A daughter or son dying is NOT similar to:
. . . a child leaving for college.
. . . a child running away.
. . . a child moving far away.
. . . a parent’s failing health.
. . . a parent or spouse dying.
. . . a spouse cheating.
. . . a marriage ending.
. . . a severe medical diagnosis.
. . . a dog, cat or other pet dying.
. . . a friendship or job ending.
These life events are all hurtful, tragic, sad and life-altering.
Yet, a child dying is NOTHING like any of these losses.
While each of them is heartbreaking, there is NOTHING similar to standing at a gravesite and watching your child lowered into the ground.
Many people cannot comprehend the magnitude of losing a child. The reality is that unless you have walked this path, you will never understand. And that’s ok. We bereaved parents are glad that you can’t understand it. We wouldn’t wish losing a child on anyone.
I have a metaphor that may shed some light: Child loss is similar to living within feet of a bottomless abyss.
I’ve had several of these losses listed above. For me, these endings felt similar to jumping off a high dive into the deep end of a pool. It was heart-pounding scary, anxiety producing and surreal. Yet, I swam to where my toes could touch the bottom. The secure poolside was within sight and strokes away.
Losing my daughter was/is similar to jumping off a boat into the middle of the ocean. I come up for air and the boat speeds away. There is neither a bottom to touch or sides to swim to. The body of water is massive. To not be pulled under, I have to either tread water, float or swim. I have “helps” such as a life vest, arm floaties or fins. There’s no sense of “a break is coming.” To keep going, my muscles must strengthen. I cannot pretend that I’m in a pool, but I’m facing a dark, subterranean ocean.
So you can see how, similar to a jellyfish sting, hearing “I know how you feel because . . . ” creates hurt. Unintentionally, this statement doesn’t acknowledge the oceanic depth of our pain.
All this said, please stay the course with grieving parents. Losing a child is not contagious. If you spend time with us, a dark tidal wave will not consume you. Be the life preserver that uplifts your friend – don’t be the boat that pulls away.
Keep in mind that a bereaved parent teaches us about resilience, strength, endurance, devotion, compassion and eternal love. I’m grateful for the grieving parents who have modeled these strengths for me.
As a person of faith, I believe that my daughter Leah and I will spend eternity together. This perspective doesn’t mean that I am free of sadness here and now. After 5 years, I still ache for her presence. I expect to feel the same after 10 or 20 years. The grief waters won’t ever drain because my love for her is everlasting.
If this post touched you, please subscribe to this blog. You will automatically receive my posts via email. Thank you for reading it.