What 'This Is Us' Got Right About the Pain of Child Loss

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Last night I watched the premier of the new television show “This Is Us.” I knew before watching the show that there would be a trigger for me: the loss of a baby. I was prepared for that. However, I was not prepared for how well this show would handle the loss of that baby and how profound that moment would be.

The loss of a child is terrible and one of the worst things that can happen to a parent. Television shows do not always do a good job representing the pain of loss, but “This Is Us” nailed it right on the head, and as a result had viewers in tears.

“I have spent five decades delivering  babies, more babies than I can count, but there is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think of the child I lost and I’m an old man now. I like to think that because of the child I lost, because of the path that he sent me on, that I have saved countless other babies. I like to think that day maybe one day you’ll be an old man like me, taking another man’s ear off explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. If you can do that, you will still be taking three babies home from this hospital, maybe not the way you had planned.” — Dr. K (Gerald McRaney) on “This Is Us”

My son died four and a half years ago, but there is not a single day I do not think of him. I think of him when I walk by the toy car aisle in the store, I think about him when I see a newborn baby boy, I think about him when I see a little boy who might be about his age now. I think about him when I hug and kiss my daughter goodnight. I think about him when I see my husband smile, feeling certain, yet at the same time still wondering if our son would have had his smile.

Life gave me and my husband the sourest lemon that life has to offer, but we have spent the last few years trying to make something resembling lemonade out of that lemon.

When we had to leave the hospital without our son, I did not know how life was ever going to be the same. Well, life has not ever been the same. Robby changed us, and he set us on a path that has led to us helping other families who lose of a child. We certainly aren’t saving babies, but we are trying to ease the pain of families who are facing the tragedy of child loss. Robby did not physically go home with us that day, but just like Dr. K said, we did bring him home from the hospital, just not the way we had planned.

We brought Robby home in our hearts, and that is where he lives.

Taking this sour lemon and trying to make something resembling lemonade does not mean we don’t miss our little boy. We miss him fiercely. It just means we are trying to make something positive out of such a terrible situation.

Photo via the “This is Us” Facebook page

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young woman looks out a window

To the Mother Who Feels the Same Grief as Me

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You and I have never met, but yet we visit the same place every day. We both walk down the same unguided dark path. We cling to memories as if it’s our life support. Our minds drift off to that same place, the place that temporarily distracts us from our grief.

You’re the one person who knows the way my stomach feels — the unhealed knot in the center of my gut. You know the hollowness in my heart. Your tears are the same shape as mine, and they roll off the cheek without warning. You smile just like me. It’s a smile that has been perfected so others would stop wondering about your state of health and when or if you would pull through this.

Our deep exhale has been performed countless times, since the reminder to breathe is still necessary.

Only you understand the box in the closet where we keep the little things — the items that most people wouldn’t find a connection to. But we do. We can find that connection. Maybe it’s a ribbon, a stone or a piece of paper someone had written your child’s name on. An article of clothing that was last worn as we try desperately to preserve their smell.

This isn’t the same box with all the newborn items in it. This is a different box than the cutely decorated one that holds baby blankets, hospital bands, old pacifiers and first haircut clippings. This box is kept much further back in the closet, almost hidden as if it’s a secret.

You are the only one in this world who can look me in the eyes and say, “I get it.” Dear friend, how I wish you didn’t get it.

Like clockwork, I lie awake in my bed every night. I know you’re probably doing the same. As lonely as I feel sometimes, I know you’re feeling lonely, too. As indescribable as my pain is, I know you understand. It’s like a silent language that neither one of us wants to speak.

Our children’s stories are most likely different. The paths that led us here are probably nothing alike. It’s what happened in the after that forever bonds us now. It’s the pain of burying our child that makes our scars the same and our paths cross.

I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone, but yet to know you exist is somewhat of a selfish comfort for me. It’s the only place I find acceptance — to know that someone out there is just like me. I know with you that my tears aren’t measured and my sadness is never judged. The length of the time I grieve will never be rushed, all the wrong things will never be said and you understand sometimes silence is enough. 

My sadness will never make you uncomfortable because our words fit together like a puzzle. Even though I’m a stranger, my heartache brings you to tears. You live with that forever emptiness, too.

So as I pray my nightly prayers, I always include you — the mother I’ll never meet. You’re the other person out there who shares my same grief. I hope you find some comfort in knowing you’re not alone and that there’s someone out there like you.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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How I'm Celebrating My Son's 4th Birthday

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On September 10, 2016, my little man turned 4.

4! How did that even happen?

As I sit here typing, I find myself wondering what most 4-year-old boys would want for a birthday gift and what type of party themes are popular.

I wonder, but I don’t really know…

There will be no gifts. No 4-year-old themed party with handmade decorations. No house full of rambunctious little people singing happy birthday to the man of the hour. No adorable party guests asking for “just one more piece of cake.

Yes, it was my son’s birthday, but it was also his heaven day — the day he died. These days are one in the same.

Although this is a sad truth, and a difficult part of my reality, I choose not to dwell or let my focus live there.

Instead, I choose to find joy.

I remember what an amazing little boy my son was, and how his brief life had an amazing impact. I think about all the things that have happened in the past four years because of him. I recall the ways he has changed my life and the lives of others.

I choose to celebrate… and invite others to join the celebration.

Instead of a dirt-and-dinosaurs theme party (or whatever a 4-year-old boy might want), this year we celebrate Amalya Nathaniel (our Work of the Lord, Given by God) and his one hour and 20 minutes of life by asking people to “Do 4 Others” — instead of gifts or cards, we want people to pick one (or more) of the following:
a paining of a birthday cake with four candles. Text reads: do 4 others

1. Purposefully do something
special for a family member, friend, or acquaintance.

2. Give blood at your local Blood Bank.

3. Register as an Organ Donor.

4. Give four things to a local food pantry, or give $4
to your favorite charity/ministry/church.

Today, I choose to embrace my son’s forth birthday with
excitement. I am so proud to be his mother. He accomplished so much during his time on earth and I hope that this year his legacy will grow even more and his impact will be even deeper.

