A Message For Newly Bereaved Parents

Losing a child is the worst pain imaginable. The first year in this world of “after” can be the hardest for many of us, so I’m reaching out to those parents who have recently lost a child to offer support from someone who is a little further along this painful journey.

First, I want to say that I’m so very sorry. I know the words sound hollow, but there isn’t anything better or more appropriate to say — nothing that will alleviate the desolation you’re experiencing.

Please know that you’re not alone — you, the mother who can’t sleep at 2:00 a.m. because the silence is too heavy and you, the father who is listlessly scrolling through social media posts because trying to concentrate on literally anything else is impossible.

You have experienced the worst loss imaginable. There are very few people who truly understand what you’re going through. I’m one of them. I lost my 15-year-old daughter, Ana, two years and seven months ago.

The first year of after she died, it felt like I was lost in a foreign country without a map. The only people that offered a glimpse of solace were other bereaved parents who’d had more time to process their grief and the magnitude of their loss.

I’m not going to tell you that it gets any easier or that your child is in a better place. There’s no better place for a child than with the family that loves them.

I will tell you that, for me, the weight of my grief is different than in those early weeks and months when it was so large and heavy I could barely move. It’s not yet three years since Ana died, but I am starting to experience moments of joy again.

This time frame is unique for every parent who loses a child. We are navigating a terrible reality. Each of us must reconcile our lives — and our loss — differently.

Most of you will have to rethink your assumptions about grief and let most of them go. There’s simply no road map for the kind of pain you’re experiencing.

With this in mind, please remember that it’s okay to move slowly. I suspect that learning how to live with parental grief might be something like learning to navigate the world if you’d had perfect vision, then gone suddenly blind.

We bump into things. We fall often. We are easily derailed by a million triggers and reminders of our child. We’re exhausted moving through the world and (very likely) exhausting to be around. All of this is normal. I hope that there are people in your life who don’t shrink away from offering you support for as long as you need it — and you’ll need it forever.

It takes a lot of energy to move forward when a big chunk of your heart remains behind with your child. This is okay. There are people walking this same path with you — some of us are ahead of you and some are following your footsteps. Some of us have learned how to step away from the path entirely, but we’re never far from it.

As time passes, the world may grow impatient with your grief. This is not your fault, but it hurts. It can be distressing, isolating, and triggering. Remember, there are those of us out here who understand.

Here is what I hope for you:

I hope that you find someone who will sit with you without trying to fix a sadness that can’t be fixed.

I hope that you learn how to navigate the world in a way that nourishes you and allows you the space you need to express your love for your child — without judgement or expectations. Remember, your love remains the same in a world that’s changed. This can be the hardest part to bear.

I hope that your grief gets lighter. I don’t believe we ever “heal” or “move on” from parental grief because we’ve lost so much of our heart. We’re not just grieving what we’ve lost, we’re grieving what we continue to lose as each day, month, and year passes without our child. No, we don’t heal, but the grief does get lighter for many of us and I wish this for you.

I hope that the memories of your child bring more joy than pain. It may take years for this to happen. I’ve only recently started experiencing joy again. As time puts more distance between me and Ana, I’m learning that I feel closest to her when I the grief is lighter, more distant. It was the opposite in that first couple of years though. I felt closer when I was deeply sad. At first it was difficult for me to let go of some of that profound sadness because I associated it with my daughter — it somehow connected me to her. But that began to shift as I entered the third year of grief.

Now, I feel closer to Ana when I experience genuine joy. Being outside, photographing birds, and spending time with my younger daughter and husband help me get to this new place of joy — a joy that’s braided with sadness. I hope you find something that helps you in this way — something that acts as a beacon in the darkness.

I’ll end where I’m started. I’m sorry. I am reaching out my hand to you and if that’s too much right now, that’s okay too. I’m here, dropping breadcrumbs, stringing fairy lights, and trying to make this dark path a little brighter for you and all those who come after me.

Occasional poet. Writer of sad essays. Novelist. Birder and amateur photographer. I enjoy trees.

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