Wendy's Blog

A Time to Mourn, a Time to Die

by Wendy Keller, mother of three

I went to the cemetery yesterday to “see” my children.  They are buried in Arcadia, just outside Rose Parade-famous Pasadena, California.

As I drove past places they had been alive and with me, I felt my stomach start to tense.

When I reached the last stoplight before the cemetery entrance, I was already quivering.

How can this be real? How can this be my life?  Did this really happen to me, that I buried two children?  In 1991? 

Before that accident, I had a family and a husband and a home and Thanksgiving dinners and a dog and a swing set.  Who was that woman?  Who am I now without them?

I pulled into the cemetery’s big black iron gates.  I always feel like I’ve entered an Inner Sanctum when I do this, like there’s my life out in the world, the one I think about, the one I struggle with, the one I dream in, the one in which my living daughter abides.  And then there’s this life, the raw, real, private one where I am the bereaved mother of two.  I feel my soul being squeezed in a vise as I drive the winding path toward their graves.

A huge sycamore shades their plots.  The “Garden of Innocence” is reserved just for dead children, and I see there are new graves out to the very edge of the curb.  Mexican people put a lot of colorful stuff on grave sites, so I look past all that to see the two headstones I came for.  The sprinklers are on, the big arc splashing rainbows over more than a hundred dead babies.  Some headstones have only one date on them – how sad would that be? At least I still can hear Amelia’s laughter echo in my head – she was 18 months old when her neck broke on impact.

When I am in this kind of grief, I become a different person: dazed and  inert. I sit in the car for a while and watch the sprinkler, trying to think of a way to kneel before their headstones and not get wet.  I can’t think of any solution, even though hours later I will remember I have an umbrella in the trunk.  My legs have turned to stone. My heart has become a sabre and pinned me to the back of my driver’s seat. I ask myself if I have enough tissues with me to make it through this.  There are not enough tissues in the whole world.

Next thing I know, I am out of the car, barefoot, watching for the sprinkler to shift away.  Each time it returns, I take shelter on the dry side of the massive sycamore than has been watered by a trillion tears, many of them mine.  I walk to their headstones, then rush back to the tree several times.  Through tear-fogged eyes, I see the riding lawnmower guy on the section one over.  I wish he wasn’t there.  I want to be alone with the corpses of my children, please.  Go away! I beg him silently. 

A man in a green workman’s shirt suddenly appears on my right.  He walks to the rainbird and disconnects just that one.  He smiles gently at me and walks away.  I thank him and crumble to my knees in the wet sod as if I had been shot in the back. Right now,  I wish I had been. I weep on their graves and listen to my logical mind tell me these are wasted emotions – they will ruin my day and not resurrect my precious babies.

My heart doesn’t care. I will cry so hard I suffocate.

My mind tells me it has been more than 20 years since I sat in my wheelchair staring at two child-sized holes in the earth. I should be grateful I ended up being able to walk again.

I feel grateful for nothing.

I sob so hard I scare away the man on the riding mower.  I should have worn waterproof mascara – I have a meeting nearby right after this.  My heart splits open from 20+ years of  anguish and all my blood spills out, reddening the soil.  In my last moment of life, at last I collapse peacefully, my physical being seeping into the earth to merge again with the remains of my long-lost children, whatever remains of them now.

But no, it doesn’t.

There is no way to carry this for so many years and not have gone mad. There is no way to live each day.  How have I done so?  Why have I tried?  The pain is as overpowering as ever, it never lessens, it never goes away, this anguish is all I’ve ever known, all I ever will know.

But no, it isn’t. It does go away.  After some unknown period of weeping time, the grief abates. I pick the grass shards out of the matching indentations in my knees and I get back in my car. My eyes are red and swollen.  I use the last tissue in the box. I see a bird fly past.  I look at the half-drunk bottle of garish orange soda some grieving Mexican mother or father left on their less-than-one-day-old baby’s headstone, along with a spray of polyester tulips.  I know the gardeners take that stuff off every single night, so those parents were here this morning too. And then left too.  And I must leave too. I am capable of continuing to live.  Somehow. We all seem to do it.

I drive out the black iron gates and average human life envelops me again.  I survived the accident and they did not.  I am here and my precious children are dead.  I don’t know why or if there even is a why.  I take one long last deep shuddering breath and resign myself for the millionth time to a lifetime without them.  My only choice, other than death, is to live this life with compassion for myself and others… and with awareness while I yet breathe.