Today my little man turns four! Happy Birthday, sweet boy, with all my love…

An original version of this article was first published on www.purposefulgift.com.

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When Grief Feels Like Riding a Broken Merry-Go-Round

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I have been told grief is a sign of great love. I know that is true because I greatly loved my son, Lincoln. But what nobody tells you is how messy and unnatural grief feels. Nobody tells you there are days when it seems almost as if that horribly tragic, life-altering event never happened, when it seems like you never lost a child. Then suddenly you feel so taken aback that you were happy, that you had a bit of normalcy without your child. So you begin to feel angry. You’re angry for feeling normal.

Nobody tells you that you might forget — and I mean completely space out on — your child’s 3-month birthday (if they were alive, of course), then the next day cry your eyes out for feeling like such a horrible mother. In reality, you did nothing wrong other than survive. You keep going day to day, minute to minute, and occasionally things like that will slip by. Because if you stop for every one of those moments, you wouldn’t be moving forward in life. You’d just be standing still, waiting for that next moment.

Something nobody tells you about grief is it’s like a broken merry-go-round. You got on expecting the ride it seems like everyone else is experiencing. But now it won’t stop. No matter how loud you scream, how much you beg or how many tears you cry, it isn’t stopping. I believe it’s both a blessing and a curse that life doesn’t stop during grief. You think, but how can I possibly keep going on with my life when my child is dead? Yes, I said it. That ugly word nobody ever wants to use when talking about child loss. He isn’t lost, I didn’t misplace him. He died.

Life keeps going. I believe that might be one of the saddest parts of losing a child or a loved one. Life just keeps going, like nothing ever happened. Like your whole world didn’t just shatter.

Simply put, I don’t know how you keep going. I can’t explain how I did. Looking back, I remember closing my eyes, forcing back vomit and just getting out of bed.

There is no secret to it. You just do it, however you can, at whatever pace you can.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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When People Can’t See the Depth of My Pain After Losing My Son

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Two months ago, Logan, my 19-year-old medically fragile son, died after complications from the flu. I was his primary caregiver, administering complex infusions, managing multiple specialists and in-home nursing and making sure he lived an amazing life. He was my world.

If Logan were actually a part of me and was tragically and painfully ripped from my body, there would be a physical reminder for everyone to see what was lost. My limitations would be understood and supported. No one would tell me that “time will heal it.” One would only have to look at me to know that I am forever changed.

But you just can’t just look at me and know I have suffered a great loss. I show up every day and try to contribute, but the things that used to be easy are now difficult. I have to figure out new ways to do old things. I have to learn to breathe and live life with a feeling of emptiness instead of having Logan next to me.

Tears run down my face at the oddest times. People look away embarrassed. I’m discovering one can easily fall into the swirling, black, bottomless pit of loss that now dwells inside. I have to be careful not to walk too close to the edge. And sometimes, I fall in anyway and have to figure a way out before I drown.

We have all experienced loss. Most of the time, you can’t tell the depth of their pain by looking at someone. If you could see their loss, would you so harshly judge the woman who was angry in the grocery line or the man who seems distant and cold? Let’s live gently with everyone. Like me, the person next to you may need your understanding.

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What I've Learned Since My Son Passed Away

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Unfortunately, it seems most people are completely oblivious to the profound grief that follows the death of a child. They could never possibly understand nor comprehend such a loss. Only those who have endured the same fate can. Find those people because, rest assured, they’re looking for you, too.

Sadly, contrary to what we’ve been made to believe, time does not heal all wounds. At least not this one.

It’s OK to shut the world out and fall apart. Some days we’re just barely hanging on, and it takes every ounce of strength we have to put one foot in front of the other. So be proud of yourself at the end of every day, even if you did nothing else. You managed to survive another day without your child and that’s everything.

When you lose a child, it’s difficult to agree with others that their death was part of some grand plan. Just be mindful to the fact that they mean well, and honestly, they just don’t know what to say.

Guilt and regret are a normal part of the grieving process, but we tend to live in our heads and sometimes allow the “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” to entirely consume us. Just be careful, it can swallow you whole. 

All those people who are constantly telling you how incredibly strong you are and how they can’t even begin to imagine what you must be going through, believe them. They’re not lying. You’re the warrior of all warriors! And let’s be honest, they really don’t know how you do it. I mean, we don’t even know how we do it.

Everyone has their own cross to bear. This is ours, and sadly, it is a heavy one to carry. 

Your grief journey is like your fingerprint. It’s different, it’s unique and it’s your very own. You should never apologize for the way you choose to weather the storm.

Grief is one of those things in life that you can’t go over it, under it or around it. You must go through it and come out on the other side. If you try to run from it, you will only die feeling tired. 

Stop blaming yourself for their death. There’s absolutely nothing you could have done differently to save your child’s life. Instead, try spending less time apologizing to them because you feel like a failure and more time focusing on ways to save yourself from feeling this way. 

Regardless of our religious beliefs, we as humans question the “afterlife.” We all wonder at some point if there truly is some other dimension out there that awaits our arrival, a beautiful place where the souls of our children are waiting for us. When we expire here, will we really spend eternity with them there? We cling to the hope that life after death does, in fact, exist. Don’t feel ashamed for doing so. I believe God understands. 

Last but not least, moving forward with your life doesn’t mean you’re leaving your child behind. It simply means that although their physical body has perished, you understand that their soul never dies. They will always live within you.

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