Over the last few days, months and years there have been many tragic incidents resulting in the untimely deaths of young people from our community as well as surrounding areas. Being a bereaved parent since 2006, after the loss of our son Drew, at the age of 24, I am compelled to share some of my thoughts and experiences that only a person who has lost a child can truly understand.
First and foremost, every time I hear of another young person taken too soon from this world, my heart feels the pain that these newly bereaved parents are feeling, and it truly is the worst pain that they will ever have to endure.
Only after we lost our son did I understand “heartache” and “heartbroken”, as for weeks my heart truly did feel physically “broken.” During the early weeks and months there is no sunshine, only darkness. You think the world should stop; your child has died, but, as we all know the world keeps turning. People will surprise you. You will have compassionate friends and family and then you will have friends and family that just don’t get it. They want to fix things; they want you to return to the same old you but that is not possible.
You will never be the same. You will have strangers who become close friends and close friends that become strangers. You are entering a “new” life and time will always be referenced as before and after your child’s death. The journey is incredibly dark and long with many ups and downs and can be extremely lonely if you cannot share your feelings and thoughts. I have met many grieving parents over the last decade and one thing I have learned is that we all grieve differently, but we all share many of the same emotions. Anger and guilt are two of them. Anger, because this shouldn’t have happened. Guilt, because as a parent we are supposed to protect our children.
As a bereaved parent for the past 11 years, I feel I can offer some suggestions on how to comfort those grieving parents who now find themselves on this horrible grief journey.
Throughout our grief journey we have met many, many bereaved parents and we all shared frustration at how people reacted to our children’s death. People saying the most hurtful things because they really didn’t understand that perhaps all we needed was someone to listen. We don’t need advice, we just need you to listen and share stories of our children. We don’t need you to tell us we are going to be okay. We don’t want to be okay; our child has died, and we are grieving.
In the early stages please don’t ask “how are you doing?” How do you think we are doing, our child has just died? It stabs like a knife.
Please stop by for a visit and pay your respects. Yes, it is a difficult situation, but it isn’t about you, it is about the people who have just had their lives shattered with the loss of their child. Listen, ask about our children, share stories about our children. Often people are afraid to mention our children in case it “upsets” us or makes us cry. We are heartbroken. Nothing can make it worse. We want you to remember our children. It is our worst fear to have our children forgotten.
I remember a visit about a year after our son’s death from a friend I didn’t really know all that well. One of the first things she asked was, “So how is this whole Drew thing going?” It was so refreshing for someone not to be afraid to ask how our grief journey was going. We have now become good friends. Another friend would call and ask how things were going and of course the reply would be “okay” or “good” and he would say “no, how are you really doing?”
Then I had other friends and family who called a couple of times but were hurt when I wasn’t able to answer the phone because the grief was too over- whelming that day. Sorry, but your feelings are irrelevant in this situation. Please keep calling and leaving messages; they are appreciated beyond words.
Please don’t tell us our children are in a better place. What better place is there but in the arms of their parents?
Please don’t compare our child’s death to that of your 80-year-old parent or your pet. Losing a parent is extremely sad but it is in the right order. A parent should never have to bury their child.
Holidays and celebrations are extremely difficult. Please don’t send cards of joy, there is no joy in our world right now and it is just another dagger in the heart. Please remember our child’s birthday and death anniversary. Random cards sent just to say you are thinking of us and our child mean the world.
Often with the loss of a child it is the mother that most concern is given to. Please do not forget that the father is grieving just as much as the mother. If there are other children, they have not only lost their sibling but also the parents they once had. Don’t forget they are also on this grief journey.
Remember that grief does not have a time limit. We never get over the loss of our child. Somehow we learn to live without our child, one minute, one hour, one day, one week one month one year at a time.
We were living in Calgary at the time of our son’s accident and soon after I was introduced to a “club” which no one wants to be a member of. “Compassionate Friends” is a worldwide organization with chapters here in Canada and we became members of it while in Calgary. We were a group of parents in all stages of grief having lost children in all diverse ways – accidents, suicides, sickness and murder but we all shared the same horrible loss and we all agreed a loss is a loss is a loss! It didn’t matter how our children died we felt safe being able to share our stories our fears and our tears with people who understood.
I would like to see if there are other bereaved parents in the area that would like to get together to share stories of our children and help each other on our grief journeys and perhaps set up a chapter of “Compassionate Friends” here in Slave Lake. If so, please contact myself Connie Baird by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.