10 Things that Surviving the Loss of a Child Teaches You about Life

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No child dies without leaving a legacy and a purpose for those that are left behind

©Sandy Peckinpah

One thing is certain, I still stumble over the question, “How many children do you have?” With it comes the dread of my brain conflicting with my heart and the devastating truth. Then, it becomes a decision as to how much I want to reveal, how long will I know this person, and if I hold back the real answer, will I once again feel as though I’ve betrayed the memory of my beautiful son that tragically died at the age of 16 years, 3 months, and 10 days.

It’s been many years since the loss of my child, and with each year I accrue more wisdom from the experience and from listening to other parents like me. We’re connected on a level that most people could never understand, and the very thought of it brings up the fear that it could actually happen to them. That’s why people say, “It’s the worst that could happen.” Because it is.

Through the years, we, as parents who have experienced the worst ,and in time have regained our quality of life, have also learned some things that many people don’t know. It’s that intimate knowledge from such a tragic loss that can give you a perspective and the awakening for an even greater life, if you let it.

Here’s what we know:

  1. We can’t control the lives or destiny of our children, or anyone, for that matter.
  2. Love harder now. You might not get the chance tomorrow.
  3. All we can count on is now. Never take a single day for granted. Pay attention to every breath you take, it keeps you present.
  4. Always tell your children how much you love them and look in their eyes when you do. Sometimes we just assume they know.
  5. No child dies without leaving a legacy and a purpose for those that are left behind. For me it was writing to help others heal.
  6. Mourning is not a plan for healing. Healing takes hard work and a commitment to wanting joy in your life again.
  7. In order to heal you have to live in harmony with others. You can’t push people away; you have to let them love you through this. In time, you can do the same for them.
  8. People often say the wrong thing but their intention is borne from love. Forgive them.
  9. Cry your tears deeply now because some day you will miss them.
  10. Love is a connection and a force of energy that doesn't diminish as you heal from the loss of your child. Your love will not even fade. In fact, it will continue to grow. How amazing is that!

And that last point is the one I’m encouraging you to think about. If you’ve just lost your beloved child, please know that the love you have will always be with you. In fact, you’ll miss the depths of grief you feel now. It connects you to your child in a way that you hold them close in a love so deep, you feel it in every breath. You and your child are one, forever.

It’s been years now, and I’ve worked through the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance, (defined by noted grief expert Elizabeth Kubler-Ross).

I’ve discovered in my own recovery that my loss didn’t end with “acceptance.”

While acceptance is a critical step, it simply wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to spring off of acceptance and feel happy again, not resigned. For me, there was a very necessary 6th stage of grief. It’s what I call “resilience.”

Resilience is the ability within you to bounce back. Grief is not a life sentence. It’s the sorrow borne out of loss, but it doesn’t take away the possibility of feeling happiness and joy in your life again. You have an opportunity to honor your child by healing.

Healing for me wasn’t like crossing the finish line of a marathon. It was more like arriving on the other side with a soft gentle agreement that I have indeed found acceptance and opened a space in my heart to feel joy again.

Which brings me back to who I was before the loss of my son. I didn’t know then, I had a force inside of me that was so strong it wouldn’t let my spirit die. It’s the same force that we see in nature when a seed bursts out of its husk and starts to grow, or when a baby chick finds the power to rupture its shell to see a greater world. It’s the power of renewal, and we all have it, it just needs to be broken open.

l know that now.

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