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How I’ve learned to grieve since I lost my child.

Thoughts from a grieving mother

Grieving is so difficult. Everyone does it differently, and no way is the wrong way. Almost 18 years ago, I lost my mother to cancer, I was devastated. I thought my entire world crashed around me.

Then eight years later, I lost my dad to cancer too. I think for me, losing dad was a little easier than losing mom because I didn’t have the regrets losing him that I did with her. So many missed opportunities with her. I never forgave myself for that.

When I lost my mom, I lost myself. I lost my faith. I couldn’t believe in a God that could let someone suffer like she did. I was so tired of hearing people say “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” This is not even close to being true. God gives you things that you absolutely CAN’T handle, so that you’ll lay it at His feet and give it to Him. That faith was lost for many years.

Then when my dad got cancer, the  little bit of faith that was still present was completely gone. I couldn’t understand how a man that had never done anything to anyone, could come home from Vietnam with scars, with PTSD, and horrible memories, but he came home, only to be given a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a cancer caused by the Agent Orange in Vietnam. How fair was that? Where was this God everyone spoke so fondly of?

Years later, my own child, at five years old, was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor. She was the strongest person I’d ever met, but as horrible as this sounds, deep down in my heart, from the date she was diagnosed, I had a gut feeling that she was going to die too. I wanted to believe that they could “cure” her, but my faith was gone. I did ask for prayers for her, because I thought that If those who had such strong faith prayed, then maybe, just maybe she would be spared. 

Sydney fought so hard for 3 years exactly. She was diagnosed February 28, 2015, and after fighting for three long years, she passed away on February 28, 2018. I’m sure you’re thinking that this just had to completely make me lose what little faith I had left.

Wrong. Sydney believed. Sydney knew that Jesus was the ultimate healer, and that He may not heal her here on earth like WE wanted, but she knew that eventually He would heal her. She loves Jesus and actually told her oncologist when he told her that she had no more options that he was going to “Be jelly (jealous) because she was going to meet Jesus before him” and in her 8 year old mind, she thought it would be cute to tell him that “If he’s going to be Jelly, he should be Strawberry, cuz it’s the best.” Oh what I wouldn’t give to have had that kind of faith.

Sydney wasn’t scared to die. She knew where she was going. She knew that her body would be perfect again, and that she wouldn’t ever have to be in pain again. She’d never have to endure hours long chemo treatments that caused her to be so sick. She wouldn’t have to do any more radiation, that caused severe burns to her already weak body. She wouldn’t have to continue to let the doctors cut little parts of her away over and over trying to get all the cancer. 

She was ready to meet Jesus. She spoke to me about him and about Heaven daily. She taught me that He understood that I was mad. she understood that I didn’t want him to take my baby. She taught me that she’d have eternal life in Heaven and that IF I believed, that one day I could be reunited with her again. Her explanation was “if you believe and it’s not true, you’re not losing anything...but if you DON’T believe, and that it’s all real, that I would lose the opportunity to spend eternity with her.

Grieving is so hard. You never know when a wave of grief is going to come over you  and knock you down on your knees. Sometimes you lay in bed, not wanting to be bothered, by anyone, and you lay there in self pity wishing for things that are beyond our control. You second guess every decision you made. You wonder if you did everything that you could to save her.

But most times, you have to hide that grief, well in my case I do, because I have young children who miss their sister too. When they see me upset, it just causes their grief to be stronger. So you begin to learn to fake it. When someone asks how you’re doing, you say sometime like “I’m good” or “I’m doing as good as can be expected” and you hope that is the end of the conversation, because you don’t really want to tell people that on most days you can’t function. Or that on most days, you can’t breathe and that you feel like your heart is in a million pieces. You try to be strong for everyone else, and then BAM out of nowhere it hits you and the tears fall uncontrollably and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get them to stop.

People ask how you are, but really, most people don’t want the HONEST answer. They can’t take it. They can’t imagine what you’re feeling unless they’ve lost a child too, and in all honesty, you don’t want another parent to know how it feels. You wouldn’t wish this pain on your worst enemy.

I like to describe my grief, after almost two years as a stone in my pocket. On that first day, after she died, the stone was so big in my pocket, that it rubbed sores on my leg. It caused physical pain every single day, and I wasn’t able to find a moment of happiness. The longer it’s been since your child died, that stone starts to wear down after being in your pocket for so long. It’s not a sharp, it’s started to get smoother, but sometimes, it still wears sores on you and causes pain. Not as often, and not as hard...the pain somehow gets softer, but it NEVER leaves. Grief is just an extension of the love you had for the person that you’re grieving. If you didn’t love them so much, you wouldn’t grieve for them.

Holidays and birthdays, and their Angelversary are the WORST! You relive every single moment. You question every single decision. You wonder if you had done something, anything different, would your child still be here?

I’ve learned to TRY to give myself some grace. I try to convince myself that I did everything in my power to save my sweet girl. I’ve found my faith again, and. I follow the Lord wherever he may lead me. I teach my children that God is good, ALL the time, and that in this world, there is pain, but someday, we will be in the most beautiful, loving place and we won’t always feel this pain. Someday we will walk the streets of Gold and we will be reunited with her.

How do I grieve? Sometimes I lie in bed and just cry, and isolate myself from the rest of the world. Sometimes I surround myself with those who have lost their children, because it feels good to be around people who KNOW...people who get it. Sometimes, I push all those feelings back and I try to smile through it all because I don’t want to make other people uncomfortable. I cry. A LOT. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere and sometimes I know exactly what set me off. But I TALK about her. I say her NAME. And I want others to do the same. You saying her name or telling me a memory of her don’t remind me that she died, I already know that!! When you mention her, when you say her name, it tells me that you remember that she LIVED!

Advice to those who have a friend who has lost a child.

  • Be present. Don’t just leave because YOU are uncomfortable! 
  • Talk about them! Tell your favorite memories! Celebrate their life!
  • Don’t tell them what they “should have done,” tell them that they did their best to save their child. Validate them.
  • Do not feel sorry for us or pity us. That’s not what we want. We just want to be able to talk about our child without those looks of pity. 
  • Advocate for the cause. In our case, it was childhood cancer, but children die from so many other things. Help these parents honor their children by supporting the causes that they believe in. 
  • Listen. Be present. Understand that sometimes, we just want someone who’s willing to be there. 

There is no wrong way to grieve. Everyone does it differently. Support us in whatever way we choose to grieve. Grieve with us. Our children were important. Our children were special. Our children should be here. 

Our last days...Our goodbyes.