Help for Parents Grieving the Loss of a Child

I am the mother of a first grader who bounded down the steps of the school bus on the first day of December and within minutes was killed in a hit and run. The murderers were never found.

This was over thirty years ago…but NOT a day goes by that my heart and arms don’t ache to hold him once again.

Listening to reports of the recent school shooting tragedy in Sandy Hook, Connecticut my heart feels as if it’s being shoved through a paper shredder over and over. I go about the day misty eyed…

…knowing and feeling the gut wrenching, inexplicable physical pain of losing a child.

…knowing the journey of grief is long, grueling and never really over.

…knowing grief is a very personal journey…there is no right or wrong way to ride this rollercoaster…(unless a coping mechanism becomes unhealthy and inflicts suffering on another).

…knowing emotions are unpredictable…the anger, the despair, the fear, the tears for hours on end.

And, yet, “my heart in its sorrow rejoices,” recalling the kindnesses, the gentleness and the support of so many…family, friends and strangers reaching out with their reassurance of love and understanding.

The world is full of caring, loving people who want very much to help but are often unsure about the best way to show their concern.

I remember a few precepts that were and still are especially meaningful and offer them as a guide to those reaching out to grieving parents:

1. Please don’t ignore my painful loss. Saying nothing hurts worse than saying the “wrong thing” with sincerity.  Some helpful phrases: “I’m sorry.”  “I don’t know what to say, but I really care.”

2. Let me talk about my beloved, if I want to. Let me talk about how he died.  Don’t be afraid to say his name. Share a memory if you want to.

3. Sit with me in silence. Sometimes words are absolutely useless. Squeeze my hand, hold my hand, pat my shoulder…give me a hug…cry with me. Look me in the eye…please don’t be afraid of my sorrow, of my tears.

4. Please don’t tell me you know how I feel! No, you don’t! We can never know how another feels…but ask me how I feel. And don’t tell me it’s part of God’s plan or that he’s in a better place.

5. Certain times of the year will always be hard for me….like all holidays! Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. And most every family milestone tugs at my heart…births, children’s birthday parties, graduations, and weddings.

It’s true…. love never dies…memories of my child are alive and well in my mind and the hole in my heart will only be completely mended the day I am reunited with my beloved child.

But I have been encouraged and sustained by your friendship, your care, your support and help. May you be blessed!

Resources:

http://www.tcf.org.uk/leaflets/lehelpingbp.html

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/helping_grieving.htm

http://www.journeyofhearts.org/kirstimd/booklet.htm

Wonderful song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqwomT5YSiw

Kathryn Barker has never met a child, a tea, or a baby animal she didn’t love. With her sweet husband of 43 years, she has raised three extraordinary children, doctored all manner of farm animal, driven a team of horses, made soap, spun wool and opened a tea room. An avid photographer, Kathryn has had tea in a ger in Mongolia, viewed the Three Gorges Dam in China and waved to the Queen of England. She maintains a tea booth at the Oregon St. Antique Mall. Visit her at tea4kate.com or on Facebook and Twitter at tea4kate.

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Kathryn Barker has never met a child, a tea, or a baby animal she didn’t love. With her Sweet Husband of 43 years, she has: raised three extraordinary children, doctored all manner of farm animal, driven a team of horses, made soap, spun wool and opened a tea room. An avid photographer, Kathryn has had tea in a ger in Mongolia, viewed the Three Gorges Dam in China and waved to the Queen of England. She maintains a tea booth at the Oregon St. Antique Mall. Visit her at www.tea4kate.com or on Facebook and Twitter at tea4kate.
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40 Responses

  1. Avatar Eleanor says:

    Thank you for this. Just want to say 'Thank you.'

  2. Avatar Carolyn Gomes says:

    I had no idea…. Hugs to you today my sweet friend. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    What a timely, helpful article. I can't imagine anything much worse than losing a child. I don't care whether through catastrophic illness or malicious acts of another human, there is just something so out of order when a child is taken out of the family. My heart breaks for each and every family that has faced this type of loss. And no, there is no way I could presume to "know how you feel." I just know that in my own way I hurt for you.

