In March of 1991, a car broadsided ours at 65 kilometers per hour. We had been on vacation in England for less than 48 hours. Every bone on my left side was broken; my pelvis was folded almost in half; many internal organs were shredded.
None of that mattered.
My daughter Amelia, just 18 months old, died on impact. I’d weaned her just the week before. My son Jeremy, barely more than 4 years old, never had another brain flicker. They took him off life support three days later, but he’d been dead that whole time – while I had been unconscious.
When we got to the hospital, my husband was the only one relatively uninjured. We knew no one in England. The staff gently tried to get him to remember the phone number of anyone back in the USA. There were no cell phones back then and he was in inestimable shock.
Eventually, he remembered the number of the guy with whom he carpooled, Jim. According to the story I was told later, Jim’s wife Jill answered the phone and because of her level head, she and Jim alerted everyone we knew in the USA and got us massive help.
When my husband and I divorced a few years later, I lost touch with Jim and Jill.
Today, my former husband called to tell me that Jim and Jill’s son died last night.
My first reaction was tears of sympathy. Now I am remembering how it feels to lose a child of any age. The parents are always devastated whether the child was 4, 24 or 42.
There is no way it can compute in our heads or our hearts – how can I be expected to bury my own child?
Is this really happening?
How will I live? I don’t even want to live!
There is no bottom to this tumbling grief, deeper and deeper into the abyss.
The shock, the horror, the endless memories, the stupid things people will say, the heart broken into a billion pieces, the stupor of loss.
At first, it seems there will be no end to the anguish. Life will be dark, bleak, hopeless from today on, until you die, too.
Every part of the world is irrevocably altered. The waves of pain are unbearable, and yet, we somehow bear them.
Then comes the first anniversary of the death date; the dead child’s birthday; holidays; family get-togethers without the child. The pain is blinding, hurtful, shocking. Life rips off the scar over and over and over.
And then, one day, me and my former husband, Jim and Jill, and all of us who have lost children will somehow notice that time has passed. We have survived.
And if a person survives long enough, happiness, joy, peace, acceptance somehow eventually creep back in. Always.
There will be a moment when you catch yourself laughing again and think, “I can’t believe I am making it through this!”
Your capacity to be compassionate toward others will expand mightily. You will see the world with new eyes, sadder but wiser. You will never be as confident in The Way Life Works, but the state of constant anguish will one day subside and you will find…
Life continues. For better or worse, whether you want it to or not, whether you think it should or not.
One day, you will find a new kind of peace, a new kind of joy, a new way of seeing life and all that transpires in it.
This most terrible of life tragedies will eventually be in your personal history, not always in the forefront of your mind. Millions of parents have trodden this painful path before you. We are holding out our hands and saying, “I’m so sorry you have to join us, but there is a way to find solace and even happiness again. Come this way. Take my hand.”
And you will. And one day, it will be tolerable.
My love and sympathy to you, Jim and Jill…and to every other parent whose heart is touched by this post and the memories it evokes.
If you or a loved one are hurting today, please get yourself a copy of my free ebook.
4 thoughts on “After A Child Dies – What Happens to the Parents?”
My love and sympathy to you and your former husband, Wendy, and also to Jim & Jill.
Thank you so much!
How long did it take to feel peace
Peace in Life or Peace with their deaths? In theory, peace is attainable to all people at any minute. This is the core philosophy of meditation, as far as I can ascertain. And I meditate. “Peace in life” – the sense that my life is peaceful? I divorced my husband in 1994, right after our precious subsequently born daughter turned 2. That was a MAJOR step toward peace for me! So my life started getting better right then. That was more about that marriage, though, than anything to do with the deaths of our children. Our marriage had some deep core issues BEFORE the children died. Feeling more peaceful than distraught on a daily basis? Probably around 1998. So 7 years after the accident, 3 years after the divorce. I “settled down” – I bought a home in a town I loved, started spending more time in nature, started a more committed practice to my own spiritual/emotional development. Peace with their deaths? It will probably never happen. I may accept it. I may live “around” it, I may recognize that many good things that happened since would not have happened if I had stayed in that marriage and/or we had not had the accident. But “peace” with the fact itself? No, I never expect to achieve that.
Thank you for your thought-provoking and wise question. I’m guessing you must know this arduous journey, so I extend my love and sympathy to you. A person once said, “It’s hard to watch your child grow up…in your mind.”