Are you a bereaved parent?  Do you love someone who is?  Please, comment on this post.


  1. Hi Wendy, You write with such compassion and rawness. Someone asked me yesterday did I think I was stronger as a result of my experience? Everyone else appears to think I am but if I am stronger then I am equally and opposingly more vulnerable, Love to you from one bereaved parent to another xx

    • Linda – I get asked that too and I always am confused by the question. I want to explain, “Yes, but given the option, I’d much rather be weak!” You know?

    • Hi Wendy, I struggle everyday with the murder of my adult child. It is like a fresh wound some days that just won’t heal. I do get inspiration from reading your story. I hope that one day the sadness will get less bearable.

  2. lisa kendall says:

    I too can relate to the pain, sorrow, greif, Hole thats left in my heart. But i was so very taken back by the comment of mexicans and plastic flowers and such. Thry too, are someones children that are grieving and one can only hope their parents dont read this as they too grieve. I am new to your pain, books etc. But i will not condone that kind of negative words for others. Very taken back. I was taken back at a time i carried this pain, your pain and then did a 180 degree turn when i read”Those mexicans” . Even more sad now!

    • Lisa~

      Perhaps it would be good for you to re-read Wendy’s article before commenting. Nowhere in her article does she slight the Mexican culture by referring to them as “those Mexicans”.
      She noted the area she was visiting (i.e., Pasadena, Southern California) which has become highly concentrated in Mexican population; good, bad, or indifferent.
      How very unfair of you to turn a very touching and emotional story into something it wasn’t for your own personal spin. Apologies to Wendy are in order!

      • Thanks, Cinde. Where you now see the word “colorful” I had originally written “gaudy”, so I can see how it offended her. I do see those objects as gaudy, but it doesn’t negate the very real grief of any parent of any nationality who has lost a child.

        Much love to all who have suffered the death of a child, or been impacted by the loss of one. My own brother wrote to say he’s surprised how much Jeremy’s and Amelia’s deaths affected him. I think he must have been only 16 or so when they died.

        Thank you again.

  3. Your thoughts and feeling I am sure espress those of ever so many parents. We should never have to burry our children, yet that is a part of life that happens and it is something we all pray won’t. For many of us those prayers were not to be as we desired so we have suffered that extremely difficult pain. I too have had to experience this pain but that deep, agonizing, real physical pain has subsided for me and is now a tender sweet memory. I have turned my pain back to my savior knowing that he has already suffered this pain for me to help me survive it. I carried that pain for many years as I attempted to heal. I always said the pain lessens but the scar and the hole in your heart is still there. I have since learned for myself that the Savior heals without scars. Yes there is still a hole in my heart as my sweet Barbie was a part of me but the love of my savior fills that hole with peace and knowledge and while I miss her terribly and yes I would have probably taken a pass on that strength and remained weak if given the option, but I wasnt and I didnt and the best way I can honor the time I had with my daughter and the love she gave is to embrace the peace my savior is willing to give me. I just feel if we can’t reach that place it some how retards our growth and affects those that are still here with us. I still have my days of tears, but they do not consume my entire being. For a long time I feared if I let that pain go it would lessen then fact that my daughter was here and is n ow gone, it would be disloyal to her and her memory would fade. I have traveled many miles of sorrow and pain and growth and change since February 26 1994. Her memory is still as strong and important in our lives as ever and her time here made a mark that can never be erased. I cherish that time and that Mark and it hlpe to mold who I am and who I will yet become if I allow it to. I pray that I will allow this to be a positive and indelable mark as the one she left. My love and prayers for those that have travled this road.

  4. Wendy,

    Knowing you as I do, none of this surprises me but it does sadden me deeply. What you and countless other parents (including my partner) have gone through is unfathomable. You are the walking wounded. I know for some these life-altering events create a deepening of their faith. For me, sickness and death creates a never-ending doubt. I just don’t get it. I hope there is an after-life just so someone can explain to me the reasoning behind all this suffering. I just don’t get it.

    I’m glad you are my friend and I applaud and encourage you to continue telling your story so that others who have similar grief can know they are not alone.

    As for your cultural references, I completely understood your intent. Any good writer paints the complete picture and you did so well. I am sad that anyone would misconstrue it and encourage them to re-read your story with an open heart.

