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Please Don't Ask a Grieving Parent to 'Let It Go'

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Grief is like a delicate, slow dance you were never taught the steps to. You clumsily attempt to find your footing, and eventually, hopefully, it begins to feel fluid.

We are approaching four months since our 9-year-old son, Landon, passed away suddenly in his sleep.

Since our two oldest sons were diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome, a terminal and progressive genetic disorder, milestone events and holiday celebrations have also doubled as countdowns. Through every happy event or celebration, there is always the voice in the back of  my mind that wonders, “Is this the last?” or “We are one year closer to never having this again.”

And now…the count is moving in a new direction. Time is now marked by how many days, weeks, and months have passed since I’ve kissed my child’s face, heard his laugh, or held him in my arms. Even though my mind has accepted this is reality, and that Landon is never coming back, I don’t know that my heart ever can.

Now that months have passed, people have moved on. And I get it. No one will suffer this loss quite the way I do. Not everyone will mark the days and the weeks and the months. But I always will. Not because I refuse to keep living, not because I can’t move forward and continue being the best mother I can be for my other sons, Blake and Gabe, but because he was my son. His physical absence in my everyday life is palpable, and I feel it in every breath I take.

Because the bond between a mother and her child can never be severed. It is written in the stars and their souls are deeply and irrevocably intertwined. I carried that child in my womb, and from the moment I knew of his existence, I loved him. I dreamed of his future and felt him move and grow inside my body long before I ever saw his perfect face. I would have given my life for that child before I ever met him. From the second he was born, my every thought or decision revolved around how it would affect him. Since 12:02 a.m. on July 16, 2006, I have happily come second to another human being. I raised that child, and when I found out I would outlive him and all I wanted to do was lie down and die because the thought of life without him hurt too much, I picked myself up and kept going.

I did all that was within my power to give him everything he ever needed or wanted. When I became a single mother and couldn’t work, I went without eating to make sure he and Blake were always fed and diapered. I went without sleeping for more than two hours a night for months on end to keep him safe when he wasn’t sleeping and would be up roaming and screaming at night. I made horribly difficult decisions that broke my heart into a million pieces so that Landon could have the most full and meaningful life possible.

I made beautiful memories with that child. He saw the ocean, Walt Disney World, Mount Rushmore and the Mall of America, and I watched him explore it all with a smile and zest for life that is enviable.

I watched Sanfilippo syndrome steal his independence and skills piece by piece. I watched him have seizures, spend months sick with varying illness and put under anesthesia for different surgeries and procedures, and I was powerless to change any of it.

There isn’t anything I wouldn’t have done to spare him the fate he was dealt. I would have sold my soul to the devil himself if it would have saved my son.

You don’t “get over” that kind of love. There is no letting go. He is a part of me, and no amount of time, or distance, or even death can change that. A part of me is gone forever, and although I am learning to live with that truth, I will never be the same. There’s no way I could be. If you haven’t lost a child, I’m not sure I can make you understand why I will never let go of or stop talking about my son, or why I will never be fully healed of the pain that losing him has brought into my life.

For those of you who know someone who is grieving an unthinkable loss, I ask you to please be patient with that person. You can’t imagine how difficult it is even just to get out of bed some days. I know it is not always easy to be around or hear the painful words and thoughts of someone who is walking in the shadows of grief. When your child dies, no one gives you a handbook on how to “get over” the deep despair you are left with. Intense and deeply painful emotions are constantly filtering in and out of our minds and our hearts, and it’s difficult to make sense of them when all you really want to do is cry.

Often we feel alone, and we feel guilty for burdening people we love with our pain. You do not have to have “the right things” to say. You just need to be there. Sometimes just being with someone who is finding their way through grief and saying nothing is the most helpful thing you can do. It will take time for a grieving parent to find their stride again. But with good support and understanding, they will find their way.

And to my fellow bereft parents: I just want you to know you will be OK. Well… you will be as OK as you can possibly be in light of the fact that your life is completely altered and different. Be kind to yourself. The loss you have suffered is something few can understand. Take your time and know it’s OK to feel however it is you feel. Emotions aren’t logical, and there is no wrong way to grieve your loss. Although grief can be terribly isolating, know that you are never alone. People care, and they want to be able to help and be there for you. Let them.

And lastly, and what I think is probably most important: Talk about your child, and talk about them often. Say their name out loud every day. Because there is power and strength to be found in carrying on your child’s legacy. Your child’s life and their impact on this world will never be forgotten so long as you keep moving forward and carry it with you wherever you go.

Ashley holding a photo of her son Landon

Image via contributor

Originally published: January 6, 2016
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