    • 'AJacoby…you are so right about "there is just something so out of order when a child is taken out of the family." No one really expects or can prepare for such a happening.

      You sound like a very compassionate person…because, while perhaps you haven't experienced this particular loss, you can imagine the hurt…and feel it in your heart. Thank you for expressing that.

      I think all of us are just heart sick about what happened at the Sandy Hook school. And feel so helpless…I just don't know how to help!

      Thanks again for reading this post and for responding. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

  4. Avatar shelly shively says:

    Thank-you, Kate, for sharing your story. You managed to articulate so well, something that is absolutely impossible to comprehend in losing a child. God's peace and blessing to you and your family.

    • Thank you dear Shelly. So much more could be said, but I think the subject is so inconceivable, it is easier to grasp in small bits.

      May the Lord comfort you too…and many blessings!!

  5. Oh, Katherine… What a true gift you share and bring to this good community.

    Your thoughtful story and truly good points can support those souls among us whom suffer significant losses in silence. Today is Day 648, with no contact allowed for us since the illegal child-abduction by proven "irregulars" in the local Family Law Industry. Thank you for your kind loss-support and resources… we send our very best wishes to you and your dear ones this Christmastime.

    • Alan Ernesto Phillips,

      Thank you for your kind comments. I am very sorry to hear of your loss and can only hope the situation is resolved quickly!

      May you find comfort and hope in this season of rejoicing.

  6. Avatar Lynn Guinn says:

    So sorry. I didn't know this.

  7. Avatar Grammalyn says:

    Kate, I did not know this and I'm so very sorry. Your words are very wise and helpful. Rarely at a loss for words, I find that I have typed and deleted, and typed and deleted, and nothing is sounding exactly the way that I want it to. Perhaps that is as it should be…just… I'm so very sorry, and I love the picture of your sweet son.

    • Dear Grammalyn,

      Thank you for your very kind words. It's never easy to find words to say…even when you've shared a similar experience.

      Our son's picture makes me think of those precious little ones in Sandy Hook….they were about the same age. It's just so difficult to comprehend….my heart hurts so much for all the families…for all of us!

  8. Dear Kate – thank you for your generous spirit and for reaching out and helping me understand -that is something you have done often since we "met" online.

    I especially appreciate this: "please don’t be afraid of my sorrow, of my tears." Sending loving prayers your way.

    • Thank you very much for the prayers Erin…and for your kind words.

      I have so enjoyed your wonderful "mothering" sense of humor online, and relate to many of your stories.

      Blessings to you and your family!

  9. Avatar Emily Sawyer says:

    Celebration of the Children, hosted by Mercy Hospice on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Please join us in remembering and celebrating the lives of children who have died. Open to all bereaved parents and grandparents. Evening begins with a light buffet, followed by the opportunity to share a favorite memory or picture of your child with the group. Celebration of the Children meets at Mercy Medical Center, 2175 Rosaline Ave., Redding, in the Boardroom. Enter through the Cancer Center off Rosaline. Please RSVP to 245-4070.

    • Dear Emily,

      Emily, thank you so much for letting us know about this event. I'm sorry we are not able to make it…we're out of town for a few days. It is wonderful to celebrate the life of a child.

      Is there a local group for bereaved parents? We started a chapter of the Compassionate Friends when we lived in Sacramento. We found it very helpful to be able to talk with other parents who had also lost a child.

      Thinking of and praying for all of you as you celebrate the life of your child!

      • Avatar Marilyn Traugott says:

        Mercy Hospice has a support group that has been meeting two evenings a month since 1988 for parents and grandparents grieving the death of a child of any age. Call the Mercy Hospice office for more information. 245-4070.

  10. Avatar Sherry says:

    Oh Kate, you have written that so well. I'll never forget the phone call from Aunt Leora that night. Our hearts broke and have never forgotten him. Hugs!

  11. Avatar Leah says:

    I've carried the story of your little son with me since the day you shared it, along with the story of the grief your family endured. Thank you for re-telling it again here in this public forum. It helps all of us to be more mindful of empathy for others and how we deal with loss ourselves. xo

    • Dearest Leah…you have such a tender understanding heart.