    Hugs and love,


  5. Grief wells up from my body…my mind has found ways to cope, my life has filled in well with out her, I love and have survived, I have accepted loss as part of the mystery of life but…my body will never fully grasp that my daughter is dead. When the grief spills out of my cells I am plumeted back into the unfathonable…Kirsten is dead…that is not possible and the struggle to accept goes on. Sometimes I feel as if my body will never really fully get ‘it’. And that part of the path of grief is me simply accepting grief….as it comes, when it comes. It is not logical but deeply, sometimes, frightening alive.

  6. I visited my son’s grove often at first. The first rain fall, the first snow fail. The first winter, the first spring,summer and fall. It has been 35 yrs and yet there are times I just want to dig him up and take him home. I still see him as he was rolling under the truck that hit him. I still see the blood on the side of the road.. I still don’t understand why he had to die like a dog, but I do know that I will see my son again someday..Jonathan, mommy loves you very very much and misses you everyday. See you soon baby boy..

    • Anna, oh my! I think about digging them up and taking them home every time, too. It’s so hard to understand that a child’s life stopped, isn’t it? His death sounds horrifying and so traumatic for you and the others who were involved. You have my complete empathy.

      I wish you peace, love and joy.

  7. Wendy,

    Stories like these always brings tears to my eyes and my body to sob. Ironically this kind of response makes me feel alive! To be moved to an instant emotional state. I can not imagine the pain but I know that if I react like this to others, I am horrified as to how such a loss would devatate my life! I know my special needs daughter will probably not reach adulthood and I don’t know how I will live without her! She is my whole world!

    Thank you for sharing your most intimate moments.


    • Hi Elena,

      I can’t imagine caring for a special needs child! Had my son somehow lived and come off life support despite his extreme brain damage, he would have been in a vegetative state for whatever time he had left. One of our friend’s sons is buried adjacent to my children and he was only about 22 lbs when he died at age 4.5, never having fully lived, walked, spoken or really responded to anything. I always wondered how his mother endured the daily heartbreak of caring for him and knowing he still would not survive. Such an untenable situation!

      Sending you my best wishes for love, peace and joy.

    • Carol Floyd says:

      I can relate to how hard it will be when my special needs child goes home to be with the Lord. If it weren’t for her, I’m not sure I could have survived her brothers death. I had 12 years with him and now 13 gone by. It does hurt less often but still hurts as bad. The Lord’s grace has been poured out abundantly for my husband and I. Life has turned out harder than I had ever imagined.

  8. So beautifully put. I have 5 children, ages 13-21, all of whom are still alive and with me to this day. I have never lost a child, I lost the children’s father. My precious husband, soul mate and friend two and a half years ago at the age of 43, suddenly in a freak accident (inhaling reflux into his lungs while asleep). I am still trying to figure this whole grief thing out. Everyone says ‘time heals’, but the pain just doesn’t go away.I am beginning to realise that it’s not ‘healing’ that I need, but rather ‘strength’ to be able to live each day along side the pain. I am learning lessons about life that I didn’t want to learn, and like you realise that there is no choice in this… my journey will be what it will be, I have to decide how I am going to cope, who I will let this tragedy make me become. Thank you for your words… they just touch a place inside of me that I guess only someone who knows the sorrow can. Kia Kaha (be strong), love to you today, Sally (New Zealand).

  9. I know that we all have to keep living, but HOW is a different question.

    I feel as if I’ve been set on the ocean (involuntarily) in a little raft and my homeland is forever gone. Somehow I will have to find my way to a foreign land and learn how to survive.

    Right now everything seems colorless and joyless knowing that my son is not here on this earth. It’s very difficult to keep on moving without him.

    It seems unfathomable and so unfair that young people who are filled with life and plans and dreams can have all that snatched away in an instant. And then we, the parents, have to go on, fully aware of who is missing from the world.

    For others looking at us from the outside, perhaps out of sight is out of mind. In reality, for any parent who has lost a child, out of sight becomes ALWAYS in my mind.

  10. kathy spinks says:

    i buried my daughter. She was 29 years, 6 months and 17 days old. She took her own life. September 26 it will be 8 years.I breathe, i eat, i sleep, and i grieve.Everyone told me time would help heal, it hasnt. I ask God every night to take me in my sleep and yet every morning i’m still here.My only desire is to be with my baby again, this life holds nothing i cherish. I can’t even imagine burying 2, this pain forced upon me by my childs death is more than unbearable, it is a living hell.I am sorry for your loss, we certainly never wanted to join this club, did we?

