Ten Lessons from the Surreal Life of a Mom Who Lost Her Only Child to the Newly Orphaned Parent
Numbness has set in. You can barely feel your fingers, yet you have all kinds of emotions running through you every second of the day and night. You're going through each day as if you're watching yourself go through the motions of being a human being, barely remembering what you did 3 seconds ago, much less 3 hours, or 3 days ago. Each day, when you wake up, you are horribly surprised to find that that, yes, this is your new reality, and yes, you did make it through another night, and yes, you are still alive. You often forget to breathe, and therefore find yourself out of breath more often than not. With that, hiccups seem to happen more than you ever remember in your previous existence. People are talking to you, and around you, yet you cannot comprehend what they are saying. It often feels like you're in a Charlie Brown episode and the teacher is talking gobbledygook, because nothing seems to make sense. Their mouths are moving, but all you seem to hear is wawawawawawawawaw. While you're traveling through this surreal existence, you will have some episodes where you land back inside your body and somehow move through another day. These are some lessons for those moments of awareness…
Lesson one: Be thankful for every single word anyone ever says to you from this moment forward. People are not taught what to say when you lose a child. More often than not, they say shocking things like, "Think of it as retiring from parenthood early. Now you can travel and do all the things you'd have had to wait to do till he/she graduated." While they ("they" are the people who have never lost a child) have no idea their comments are hurtful, it's best to be thankful that they tried to say anything at all. At least they tried. Remember, there aren't ANY words that will bring your baby back, so you really can't blame someone for saying the wrong thing, because there's no right thing to say. You can advise them, however, to talk with you about your child. Ask them to say your child's name and tell you stories about how they knew them. Remind them that it is important to you that they remember you were, and still are, your child's parent.
Lesson two: One thing that never seems to go away is the question from strangers, "How did you lose him/her?" At the onset, you will find that telling this story over and over and over becomes easier as the days go by. It's often like you're listening to yourself on a record that replays again and again. That's ok. It's good to have something to talk about with the people who ask. As the days and weeks pass, though, you will find that it doesn't matter how your child died at all. What matters is that they did die and they're not here for you to physically touch, hug, kiss, etc. So, tell your story often and thank people for asking about your child. Remind them that you'd rather talk about your child's life though, rather than their death.
Lesson three: Write about your child. Start from today, and work backwards, as far as possible. Write down the events of today, then yesterday, then the day before, and so on. Do that until you can no longer remember the days. Look at your calendar to help you remember. If there are days with no information, then move to the days previous that you remember, including birthdays, holidays, vacations, and other events; big or small.
Lesson four: Keep a new calendar to write down what you do from today forward. Ask your guests to "sign in" when they visit you, and to write down what they helped you with, or what they did while they were with you, as well as gifts received. I know this seems crazy, but you'll want to know this later on down the line. It could be that they helped with your dishes and you can't find the dish you need a few months later. Maybe they'll remember where they last saw it.
Lesson five: If you're lucky enough to be reading this before you have your child's funeral or life celebration, put someone (or several people) in charge of collecting names, phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses, at the service. This will help you to know who was there, and also to write thank you cards later. Our list has evolved into a constantly updated directory of family and friends who want to be updated periodically on our progress through this new life.
Lesson six: Even though you may feel like you don't want anyone around you right now, take their help while you can, as, soon enough, they will all disappear from your daily life (about 4 months, or so) because they need to move ahead with their own lives. At that point, it may feel like they completely forgot about you, but remember they have lives of their own that they must get back to living. Be thankful for them while they are around. You'll find that other family and friends simply vanish into thin air (sometimes those that have been in your life for years). Why? Maybe because they are afraid that if they're near you, their child may die too... I don't know, but just be aware that you may lose some of your close family/friends. On the flip side, you'll be completely amazed at the beautiful people, angels really, who do show up to help, cook, clean, say your child's name, etc. Cherish them and thank them often.
Lesson seven: I thought I needed to read every single grief book ever written, thinking it would help me cope with losing my son. In all reality, the books led me to more sadness, as I was often questioning whether or not I was grieving properly because I was/wasn't going through something the books said I would. Additionally, reading those types of books helped me focus on my grief. My advice would be to steer clear of any "general" books on grief, as they have not been helpful to me, or anyone else I know who has lost a child. Center your reading efforts on positive books like, Solve for Happy, or fiction books that allow you to escape from reality for a while.
Lesson eight: Focus on the positive. Count your blessings for the moments you did have with your child; even those moments where you were not around, yet you knew they were living their life. Who are the friends your child made? What activities did your child enjoy while they were here? How did they make you smile? Were they funny or serious? What were their favorites (food, colors, clothes, etc.)? Ask family, friends, and teachers to share and write about your child; funny events, ways they made them smile, etc. (Example: If I focused on the fact that my son never got his driver's license, never fell in love, never got to graduate, never got to go to the Marines, never got married or had kids, I would be burying myself in a never-ending hole of darkness. Instead, I work diligently to focus on the fact that we had 15 wonderful years together. We cuddled nearly every day, we enjoyed each other's company, he was really funny and could impersonate any voice, etc. I focus on the happy places we've been together and the fact that his friends have great memories of him. I focus on letting his friends know our door is always open and they're welcome at our home anytime. I focus on sharing our story and teaching others to Pay It Forward in Dalton's memory every chance I get. I focus on making him proud of the way I have handled myself in his absence. I focus on watching for butterflies and dimes and dragonflies, because I think those are the ways he comes to visit me.) Be open to finding little bursts of happiness and sharing that happiness with others.
Lesson nine: Be busy! Go through all your photos, videos, and memorabilia. Take time to laugh and cry and enjoy the memories. Do this often. If you work or volunteer, get back to those positions quickly. Schedule dinners and game nights with family and friends. Get back to doing the things you used to love to do before you lost your child. If you're a home body, use this time to purge your closets/storage areas. Spend quality time with your animals. Write a book. Create a foundation in your child's honor. Travel. Write and partake in your bucket list. DO SOMETHING! Down time leaves room for dark thoughts and sadness that can often overtake your life. It's important to keep yourself moving physically, mentally, and emotionally. Get busy!
Lesson ten: You will find that this journey somehow leads you to other families who have lost a child. I call it, "The new car syndrome." When you get a new car, you often begin seeing that same type of car more often because you're now completely aware that it exists. Sadly enough, the same happens when you lose your child. You will meet people at the grocery store, when you're out for dinner, at work, at a party, at school, in the checkout line at a department store, etc. They are everywhere. Some will become lifelong friends and you will help each other along this journey. Embrace them. Cherish them. Be the support they need to make it through a tough moment and, I'm sure, they will return the favor.
There are so many lessons I have learned during my journey without Dalton. The fact that other parents also know this pain is incredibly upsetting to me. While I cannot take your pain away, I do hope the tips above offer some light in your darkness. And, I hope you, too, will offer light to another parent someday soon♥♥♥…
Article submitted by Dalton's Mom, Roni Lambrecht.
303.902.0121 / DoItForDalton@gmail.com