The Mighty Logo

When Grief Is Like Another Child You Must Take Care Of

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

We are coming close to the two-year anniversary of the loss of our 6-year-old daughter, Jennifer Lynn Kranz. Her name matters.

I keep expecting it to get easier, like at nearly two years I should be adjusted to this new life I was handed. But deep down I know I am still in the very early stages… and I realized…

On Feb 12, 2013, as she took her last breath, I birthed another presence in our family: the grief baby. Grief is another child I must take care of.

Child loss is like birthing a baby. It is something you must nourish and care for the rest of your life. Something that, as it ages and changes, never stops mattering.

At first, you experience the newborn stage, up every two hours with a crying and needy baby so you don’t even realize you are tired. You are on autopilot. It’s part of you, like another limb. You can never put this baby down or it screams for you to pick it up… to rock it, gently, constantly.

At night you want to sleep, but it seems this newborn hasn’t gotten that memo yet. It seems to need you the most at night. People and meals are at the ready. The days can seem to drag on forever, but the time between now and when this new presence arrived seems so fast. As author Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Time passes. This grief baby grows.

At six months out, you can put the baby down and walk away to cook dinner or go to work. You might look at your partner and want them to do more in helping you care for this still young and needy babe. But the truth is you each have very different ways of soothing this baby.

You think you have a routine, a good bereaved parent schedule. But then the grief baby changes it all up. Now it is cutting new teeth, and it’s like you have a newborn again. But you arent used to it anymore and the exhaustion is deeper and more cutting.

Time passes. This grief baby grows.

Now it’s a year old. This first birthday is a big deal. A lot of people remember. You aren’t sure what to expect since you have never had a birthday for this little one. The next day it seems suddenly older to you. So much more grown up.

A year. A whole year. Days were long, but the year was short. Yup.

You think now you should have this whole grief-baby-parenting thing down. You might put pressure on yourself. Other people might start looking at you like you shouldn’t be so tired. A 1-year-old should be sleeping through the night by now.

You might try to dress up your grief baby… put a bow in its hair or pick out the perfect outfit. But it won’t stay like that for long. It will notice the hair bow and pull it out.. it will play in the dirt and muddy up the clothes. You try to keep it looking put-together, but it never lasts long.

And grief baby grows and changes.

Sometimes you get so mad at this baby of yours. It never fails: every moment you try to take for yourself, grief baby seeks you out and climbs right on top of you. More independent now at nearly two years old… but also much heavier… and louder.

You think you have a good handle on it and know what triggers it. But you don’t. Grief baby needs you right in the middle of lunch, because another little girl with long brown hair walks in the restaurant wearing a sparkly dress. Your grief baby wails unexpectedly and you are embarrassed.

Be gentle on yourself; your baby is still a baby. It’s OK if you can’t control it. It’s OK to cancel plans because the baby just needs a nap.

This grief baby that was born as I kissed my first baby goodbye will continue to grow. One day it will even be 6 years, 4 months old. And after that this grief baby will have outlived the one that gave it life: Jennifer.

It will live beyond that. It will be a teenager… I wonder what it’s like to have a grief baby learning to drive?

And then it will get older. Twenties and 30s. By then we will be past the days of tantrums in the grocery store, but it will still be my baby. We won’t talk daily, but when grief baby calls I will answer the phone. Because no matter how much time passes it will still be my baby…

It will have a presence in my daily thoughts and take a prominent seat of attention on its birthday and holidays.

Time passes. This grief baby grows…

Mom with toddler daughter in pink dress
Libby and her daughter Jennifer

Originally published: January 9, 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