted as appropriate for funerals. This is certainly not a typical funeral. Rather than the tired, tried-and-true, knee-jerk condolences, the things you need to hear are:
- I cannot imagine what you are feeling, but I wish I could take some of the pain away.
- I do not know what to say, but if I can do anything, please let me know.
- Even if all you want to do is vent, I am here to listen to you.
- I will help you do anything which needs doing.
- I love you.
Knowing your friends and family are helpless until you reach a point of healing to engage them is something only you recognize. Having them admit it gives you room to grieve in your own time.
The Tour Bus
"When it was time for her to go, I wanted to give into the selfishness...tell the doctors, 'Do whatever it takes.' My broken heart knew, she hadn't the strength to finish that war. I felt I had failed to protect her."
A deranged tour bus carries you past every negative emotion you know and introduces a few new ones:
- Realization of mortality
- Guilt and survivor's guilt
- Questioning of faith
- Sense of failure
- And more.
During the ride, you cannot see the bus station. You just wish it would come into focus so you could get your bearings on when the emotional horror show will end.
"In the many years I live near railroads and subways, the only time I heard the train was when it was late. I noticed something was amiss when the whistle did not blow at the appointed hour or the brakes did not interrupt the silence."
All too soon, the numbness is worn away by the mundane tasks in which security lies: washing dishes, ironing laundry, pets, hobbies, taking out the garbage, work, helping with homework, cooking, running errands, exercise, housework.
This is the time a newborn should be demanding your attention at regular intervals. Sleep should be interrupted by the tiny cries for milk which bring a smile to your face, even when it takes all your strength to get vertical. When you wake up to the still darkness, you contemplate the months you prepared for birth were in vain.
Realization sets in: Someone is missing. Celebrating birthdays, great grades, your spouse's raise, projects complete...It is not the same elation you remembered. Now, it is tainted with the irrational guilt of being happy without your child.
And in the quiet time before sleep, you think of all the birthdays, first times (tooth, step, day of school), graduations...which will never come to be celebrated.
The black hole in your heart sucks every positive emotion into the abyss of grief. Nothing good happens without the silver lining of the cloud turning out to be mercury, heavy and poisonous.
Your other children are no replacement: They came before and have their own roles to fill.
Your spouse has a similar black hole and is distant lest you, and your marriage, be sucked into it.
Your extended family is in a quandary. Even the most sarcastic member cannot find something pithy to bring you to the light of laughter.
Your friends can see it. If they attempt to fill it, they have no purchase when they grab onto the solid portions of your mind they recognize.
Your spiritual adviser is busy plying his trade. All the silly faith arguments seem pale and hollow with no definitive answers to support them.
Know this: When you finally reach the bottom of the abyss, there is nowhere to go...but up.
Time marches on.
Reach out. Only other parents who have lost children truly understand what you feel, even if they do not appear to be on your emotional level. At some point they have been where you are. Extend your hand. One of them will take it.
Ask for help. When someone asks, "What can I do for you?" answer, "Chores." Let the ones who cannot understand how you feel help you have the space you need to begin to heal. They can take the everyday, mundane stressors away a few hours at a time.
Cry. Tears do not compromise your strength. Venting makes room for more positive emotions.
Remember. The trauma: You heal from, but never forget. The pain: Subsides over time, but never truly vanishes. The love for your child: Is eternal.
Have faith. If you embrace a higher power, take comfort in it. The death of your child may have shattered your faith, but putting back together the pieces to find an inner peace lost is healing.
Have faith in yourself. There is no pride in saying, "I am a complete person even without my child." You are more than a parent.
Give. The death of your child will forever change you. One day, someone will reach out to you for the strength of your healing. Give it. The circle is complete.
Remember the Good
The italicized quotes at the head of each section are quotes of the author: At the time, blogged, archived, written or spoken. This work is dedicated to the parents who traveled the rocky road, stumbled along the way or are sitting beside the path unsure of the next step.