18 years. My son died 18 years ago. It’s been 18 years since I kissed my son’s cheek for the last time. I begin to imagine that I would be packing him up to go to college. He would be excited and nervous about the upcoming changes in his life. And I would be worried. I wonder what he would be studying. What his interests would be. I don’t know these things….I can only imagine. I DO know that I miss him everyday. The day that he died, changed my life forever. I know that although the grief has changed over the years, the sadness is just below the surface to access. I know that a large scar has formed over my womb and over my heart.
July is National Bereaved Parents Awareness Month. It is dedicated to raising the awareness about the unimaginable grief parents go through and the emotional support needed to attend to those with child loss. Parents grieve the child that once was and the potential growth that was stolen from them. A parent will mourn the child and the identity that was wrapped up in that person. There are physical symptoms to combat: tiredness, achiness, loss of appetite, numbness, anxiety, insomnia, and gut related issues. Many times, parents lose social circles, motivation, and the ability to tolerate others. In the first few years of child loss, the grief can be a grim, long and dark road that seems impossible to navigate.
Since the loss of my own son, I have attended to those mourning the loss of a child. Parents who have lost their child need a safe place to talk without cliches or religious platitudes. They need a place to feel the strong emotions without judgment or a silver lining. Many people ask,”What do you say to someone that has lost a child?” Grieving parents need your presence. They need your kind support. Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing at all.
For those that have lost a child, know that your feelings are valid. Allow your feelings to be felt. Although they are strong, it is better to move through those emotions than numbing them.
Try to take breaks from despair. Even if it is for a brief second. Parents tend to punish themselves when experiencing any kind of joy, but dosing the grief is the only way to survive it.
Find people that make you feel seen and heard in your pain. It will not always feel the way it does at this moment. Find ways to honor your grief and honor your child. That may be in nature, a favorite picture, or a song that reminds you of them. Honor it with intention and purpose. You will never move on from this grief, but it is possible to move through it.
I am 18 years removed from that incredibly traumatic day. But my son, Aiden, is honored in my work with others, my children, and my ability to find love and joy while still holding pain. May you honor your own journey in the month of July and every morning that you open your eyes to start a new day.