The Mighty Logo

The Phrase That’s Hurtful for Me to Hear as a Mom Who Lost a Child

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Summer has arrived, and with it comes memories of summers past. Glorious ghosts of days gone by when my family was whole and my oldest son was healthy and alive. They are followed by the merciless summers of fear and desperate hope when the reality of his prognosis was upon us.

When your child has cancer, I found that fear is like a rabid dog that has been unleashed upon the safe haven of your life. It is ever present, lurking just beyond sight. Things can change on a dime, sometimes within the hour. I’ve lived it so many times; the sudden icy fear that grips your heart and the dread you have to hide. Feeling like you cannot possibly go on, but you do — for them.

We did this for years for our son, Noah, and I know he did the same for us because we soon learned that fear was our enemy. It made things one hundred times worse. And so we broke a thousand times and put the pieces back together, again and again. Because if this is the life your child has been dealt, the only thing you can do is help make it the best life you can.

But understand this: Grief in the loss of a child goes far beyond fear. It is the crystallization of your worst nightmare, and you can never, ever wake up. Fear is replaced by a more insidious feeling of irreplaceable loss and utter despair. I think it can be so difficult for others to understand how debilitating such a loss can be without experiencing it. It is isolating and cruel.

When you lose a child, the pain runs so deep that it will never be truly healed. So often others are at a complete loss and feel helpless in the face of such deep pain. This is when tired, well-meaning platitudes make their way into awkward silences, especially the phrase “Time heals all wounds.”

As a parent who has lost a child, please, please understand why this phrase hurts me so much, and why it pierces my broken heart and leaves me silent in response.

For while it’s true time helps heal some wounds, this is one instance where time will not heal this devastating loss. Instead, as time goes by, the memories of our loved ones get dimmer and those last embraces become more distant.

Can you remember with perfect clarity what you were doing with your family almost six months ago? Now think about what you were doing 20 years ago; it’s very difficult to remember the details. Consider how this might feel if you are trying to remember a beloved child and memories are all you have.

Don’t you see?

One of the most difficult things to deal with in losing a child is facing the long empty years ahead without their physical presence. As time flows by, memories blur, people forget and life goes on for everyone around you. The distance between that last embrace widens like the gaping wound that is left in our broken hearts.

Now suppose for a moment that time could heal the pain of losing a child. This is the true paradox of grief — as difficult as grief is to live with, as heartbreaking as the pain that consumes your very soul is, I don’t think one parent would ever wish time to heal it. We are as connected to our child’s spirit just as deeply as you are connected to your living child. In the case of losing a child, time gradually creates a space for the grudging acceptance of this separation as we learn a new way of being.

But just because we own this grief doesn’t mean it’s something that has passed or healed. I think parents dealing with grief are often silent, not because they have nothing to say, but rather because there is so much pain inside, it’s difficult to voice. To lose a child is to lose a part of your soul — the very essence of your being.

Although I am able to laugh and smile and appear to be whole to the world, I miss my child every single day and live with an indescribable loss. It strikes without warning, and I expect it always will.

I know many of you are hurting deeply from loss, your grief as different and unique as the beautiful souls you grieve. And while I do not pretend to know your unique pain, I just want you to know this: I see you.

From the depths of my broken soul, I hurt with you.

I understand that no matter how hard this life is, none of us would ever have traded the time we had with our children for an “easier” life. Life is not perfect for most of us. It is laughter and sorrow, beginnings and endings, darkness and light. And that’s the way life is — perfectly imperfect.

So grieve your indescribable loss.

Cry, scream and mourn your innocent children.

When you are able, pick yourself up.

But know this: You are not alone.

Follow this journey on Noah’s Blue Ribbon Brigade.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: July 1, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home