July is Bereaved Parents Awareness Month, a time to advocate for and raise awareness of one’s life after the loss of their child. But we the bereaved still don’t feel nearly seen enough.
The efforts bereaved parents use to create a certain level of transparency in our grief goes unnoticed by the general public. You see, our cause is taboo. One that’s better off not to dwell on because it’s uncomfortable and heartbreaking. It’s the kind of cause that’s only mentioned when another parent is forced to join the throes of it’s unfortunate hold. Even then, you’re only truly remembered for as long as the funeral.
But our grief extends beyond those immediate moments following the mass destruction of our lives. It’s our shadow, if you will, and we wish you could understand us without having to become us.
We want you to know…
1. We are still “normal.”
“When someone sees [a bereaved parent], they look at us like we are broken. Like we ‘can’t function right,'” Chelsea Fairchild, mother of two, tells Scary Mommy about the passing of her three-year-old son Riley. “We are humans just like everyone else. Just because we struggle with [the] grief of a child, doesn’t mean that we are outsiders.”
Though we are different, we are still us… just a bit more rusty around the edges for a time. After the initial grieving stages have passed, we still long for our friendships and other relationships to see us through the toughest days ahead. And if they are nowhere to be found when we are ready, it hurts, it’s noticed, and it will always be remembered.
Carrie Stafford, Colorado mother of four, says she feels like others see her differently since the death of her one year old son Bryce. “People view [bereaved parents] as fragile and weak and feel uncomfortable around us. We don’t have a contagious disease… we have a broken heart!,” she says.
2. Our child(ren) died, but we can’t stop living.
The most common phrase acting as a “filler” toward bereaved parents in conversation seems to be, “I can’t imagine.”
It’s understandable. And almost always, these words are meant to serve as a good testament to the bereaved parent’s strength. But when the topic is dwelt on, when someone continues on their banter about a loss they haven’t experienced, but just “could not” live through, what is meant to be taken as comfort can quickly turn into something that is unintentionally hurtful.
Chances are, there was a time when the grieving parent didn’t have the slightest clue how they would survive their own child’s death when it actually did happen to them. They didn’t want to survive it. They felt wrong for surviving it. But they didn’t have a choice in the matter, and it’s important to recognize that when using filler words such as these. (Better yet, just be there. No filler words are needed.)
There comes a time when even the bereaved parent has to learn how to smile again. And I promise, unless you’ve been there yourself, you don’t know what it took for them to do it. That smile has been earned without question.
Haley Bennett is a mother of two from Indiana who lost her firstborn daughter, Mayleigh, when she was born still at 38 weeks and 5 days. After some time of isolation and feeling frustrated about entering the “real world,” Bennett says that she always wound up hearing responses from others such as, “I don’t get how you could go through with something so tragic and be the way you are today.”
“I just have to remind them I didn’t choose to live like this, and I had to push through it,” she says.
3. We are constantly aware our child is gone.
“Sometimes it really hurts deep down that [Bryce] is forgotten and the harsh reality sets in once again that he should be here to share [everyday moments] with us, but he’s not,” Stafford says.
Rest assured, bringing up our deceased child(ren) is not going to suddenly depress us or instantly remind us of their death. We are so blatantly aware of their nonexistence in every single moment of our lives.
“We WANT to talk about our children. That’s how we keep them alive,” bereaved mother Adrienne Brown says when referring to her late son, David.
Bereaved parents have a parental instinct to protect and love their deceased child. To lose a child is to be given a duty of carrying on their legacy, and it’s hurtful when the rest of the world fails at merely acknowledging the bereaved parent’s child’s existence.
“I wish people would just relax and open up with me and my loss. After all, I’m the one living daily with it, not them,” Hartley Geyer, bereaved mother of twin boys Maverick and Milo, tells Scary Mommy.
4. We might feel trapped in one moment in time.
While everyone else’s life moves on after the funeral, for the bereaved parents, their new life is just beginning. For a time, their very being will be consumed by this forever-defining day. Grief brain, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations and PTSD following the loss of a child are all very real, valid and consuming aftershocks of grief.
Bereaved parents aren’t looking for a free pass on all-the-things in life, but be gracious. Going back to work, parenting, or even just day-to-day activities can feel overwhelming in the acute stages of grief, and even for extended spurts in the many years to follow. Stafford, an elementary school teacher in Colorado, says she was “unsure how to function in a world that kept moving forward” after the passing of her son. She felt like her “entire world stopped.”
“Just being around children was a challenge when I wanted to be curled in a ball in my bed forgetting the rest of the world around me existed,” she tells Scary Mommy.
5. Grieving a child lasts forever.
My great-grandmother lost a child to pneumonia at three years old, and my grandma has always said that her mother grieved that baby until the day she died at 96 years old. When I told one of my friends this to hopefully help her understand my grief after my daughter’s death, her reply in the form of pure shock was, “Really?! That long?!”
From that moment on, at a mere three weeks following my daughter’s death, I’ve felt this world’s harsh and expected timeline of my grief. But the truth of the matter is, the bereaved parent will grieve for as long as we live.
“I’m never going to be done grieving because my love for my son Bryce is SO BIG and my connection SO DEEP.” — Stafford.
“I live every single day with the pain of my son’s death. Every day I wake up with a broken heart that doesn’t seem to heal.” — Fairchild.
“I will grieve my children for the rest of my life. I will always wonder who they would have been. What they would look like. Who they would grow up to be. I will ALWAYS grieve my babies.” — Geyer.
“Grief NEVER goes away. There are good days and bad days and on the bad days they are like waves drowning you in an ocean.” — Brown.
So, yes, bereaved parents really do and will grieve for “that long.”