    • Hi Kathy,

      No, we did not want this. And I’ve heard suicide is an even greater blow to the heart. I’m so terribly sorry for your pain. I know it is excruciating. At times, I suspect all bereaved mothers (and perhaps fathers too, I don’t know) feel like you express “…this life holds nothing I cherish.” Somehow, we wake up again and again. I sometimes wonder why, and other times I feel good about and have respites and other times I am even happy for a while. For me, though, I wasn’t in that place a mere 8 years later. I was still in the mostly dark stages then. Big, huge hug to you, Kathy. I feel your pain and I send you my good wishes for peace, love and joy in your life again.


      PS – Funny how we all count. Jeremy was 4 yrs, 3 months and 10 days old when he died.

  11. Alicia Fehdrau says:

    I too lost a daughter Dec. 27, 2002, she was 15 1/2 yrs old & lived her whole life on medications & surgeries to survive as she was born with a heart defect. We celebrated every birthday as though is could be her last. I miss her dearly & my life has been forever changed. I am grateful for my other two children, but the void in my heart will never go away. I truly believe there is no greater loss in the world than that of an innocent child. I hold onto the fact that God has a perfect plan for each and every one of our lives & even though us parents will never understand our loss on this side of Heaven we must know that we will see our precious angels again someday!! And oh what a glorious day that will be!!!! God Bless

  12. Wendi,

    I have not lost anyone but your story and others sure put me in that place. The way I live my life is to say things happen for a reason. I believe your reason may be to teach others and help heal their pain. If this didn’t happen you would not be doing what you are doing today. I read a simple book called “who moved my cheese” it’s helped me cope with change in many different ways. We must move on and find our place in this world. The pain you and others have is unbearable, I see that, but I also see that you are helping others in many ways and you wouldn’t have done what you are doing today if this horrific experience you had with your lose of your children. I have three boys 24-6 years old. I don’t think I could live anymore without them. It’s got to be the worse thing to ever happen. I’m sorry life took you to this path but I am glad that you took this path to help others thank you

  13. Wendy thanks for your blog.

    I am trying to work out how best to help my sister with the loss of my nephew 5 years ago now. I know how heartbroken I feel at his loss so I cannot imagine her feelings. I’m terrified at the idea of having my own children due to this.

    Do you have any tips on how I can help her? She has withdrawn and has focused all her attention on online gaming and her friends on their as a way of avoiding real life.

    • Forgot to also mention, he had a younger brother, and she was pregnant when it happened, so 2 more since. I just feel like shes withdrawn from them as well and it makes me sad and worried for all of them.

    • Hi J,

      So many people have asked for this! I’m in the middle of writing a new ebook just for grieving parents. It should be up and ready to sell at a very nominal sum before the end of the month. I’m so sorry for your sister. Avoiding the pain is certainly one way people deal with.

      Love and good wishes to you and her.


  14. hoy mi corazon se siente triste mas ke otraz veces ver una imagen de los piececitos de mi babe muerta a revivido momentos tan dolorosos, su nombre gissela elis nacio de 25 semanas de gestación, peso una libra 8 onzas, su fecha de nacimiento 10/11/2010 falleciendo ese mismo día, siento una gran opresión en mi pecho, pero se ke tengo que seguir sonriendo y viviendo por mi angelito, sienita, melvin, mi esposo y por mi. llorar y expresar el dolor es de valientes y no lo he sido realmente 29 meces 9 dias diciendo estoy bien sin estarlo, sonrriendo cuando solo he kerido llorar, imaginando siempre como seria mi gisselita, llorando por las noches a escondidas, para al siguiente dia dar mi imagen de aparentemente fuerte y sonrreirle a todos a la vida, asi es mi vida y se asi sera por mucho mas tiempo, pero al igual disfruto y doy gracias a dios por todo lo vivido, por lo ke me a dado y me ha quitado, gracias por mi bello hogar, por mis familiares y amistades, bendisiones para todos pido siempre. AMEN.

  15. I know my son’s resting place intimately, visiting in all weathers and seasons.We have just had our fourth Christmas without him.He should have been thirty last year.
    Like all bereaved parents our life changed in a way I will never come to terms with .
    I thank you for sharing your honest thoughts

  16. Wendy my names chad I’m reading your article cause I’m searching for happy ness in my own life sometimes idk where to find it maybe I should enjoy each day I have with my parents and my helper thanks

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