What would be your absolute worst nightmare? I think we would all agree – the loss of your child.
It is something I think about from time to time. My children are still very young. My youngest will be 15 in March, another will be 17 in June, my only daughter will be 24 in October, and my eldest will be 27 in July. They have their entire lives in front of them.
My bookends have both suffered with anxiety and depression. Their mental health is a constant reality in my daily life. I am a strong advocate for both talk therapy and medicine. Judge me all you want about giving medicine to my children – I have first-hand knowledge of how low depression can make you feel. Like your life is not worth living. I will stop right here for now.
I have read many comments from women on GreyFeathers about the loss of their child. Four women were kind enough to allow me to ask very personal questions, and each one has their own perspective: the death of a baby (from an aunt), a death of a 4-year-old girl, the suicide of a young man, and the death of a 36-year-old old man from cancer (all three from a mother’s perspective).
What would you do if your child passed away? When my grandmother was 92 her youngest son passed away from a brain aneurysm. Completely unexpected. She virtually stopped talking until her death at the age of 99.
I suppose it is somewhat different from when your child suddenly dies without warning versus knowing your child is dying. Ann said the grief of a child that takes their own life is different from a child that passes away naturally.
Tricia and Lorry
Tricia writes that her daughter Teresa “Tess” was sickly, “she was a Congenital Heart kid.” When she was five months old, she had a heart bypass. By the time she was seven months old, she underwent open heart surgery. When she was nine months, Tricia brought her daughter to the hospital because she hadn’t been feeling well. While they were waiting for a bed to become available, Tess suffered a major heart attack. The doctors worked on Tess for 40 minutes. She was severely brain damaged during that time and left as a Spastic Quadriplegic for the remainder of her life. Also while they were in the hospital they biopsied her lungs and found out that she had Pulmonary Hypertension. Because of the brain damage, Tess had epileptic seizures which ultimately caused her death, she was nearly 4 1/2 years old. Tricia said she was such a happy baby before the heart attack, making baby “burbles” in the crib every morning when Tricia picked her up.
Tricia would like everyone to know that she is doing really well. After Tess passed away, Tricia did a counseling course to help her grieve, and found her niche. Now, 25 years later, she is helping others with their grief, post suicide, homelessness, etc.
Lorry saw her sister’s life virtually change overnight after her infant daughter passed away from a staph infection, just weeks after she was born. I asked Lorry if the death affected her sister’s marriage, and if it had affected her other children. Lorry said it caused her sister to change, she became unhappy, and her teenaged children suffered because of it. She left the marriage and ran out on her family. She hasn’t seen her sister since 1986.
“An angel in the Book of Life wrote down my baby’s birth. And whispered as she closed the book, “too beautiful for earth.” – Author Unknown
These next two women I introduce are Lisa and Ann… I feel a strong connection with them. Lisa’s son, Alec, took his own life at the age of 25. And, Ann, whose son passed away leaving behind two small children.
Alec, Lisa’s son, suffered from anxiety and depression for years, starting around the age of ten, probably from several years of stomach problems. When Alec was ten, Lisa brought him to a therapist who put him on scale of 1-5 (5 highest probability) around a 2 for potential suicide.
Lisa never saw signs that her son was depressed, but she saw that he was angry and had some motivation issues, saying his teachers hated him. “He struggled with school calling himself stupid, but he was a really smart kid.” He also had some really close friends who never noticed the anxiety and depression. “They were as blindsided as me. One of them can barely look me in the eye and he’s now struggling with his own demons on why this happened and no one saw it coming… most of his friends were all about themselves, going to Alec for advice.”
After some blows, his older sister moving away, a short-lived relationship, and being turned down job after job, 2017 was a really bad year for him. He found relief in alcohol. By the time his 25thbirthday rolled around in August of 2017, Alec was in a really emotionally bad place. Lisa said she left town that Friday and when she returned on Sunday, she found him dead. “Took a gun to his head. Had a YouTube video on his computer that showed how to do it right. Didn’t know he had those guns.” She said she begged God to rewind time back to his birthday so his death was just a dream and not a reality.
The death of Alec has had an impact on his sister, she is a Nurse Practitioner, getting her master’s in mental health, in hopes of helping people like her brother. Lisa said in the 1+ year that Alec has been gone, not much has changed. She is so so sad, crying a little every single day. She is trying to bring joy back in her life, but it’s hard to do when she was the one who found him, no suicide note.
I asked her how she was able to accept and put one foot in front of the other. In her words, “I have no choice but to accept… Alec chose to end his life… he told me he hates his life… sometimes I feel guilty because I brought him into this world and he suffered… Even though the shoulda-woulda-couldas pass through my head a lot… feeling guilty that I couldn’t or didn’t help him more… that I should have seen this… ultimately, he chose this route. He didn’t do it to hurt us… he did it to end the pain.”
Lastly, Lisa said, “What I would like everyone to know was that he was an awesome young man… very compassionate and caring even with all the shit going on in his head.”
Funeralwise.com says, “Don’t avoid talking about the child: If you avoid mentioning the child, it may be interpreted as if the child never existed. You can ask about what happened. If the bereaved is not comfortable talking about the situation, don’t press them.” The advice goes on to say, “Don’t vanish: As we return to our normal activities after a child’s funeral, it is easy to forget that the parents need our support more than ever. Their lives will not return to “normal.” In fact, all the activity leading up to the funeral has likely kept them busy and occupied with planning and details. Once that flurry of activity is over, the house will be quiet and the activities that they would normally do with the child are gone.” Don’t expect them to get over the death nor bring up other people’s experiences.
Ann, the mother of the 36-year-old man said that his death is a “hole in your heart that never heals.”
Ann’s son was troubled with anxiety and depression when he was young, self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, and finally diagnosed in his twenties with bipolar depression.
She wasn’t fully aware that her son was dying, and the diagnosis of Adenocarcinoma was a little too late – two weeks before he passed away. The tumors in his abdomen never showed up on any diagnostic tests. He had lost 100 pounds in six months. He suffered immeasurable pain for months before being medicated the last two weeks of his life.
I asked Ann how this knowledge affected the rest of her family. She had an older son and a younger daughter who were constantly praying – every moment of every day. They took shifts sitting with him, praying with him. Her son was distressed knowing he was going to be leaving his children. When he passed away in the middle of the night her daughter had been sitting with him.
She says she expressed sadness and a sense of loss with no problem, but she also felt she had other responsibilities – that other people were watching her to see how she handled her son’s death. She said, “even though sorrow was a part of my daily life, I didn’t allow it to consume me.”
This year will be twenty years that he has been gone. She said she has “Scott” days when she thinks of him, but it has turned from sorrow into pleasant memories. And she wants you to know that you need to grieve and get your sorrow out, do not hold it in. Do not pretend that everything is going alright.
I asked her if there were similarities between the death of a child and that of our parents/siblings. Ann said, “Nothing compares to the death of a child, but perhaps a suicide death of your child or through murder… those shatter families, those deaths. They are worse.” But the death of your child, “singularly vastly more heartbreaking than any other family member.”
Finally, Ann said what she wants you to know, “I live with the knowledge that I will see my son again in Heaven. I will be with him in eternity. My faith is my sustainer.”
What I learned from these resilient women was that they wanted to speak about their children. The candor that came across each message and email was raw and full of compassion. These women, Lorry, Tricia, Lisa, and Ann want you to know that Joy is a part of their lives, but that they will always be missing a piece of their heart.