If you've recently lost a child...
Surround yourself with people who are able to care for you the way you need to be cared for. If what you need is to have someone listen to you talk about your child, then work out which of your friends are able to do that. If all you want is someone to cry with you, then find the ones who are happy to do just that.
Allow yourself to cry. I learnt early on that being able to cry is truly God’s gift to those who are grieving. It is a good antidote. No, it doesn’t change anything, but crying brings release in a way that nothing else can. Do not pay attention to anybody who tries to tell you that you shouldn’t be crying so much. Cry. Howl. You need to in order to survive the pain.
Allow your partner to cry too. And by this I mean—if he has spent most of the day caring for you and your family, then try to give him the time and opportunity in the evenings to weep if that is what he needs. Ask your partner how he is feeling or what he is thinking whenever you have the chance, so that his grief is also given a voice.
If you are up to it, try to write down your feelings. In the early days, you will feel like you are being sucked into a vortex of such extreme and insurmountable emotions that it can become rather frightening and crippling. Writing down some of what you feel—it doesn’t have to be articulate, coherent, or eloquent—will help you to face and cope with some of those emotions. It is soothing and therapeutic in an inexplicable way.
Do not feel guilty or bad about not wanting to talk to or see anyone. You have to do what you have to do. People will understand. If they don’t, they will soon learn. Right now, your first priority is to protect yourself.
If you have other children and you are finding it hard to look after them while carrying such enormous grief, perhaps you could arrange for people to come around for a couple of hours each day to take them to the park. This will give you a chance to sit, to breathe, to hurt, to pray, to cry—whatever it is that you need to do to help you cope with the pain.
Do not be surprised if you experience anxiety and fear alongside your grief. This is something that happened to me, and I have read of other people feeling something similar. In those early weeks after losing Cameron, every afternoon I would ask Rick to close all the curtains and lock all the doors. It was like I no longer felt safe. It was extremely unsettling, but over time, the anxiety subsided.
Start a memory box (or boxes) for your little one. I have two for Cameron. One of them contains his photos, keepsakes from the hospital (which include his handprints, his footprints, and locks of his hair), clothes that were made especially for him, the invitation to his baby shower, the program from his memorial service, my pregnancy journal, and a baby book that I made for him. The other holds all the cards, notes, letters, and other expressions of condolences that we have received from people since Cameron’s death. Both are utterly precious to us.
There is a wonderful community online: lots of blogs written by women and men who have lost little ones. It is amazing how comforting it can be to read someone else’s words because it reminds you that you are not alone and it reassures you that what you are feeling and going through is normal.
Even though people talk about “the stages of grief,” the reality is that there are none. Grief is not linear or finite or predictable. So please do not think that you are not “coping” or not “grieving the right way” just because your emotions do not follow what that framework dictates.
Grief will almost always outlast sympathy. It is likely that in a few months, people will start to assume that you are feeling better. When that happens, it will hurt. Try to keep a few close friends around you who you know you’ll be able to count on in the long weeks, months, and years ahead: people who understand that there is no limit on your grief and who will always be happy to listen to you and weep with you.
In years to come, there may even be the occasional person who has forgotten about your child. That will be like a knife to the heart. In the beginning, I got really angry about this, but over the years, I have become more resilient. One of the things I have learnt is that it is up to me (and Rick) to keep talking about Cameron to our friends and family; to never let him be forgotten. He is a part of our family too—so, as his mother, why shouldn’t I talk about him? Not only does this keep the memory of our children alive, but it teaches people that it is okay to talk about our children even though they are no longer here. The natural inclination will always be to avoid the topic, because people fear they will remind us and make us sad. But the reality is that it is the silence that hurts. By taking the initiative to talk about Cameron, I am teaching others that it is okay to talk about him and that we actually want them to.
In those darkest hours, you will feel incredibly alone. The reality is, however, that there are many of us who have been through something similar. We may all grieve differently, but we have all experienced that utter darkness. I say this not to diminish your loss in any way, but to reassure you that there are others out there who would understand and do understand some of what you are going through . . .
Over time, your heart will begin to mend. You will never “move on” or “get over it” as some people might think. Your child is a part of you and will remain a part of you forever. There will always be a part of your heart that holds all the sadness and tears for the child that you have lost. But by God’s grace, you will smile again. You will laugh again. You will sing and dance again. You will feel joy again. You will find purpose to life again. It will never be the same as before. You will learn to rejoice and grieve at the same time. You will learn to live with both tears and laughter. You will never, ever forget your child, and you will always miss him or her. You will always carry tears in your heart. Every day. But even so, your heart will begin to mend. It will rebuild itself into something new. Something that is stronger and even more capable of love than before. You cannot fathom this now, and that is okay. But know this to be true: your heart will not remain shattered forever.