April 17, 2024

Grief: five things grieving parents want you to know


This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward

Over the past few years, I’ve not made my personal history a secret. My articles are always chock-full of anecdotes from my life experience, both humorous and serious.
One recurring theme that popped up in the text over the years is the experience of losing my son Jonathan, and with good cause, the experience was a testament to the highs and lows which we experience in life.
Time and again, I interact with people who understandably have no idea how to act around me, my wife or my surviving children. So I would like to present five things you should know about parents who have lost a child.
First, my child is irreplaceable. No matter how long ago it happened or how many children I have had since, absolutely nothing can fill the void left over. Children are non-substitutable.
Second, your silence is words enough. I can’t tell you how many awkward situations I’ve found myself in when people, unaware of what they are doing, go on and on, not knowing that what they are saying is tearing you apart inside. There is no “At least…” all we need to hear is, “I’m sorry, I’m here for you.”
Third, I no longer exist in the same reality as you. Everything is different when your child dies: holidays, birthdays, random times during the day that makes you think of them, there is no escaping it. Next time you see me or someone like me staring off into the distance, that’s where we are, on that planet where our child still exists. As much as we enjoy your company, we’d always rather be on that planet.
Fourth, I am now a different person. This may be the hardest part for others to grasp and I understand, you went (to an extent) through this loss too and now you feel you may be losing a friend. But the reality is, I am not who I used to be, for better or for worse.
I feel differently about things that I was once so sure of, my taste in music, movies, food may have even changed.
When you lose something the way I have, you lose part of yourself with it and we may never get it back. At times I may be angry, jaded or irrational and at other times I may be smiling for no exterior reason, this will not go away.
Finally, I will never get over it. No amount of time, distance, happiness, success, achievement or distraction will ever mend the wound, period. It is supposed to hurt, the pain means that they mattered and I’ll be damned if I’ll let that go away.
Whether I show it or not, I will hurt every day for the rest of my life. When parents die you become an orphan, when a spouse dies you become widowed, but there isn’t a word for people who have lost a child, it’s just that terrible. In the pantheon of human languages we cannot muster the vocabulary fortitude that may adequately describe such a loss.
Something must be said for the siblings left behind, my daughter just turned 4 years old, and is forced to live in the same reality as her parents so as you take these pieces of advice, remember the pain their little hearts have gone through and above all, be there for them. I’ll get through this, and I’m here for anyone who feels they may not.