Posted by: jodyglynnpatrick | 05/15/2013

The Twighlight Zone: Life after the death of your child

griefAnother Mother’s Day just passed, or perhaps it was your first without your child. Are you still a parent, you wonder?  Holidays are so hard after the death of a child. Today I posted another comment from a mother who wrote to say she wants to die. Preferably right now. Her son is dead and she wants to be dead, too, but… she has a daughter. She is pulled in two. But she wants to be dead.

I know that many people will tell her, now and as she makes new acquaintances over the course of her life ahead, “I can’t imagine how I would feel if my child died!”  These people, after learning of her sorrow, will imagine they are saying something empathetic. But she won’t hear it quite that way for a long time into the future.

“No,” she will want to reply, “you can’t. You don’t have a clue.”

No one can know  it until they truly face it, but readers’ blunt comments left on this blog show grief for the sorrow that it is. “I don’t know how would I feel….” Maybe you once said that to a grieving parent yourself, but now you are on this side of the fence and, hearing it directed to you like some unwelcome confession, you wonder how you are supposed to answer that. Do you blurt out that your reality can’t be reduced to a stupid pretend game?  The truth hurts like hell. The death dropped you in a deep pit. It perhaps even made you wish for death, your own or another person’s. But you don’t say that because you know it would be unkind, judged cruel,  and what would it change? Your child would still be dead.

I’ve written about the real physical pain that scientists now understand that grieving parents experience after a child’s death — that true, physical sensation of breaking — a broken heart, a broken soul. We have so much trouble “getting our head around” what happened when even our brains hurt. Many of us have entertained thoughts of suicide in the aftermath of the pronouncement that our child is gone, but we would only compound the grief for our own survivors. We know this. But …. gone. It is like a silent scream echoing in our own head, screaming and screaming and screaming “HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED? I  CANNOT BEAR THIS PAIN ONE MORE MINUTE!”

I will tell you that, minute by minute, you bear it. And as time passes, you will laugh again. The first time it happens you may actually cry tears of anguish and guilt afterwards. The second time, and the third, perhaps, too. But eventually you will laugh and… it will just be a laugh. Not a forgetting or denial. Just a laugh. And after that, you will hope again. You will love again. The Titanic iceburg  inside your heart will melt a drop a day. You will find a way to carry your precious child with you into a future where you can no longer hold, smell or protect that child. But you will remember and always love them and make sure they are not left behind. I can tell you this, my dear reader who needs so desperately to know it today, but… I’m sorry, you will not know it as a reality until many tomorrows ahead.

The tables have turned. “I can’t imagine how I would feel if I were to live a new normal without my child.” No, you cannot. But many of us can and do and we hold out our hands to you. We understand. Right now, you may try to imagine a sense of grace again, but you can’t. In fact, you don’t have a clue how this could be. And I try and try and try to express how it can and will be, but really, words fail. Like grief, you can only know healing when you experience it yourself. But it will happen, a nano-second at a time.

I am not trying to move you out of your grief or talk you out of your pain. That is impossible. Knowing that, I don’t automatically respond to desperate posts immediately. I let an hour or more pass, because the pain is real and I won’t disrespect it with a quick or flip response. We need time to reflect. You own your grief; it is yours. I understand this. Know that there is no right time to move on or a right or wrong way to grieve. You may never move on. But I also know that the scenery will change from hell to limbo to endurable and, drop by drop, even to peace.

In the meantime, we are with you on your journey, wherever you are. And you are safe to express what you feel on this site.


  1. It’s been going on four years for us. I remember writing to you about a month after we lost our daughter. I wanted very, very much to die then. My then foster daughter saved me, much as I am sure other loved ones, and their needs, have saved a lot of other grieving parents over the years. Whoever you are, someone desperately needs you here. And that can save us, even when it feels like a burden.

    We’ve learned to answer the “I cannot imagine how you must feel” with a honest gaze in the eyes and, “My greatest wish for you is that you never, ever have to find out.” But then we follow up with, “How we feel changes with time. Every day is new and different and we learn to embrace whatever feelings are there that day.”

