In my little neighborhood, I am known as the mom with the two adorable children. I am always with them, whether at the park, school or grocery store. They drive me completely nuts and are the reason for many of my gray hairs. In spite of the craziness, they are also the absolute loves of my life. They are my world and my reason for being.
What a lot of the locals don’t know is that there was another baby that came before them. His name was Liam Jude and he died at 9 days old due to a congenital heart defect.
This September marks seven years since Liam’s passing. It is still painful. For some, seven years may seem like a long time. To me, it often feels like yesterday.
All of our family and close friends remember Liam too. It was heartbreaking for everyone involved. They breathed a huge sigh of relief when I became pregnant again just a few months later. Our loved ones took it as a sign that life would soon return to normal. While a very promising thought, it couldn’t have been farther from the truth. There is no question that my subsequent children have brought me great joy and happiness. However, they don’t replace the baby I lost. The pain is eternal.
As a bereaved mom, I have written many an article about my experience with this unthinkable type of loss. As with many other grieving parents, some things will just never change, no matter how many years go by. Here are some of the common ones:
1. The Flashbacks
I actually just had one last night. I bent down to give my 5-year-old daughter a kiss while she was sleeping. I noticed how peaceful she looked. I immediately pictured Liam in his little coffin. This is quite common for us bereaved parents. Other parents may be plagued by visions of their children in the hospital or holding them as they took their last breath. While my flashbacks are not constant anymore, they are still a part of my life. Some of them bring uncontrollable tears. Still others bring a smile to my face. I expect to have these flashbacks for the rest of my life.
2. The Guilt
Initially, I didn’t even want to go on with my own life. Losing a child is completely unnatural in the cycle of life. It is the parent who expects to go before their baby. As days and weeks passed, I also wondered what I had done to cause his illness. Was it my fault? As a parent, you would do anything to keep your child healthy and safe. How couldn’t I have done the same? Still to this day, I suffer with guilt. My children make me smile and laugh daily, and I often wonder if it is okay that I have found happiness again through them. As my other children are experiencing milestones and celebrating birthdays, I think of Liam. He never had that chance. He should be right here with us.
3. The Strain in Personal Relationships
My anger at some of the people in our lives was quite intense. As an outsider looking in, comforting the parents of a deceased child is a tough one. People do not always know what to say. Some may not attend services. Others may not acknowledge the loss at all. There are also the people who criticize the ways in which you grieve. They may be unhappy that you don’t attend as many functions anymore. All of these situations can not only exacerbate the grief of the bereaved parents, but can also cause huge rifts in personal relationships. While a lot of my anger has diminished and I have even forgiven those who have hurt us, I will never forget.
4. The Triggers
Several weeks after Liam’s loss, my husband and I paid a visit to the supermarket after a trip to the cemetery. We heard another woman call after her son. His name, of course, was Liam. We both stopped cold in our tracks. I needed to leave immediately. The same happened the first time I saw a redheaded boy, who was about 4 years old. That could have been Liam in a few years, I thought. Yet, he never had a chance to celebrate even one birthday. To this day, I do cringe a bit when I hear another mom call after her Liam at the park. I still get sad when I see another redheaded boy. These instances have become a part of my life. Forever.
5. The Spontaneous Tears
Some are easy to hide under a pair of sunglasses. Others fall freely. Many triggers cause them. They are often hard to predict as they can come about very suddenly. These tears may make others very uncomfortable. However, they are perfectly normal. We need to shed these tears. They are cleansing. Above all, we do not owe anyone any apologies for our continued grief.
6. The Anxiety
As someone who already suffered with anxiety prior to my son’s diagnosis, this one was pure hell. In the initial weeks and months after Liam’s death, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Talk therapy helped, as did the support of others who also had losses. To this day, I worry about my living children a bit more than I should. I can be a tad overprotective. I am known to overreact to any common childhood ailment. This will be an ongoing thing, I am sure. The thought of losing another child is not one that I can bear.
7. The “What Ifs”
What if I didn’t get the flu so early in my pregnancy? What if I hadn’t travelled so much for my job? We bereaved moms are really good at beating ourselves up in addition to everything else. The truth is that we did nothing wrong. Although I struggle with this one to this day, it has gotten better. I know that I would have done anything for my child.
8. The Acceptance of Knowing That Things Will Never Be Perfect
Although my children provide me with the unconditional love and happiness that I have always yearned for, there is still a missing part. I often describe it as having a piece of my own heart missing. This won’t change. Summer days would have been brighter if Liam were still here. Vacations would have been more fun. Holidays would have been more memorable. Most important, the love within our family would have been even stronger. We would have been complete. It is bittersweet indeed.