You Can't Understand What It's Like To Lose A Child Unless Your Child Died Too

by Caila Smith
Originally Published: 
Tara Guhl Photography

Trigger warning: child loss

I can’t watch movies like Miracle or Heaven Is For Real anymore. Whereas I used to love these types of tear-jerkers and uplifting stories, now they hit too close to home. It’s too much for me to visually witness and relive a fear I already experienced, and sitting through a “happily ever after” sort of ending that my family wasn’t able to live leaves me with an almost envy instead of goosebumps.

Because unlike the children of these movies, my daughter wasn’t one of the ones to beat the odds. I never saw her little chest rise where it once was still. A movie wasn’t made about the faith I carried that she would be healed, and there were no news headlines about the baby who defied death and lived to tell the tale.

On the day my daughter died, nothing miraculous took place at all.

Now, my joy and brokenness coexist. My heart is truly happy for the parents in this world with children who survived near-death situations, but it’s also so shattered that my family’s story will never resemble theirs. A million lifetimes could pass me by, and I wouldn’t be any closer to understanding why it couldn’t have been my baby who was the one to receive a miracle.

Courtesy of Caila Smith

It’s never been my style to put a degree on another person’s pain. To me, grief is grief is grief, and there’s not a piece of me that believes one loss is greater than another. But with the death of my daughter has come so many others who mistakenly believe they could possibly understand my hurt from past experiences, even as they stand there with all of their children alive and in-tow.

Really, their misjudgment does nothing but add more pain to my heavy load. Now that I speak from a place of experience, I can say with full-hearted confidence that the near-loss of a child does not and never will compare to the actual loss of a child, and we ought to stop treating the two experiences as one and the same.

We wouldn’t tell someone who is paralyzed that we understand what it’s like not to walk, because we almost lost the function of our legs. So tell me, why do parents feel like they can relate to my experiences, because they had a near-death experience that almost took the life of their child?

Courtesy of Caila Smith

When you almost lose a child but a miracle comes your way, I am to assume that you are met with the most glorious type of relief. I bet you feel weightless when the good news comes around to deflate the burden of heavy shock. Suddenly, all of the hopes and dreams for your baby are set back into motion with the beat of a heart.

Meanwhile, I’m still searching for that relief. The hopes and dreams I once had for my daughter continue ceasing to exist alongside her, and what I cling tight to now are the sweetest memories I play on repeat.

This is the heavy weight of grief. This is what it is to lose a child, and it’s not something you can relate to until you’ve heard the doctor telling you what no parent wants to hear. If we could realize that without drawing comparisons, or trying to insert our story where it only adds pain, then we have the potential to validate so many bereaved parents’ incredibly deep pain.

This isn’t me negating the heart-wrenching experiences so many parents and children go through and need to heal from. Thankfully, our traumas aren’t on some weighted scale against one another. And hell, this isn’t even me proclaiming to understand the multitude of situations which I haven’t lived through myself. But this is me drawing a firm line to say that traumatic experiences with our children that don’t end in death are incomparable to child loss.

Courtesy of Caila Smith

Because when you lose a child, you don’t just lose them that day — you keep on losing them each and every day. You feel the loss in the memories that you wish you could be making, in the pictures you want to be taking, and in the day-to-day routine that leaves a bereaved parent’s heart aching.

This isn’t a trauma that can be looked back on as a time where trials were defeated, and it’s not just a scary chapter in one’s life story. For the parent, losing a child is not something that can be overcome, and the untimely death rewrites their entire life story. This involuntary club has a cost of membership that is much too cruel and steep, and unless you’re a member, please, don’t tell me how much you understand me.

For child loss resources, financial support, or to connect with other parents who just “get it,” head on over to our Scary Mommy Child Loss Resource Page for more.

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