    And as you have pointed out, peace — even joy — do return with time, if you give yourself the freedom to live in the moment. You lean into the pain, weather it like the sea in a storm…and you let yourself feel comfort and peace when those seas quiet down. And after awhile, the sun does start to shine again.

    • Yes, yes! Thank you for expressing this so well! This is what adds value to this site — the input from the community. Many voices and many experiences and … most important … the beacon of hope. Thanks, Beaniegrrl!!

  2. I, too, wanted to die after my son and only child was killed and my very ill husband died six weeks later. I truly felt all alone. So much so, I didn’t even trust myself with my own medications. My pastor kept them for me and let me have them in small quantities. I remember those initial dark days. If there were someway I could reach out and lift them away for any parent, I would gladly do it. This is a long and difficult journey. The thing that helped me most was joining a church based support group where there were two sets of parents who had also lost sons. I know it’s hard, but it is very important to connect with other parents. Isolation is not good. You don’t need many friends, just a few to talk to, do things with and take short excursions outside your home. I wrote volumes, just keeping journals. It got out all my pent up emotions. Prayer, three good friends, writing and designing jewelry saved me. Little by little, the darkest clouds will lift for you. It is possible for this to pass and to live again. Not the same life, but a life worth living. God bless.

  3. Thank you for your kind words. It will be 2 years this July that I lost my 19 yr old son…God how I miss him…..

  4. My only child died at the age of 38 after years of debilitating illness. I prayed for her to die so her suffering will end. She died 131 days ago, and I want to die.

    • Gosh Tersia. I, too, so often want to eliminate my suffering since my child’s death but I have found my purpose of life with animals, older people, and jail mininistry. Yes, I cannot hardly stand it and cry, cry, cry but I wake up another day. I sent five weeks to a private psychiatric hospital and continue with weekly counseling. One moment can seduce me into the melanchosish abyss but I have’t been totally seduced yet, just the feelings.

    • Tersia, How are you doing? It is doubly hard to lose a child and then get the past many the images of their suffering and death. This takes some time. Praying for your daughter’s death in her suffering was a selfless thing to do. She is now at peace and no longer suffering. She would want you to be at peace. Have you reached out to any organization possibly associated with your daughter’s illness for support? Or considered counseling? I needed both a support group and counseling. And I wrote down everything I felt almost everyday. Just write and get it all out. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or crying. It will help. Maybe you could think of a positive way to remember your daughter— a tree, a small plaque or bench at a park, garden or church, a fund or a carnival or run. I hope your pain will ease and you find some peace, but it is very hard to do this on your own. Seek help if you have not done so. God keep you in His care. I will pray for you.

      • Dear Rosemarie, Last year I lost my only child, a daughter born with congenital birth defects and adding more as she aged. I knew death was inevitable and thought I was prepared but was not. I wanted her to die in her sleep but she suffered all day from 2:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. I actually was at the train tressel over the river when 3 cop cars found me after my therapist told them where she thought I would be. They wanted to Baker Act me but my therapist told them she would get me a bed in RiverOaks at New Orleans. I spent 5 weeks in RiverOaks, a private psychiatric hospital doing intense grief counseling. I am better but not a day goes by I do not cry or grieve. I have started hearing her talk and walk in the trailer. I talk back. I do a variety of behaviors not good. I have two goals and work towards them so I do have something in my life. Only thing is………my little rascal isn’t in it. I spent 24/7 and worked much as I could and she was my world and my priority after God. I can only say it does get better then WHOP! I get smacked down. As Jane Fonda said to Peter Sarazzin, “They shoot horses don’t they?”

      • P.S. She was my only child and died on leap day 24 days shy of being 26.

