Welcome to Grief Watch. If you are having an issue with placing an order, please contact us.


/ Post by Codi Lindsey

by David Wood

Dear Ones,

Though I don’t know you, my heart breaks for the loss of your child. It doesn’t matter how old he or she was, or how he or she died, or whether death was sudden or long in coming. Your son or daughter is gone forever. There is no pain like the one you’re feeling. You are now in the club no one wants to be a member of: that of parents whose children have died.

I’m a member too. As I write this, it has been over two years since our son’s death of chronic illness. They have been the worst of my life. Although we saw his end coming, we could not prepare for it or imagine what it would be like. When it happened, it felt just as sudden and shocking as if he had drowned or been hit by a car. His death anniversary is iconic for us, the day everything changed forever, the moment that has divided our lives into two halves: before he died, and after he died.

People are going to say (and probably already have said) hurtful things to you, meaning well but not realizing the pain they are causing. Examples include “he’s in a better place now” (wrong: the best place for him is here in our arms), “God had another plan for him” (unless you have a shared religious faith making this statement appropriate, it isn’t; I don’t believe that a loving God plans the deaths of children) and worst of all in my view “just make it a good day” (as if you have the power to simply switch off the suffering – you just foolishly aren’t doing so). Try to remember that these folks intend no harm – they just don’t have a clue.

I had always read that the death of a child is the leading cause of divorce. It turns out that this is a myth. An out-of-order death strains a marriage terribly, because it’s hard to comfort your spouse when you’re in agony yourself. Tragedy can open up fissures in a relationship, but a child’s death by itself doesn’t split couples up. In our many years of being married, my wife and I have never been closer than we are now. This is because we’ve walked through together, and are still walking through, the worst thing that can ever happen to parents, bar none. The shared experience of unimaginable grief can yield -- sometimes sooner, often later -- a sense of having endured the same ordeal and found resilience together. A new chapter in our marriage has arisen from the ashes of our child’s death.

While thankfully I have never felt suicidal, I can understand parents who do. I didn’t want to put a gun in my mouth, but I sure felt like curling up in a fetal position in bed with the covers pulled over my head, or getting in my truck and driving forever, leaving my wife when she needed me most. There were days when I’d come to, sitting at my desk, and couldn’t remember how I got to work. It was as if I were in a fog, going through the motions of a life, not feeling anything until an aperture opened and the searing grief hit me like a runaway train. Then the aperture would close, and I’d go back into the fog. It was like this for a long time.

But hurting myself would have put my family through a double tragedy. Being deeply, clinically depressed (as I’ve been at times) may provoke the feeling that family and friends would be better off without you. Try hard to see that this is a response to dreadful pain and suffering. You didn’t do anything to deserve this, even if you were the cause of your child’s death. If you’re feeling self-destructive, please see a psychiatrist as soon as possible – today – because there are things he or she can do, right now, to help you.

To fathers: When you feel angry about your child’s death, or guilty that you didn’t/couldn’t save him, try to see that this is self-destructive behavior too. There are lots of things I could have done to prevent or interrupt the unique sequence of events that led to the death of my child. I can’t do anything about this now, and blaming myself won’t bring him back. I must live with the facts as they are. My heart fills with a special sadness for the fathers who directly caused the deaths of their children, or had to watch these deaths happen, unable or not knowing how to help, as I did. These are very, very hard things to live with. We must forgive ourselves. Others depend on us. We must be warriors and face the pain. We must find the strength to carry on.

The absolutely worst part of all this has been watching my wife suffer. I’d take on any agony to prevent even a moment of her pain. As evolved as I like to think I am, I still feel protective toward this strong, proud woman I fell in love with, who is more powerful than I am in so many ways. A coping skill I used in my darkest hours was to do some small service for her that I knew she wouldn’t notice, like refilling the tea kettle after using it. It took me out of my own pain for just a moment. It reminded me that when things are at their worst, when all means of comforting myself fail, the best thing I can do is to find some way to comfort her. This has helped the healing.

One of the many things I’ve learned from the death of our son is that I can’t expect the universe to be fair to me. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. Why this is isn’t for me to understand. Railing at God is an understandable reaction to terrible, unexplainable loss, but it doesn’t help. If you have a belief system that offers a credible answer to why your child’s death happened, grab hold of it and don’t let go. If you haven’t, try not to blame the universe for being cruel and arbitrary. Most of the time, when lightning strikes out of a clear blue sky, it hits the other guy. When my son died, it hit me. I guess it was my turn.

In all this you will find out who your friends are. There are people in your life who will melt away, and others who will step up. Ignore the former, and resolve never to waste on them the limited hours you have left on this planet. Life is fragile and brief. The people who sit and listen to you sob, who ask you how you are doing and want a real answer, who bring food and take out the trash for you, are messengers of all that is good and kind in this world. Hold on to them. Now is the time to accept help.

Life will never return to normal, but it will get to a new normal that is not as painful. For many, many months, I didn’t think of my son every day – I thought of him every hour, sometimes every minute, of every day. It isn’t that way now. I think of him daily, but I don’t cry daily. I still find myself fighting tears when I’m in an airport waiting for a plane and I see a family with small children. I remember what a little sprite our boy was, full of energy and promise, delightfully alive. Recalling that this life is now extinguished still makes me fall apart sometimes. I think it will always be this way in some measure.

In the coming months and years, there will be a lot of bad days, and increasingly, good ones. Know that there are many of us walking through the pain you’re feeling, never coming out the other side but still moving toward a place where most of the time, we can remember our children without breaking down. We will find ways to honor their memories. We will tell stories about them to the next generation. We will wake up one day and find that we are stronger and tougher than we thought we were. And we’ll know that our children are somewhere out there in the universe, smiling, waiting for us.

With deepest, warmest sympathy,

You have successfully subscribed!
This email has been registered