      The Sandy Hook tragedy is just so incomprehensible…and yet I know in our community there are so many who grieve the loss of a child. There isn't much we can do about the parents back East, but we can be extra kind to those we know closer to home…especially during the Christmas season.

      Thanks for reading and responding to this post.

  12. Avatar Tamra BENNETT says:

    What a perfect summary for those who want to be helpful to anyone losing a loved one. I lost my only child 4 years ago in a motorcycle accident. I really appreciate to this day the people who showed up at my house to be with me as it is hard to sit with someone who is dealing with the unthinkable. Every family member and friend does grieve differently, needs the time and space to do so.

    • Dear Tamra,

      I am so very, very sorry to hear about your beloved child! My heart hurts for you…

      It sounds like you have a wonderful supportive group of family and friends. Yes, it is so hard to be around someone who is grieving the unthinkable. I have never forgotten a friend who just came to sit with me. She didn't talk, and I was in such shock, I couldn't talk. She said, "I just want to be with you."

      I know the holidays are especially hard. Perhaps you can find a way to celebrate the memory of your child. It doesn't lessen the grief, but it has always helped me to acknowledge our son's life.

      May you be comforted….

  13. Avatar Anna C. says:

    Thank you for your words. Especially the reminder to others to "not be afraid of my sorrow." Once you've lost somone that you love so much, sorrow will always be a part of you. So will friendship, kind words, hugs and understanding. Reading about your loss this morning brought tears to my eyes, made me think about my own loss and reminded me to send extra loving kindess out into the world today. Thank you.

  14. Anna,

    I am very sorry for your loss, and I hope you will be comforted as you reach out to others with kindness.

    Yes, sorrow will always be with us after a loss. But it is amazing to me that joy can co-exist with sorrow in one heart….

    Thank you for reading and responding to this post and I appreciate your kind comments.

  15. Avatar Robyne says:

    Kate, thank you so much for sharing. I had no idea about your loss. You did an extrodinary job describing you situation as well as helping all of us understand a horrible event.

    • Robyne,

      Thank you for reading and responding to this post…and for your kind words. The Sandy Hook school tragedy will be with us for a very long time. I know we have all become more aware of how quickly life can change. I hope we will treasure each moment we have with our loved ones!

  16. Avatar Kerri says:

    Kate, I am so sorry for your tremendous loss. I wish I would have given you a much bigger hug when I saw you last week. We never truly know the trials that people are going through, do we? I hope your sweet angel boy brings you extra love and comfort this holiday season. And I owe you an extra-big hug next time.

    • Thank you Kerri. Hugs….big hugs are always welcome! It's hard to know what people live with…thanks so much for your kindness! Looking forward to seeing you again soon…and hoping your New Year is full of peace and joy!

  17. Avatar leslie says:

    Kathryn,Thank you so much for sharing your feelings in this article. You've just put many of my own thoughts into words. I am all new to this horrible grieving process. I lost my 22 yo son last month to a traffic accident. I will stop by for tea, i know your tea place. Love to you and your family, Leslie

    • Dear Leslie,

      I am so very sorry to hear about your son's death. I am sorry I did not reply to this comment sooner…we've been out of town with lousy internet service!

      I am hoping you have good supportive people around you to help you along the long, hard grieving journey.

      I would love to have tea with you sometime and chat…we have much in common. My tearoom is no longer a business. Tapas Downtown is where our tea room was. We could meet there or at the Grace Place…it's a nice tea room…on Pine Street. You can contact me from my website if you feel like having a cup of tea!

      May you find comfort in the New Year.

  18. Avatar Grammalyn says:

    Kate, I don't know your son's name. That is important to me, if you would be so kind as to share it.

  19. Avatar Richard says:

    Thanks for sharing and for the tips to help others during their time of such great loss.I know exactly how you felt and probably still feel.There are more people than I have ever imagined that have lost a child….it's the single hardest thing a person can endure in one's life…as time passes the pain diminishes but the memory is never forgotten!

    Regards,

    Richard

    • Dear Richard….

      You are SO right…it is the hardest thing one has to endure! Nothing can compare. I am so very sorry for your loss. Memories are treasures…and we hold them always in our hearts. May your memories bring you great comfort in the New Year.