      • Dear Molly Rose,
        My son was my only child as well and died 4 days after his 23rd birthday. No doubt about it, this is a difficult journey. It takes time, patience, strength and courage. You made it this far. You are in therapy which is good. Your life still has meaning. You have the unenviable task of creating a whole new life for yourself. Two things helped me when I lost my husband and son within 6 weeks of each other. I woke up one day and decided I could let this destroy me or go on with my life. It takes a conscious decision which way you want to go. Your little angel in heaven is looking out for you. Pray to her to help you find new horizons. You can live again. I’m sure there is a lot you could do to help other families cope with special needs children from what you have lived through. God wants you here for a reason. You have a lot you can give to others. You will have dark days, but just go with them for a few hours and grieve. Then move on to a walk or any activity that distracts you. Remember, “With faith you can move mountains.” Also, try to get this book, “A Grief Like No Other” by Kathleen O’Hara. It’s on amazon and I think the guidance in there will help you even though your circumstances are different than the author’s. You don’t have to read it all at once. Just go through and read what strikes you. As you are a person of faith, I know you can get through this. I will pray for you daily. Stay in touch. Take care of yourself and don’t give up.

  5. June 7th will be 5th yr of my oldest sons’ death. I am so depressed I want to die but I have a younger son I need to be here for. I’ve been having crazy thoughts to end it for us both so that we can all be together but I stop myself and try to make it one day at a time. Some days are good, some are now. With that date coming up. I prayed until I got nothing left, I pray to see him in my dreams so I can once again be with him only to have fitful sleep. I wish all this was a dream and I’d wake up from it..,It’s really hard living.

    • Rose, I can tell by your message that you are not just depressed, you are CLINICALLY depressed and you need to talk to a professional and get some serious help right away. RIGHT AWAY. Clinical depression is an altered state of mind. It is like having a heart attack or a broken bone; it is a medical condition that requires help. When this happens, you may feel hopeless and helpless and escape seems better than going on. Some people use drugs to escape and some people self medicate in other ways. THERE IS HELP in terms of medication that can help you — not to forget or feel drugged; that isn’t what I’m talking about. It can just help restore your brain chemistry so that you can know and feel joy without guilt, and your younger son needs a mother as much as your oldest son did. He deserves to have you and he deserves his life. PLEASE GET HELP. I have met families whose loved ones committed suicide and it devastates them. We have so many feelings of betrayal to work through after a suicide, and I know that many people who actually do it really do pray first, they really do want to die, and they really did need help, but we all pretend like they don’t because we think people don’t want to hear how we think we know what they need. Rose, you need professional help. I’m not going to skirt it. PLEASE reach out to a professional. If one has failed you before, call them an idiot and find another. Sometimes you have to find the right match. It isn’t all medication; a psychologist would also help you sort through how to pick up the pieces. PLEASE GET HELP!

      • I know I should find someone else professionally but I can’t afford it. I’m barely keeping my head above water and have no family support. I thank you for listening and I’ll keep praying.

  6. Rose, check into county resources. Usually there are county mental health facilities which are based on income and, in your case, may even be free. Many do get free services due to sliding scales. Every county I have lived in has a suicide prevention line. Please call that and let them know how you feel. You won’t be put into custody for having the feelings — they can talk you through it.

    Consider this, please, Rose. You said you are praying. There is the story of a man in a flood — the water rose in his house up to window level — who refused to get into a boat when it appeared (a little rowboat) because he trusted God to intervene. The water rose in his home to the second floor. He refused a helicopter saying he had no use for it because he was a man of strongest faith and God would intervene. When he stood on the roof screaming at God as the water circled his ankles, God answered, “I sent you a boat and a helicopter. What were you waiting for?”

    Rose, I am your boat. Your prayer is heard and I am reaching out to you. I am telling you that you need help regardless of the cost or the hassle to get it. Please check into your county resources and talk to someone. When you do, tell them exactly what you wrote here and tell them you were referred to them. Make them understand you should have support. Your second child’s life may depend on it and certainly your life does.

  7. Yes, thank you for reaching out and I have reached out to get some support. God bless you for being my boat in troubled waters

  8. My daughter died on 26May 2013> she was 1 year and 16 days old. she drowned because a door , that i have locked myself, was opened so that a dog could have a wee…so while i was having lunch my daughter died.

    i was ok. i have 4 other childre, Ziha was my lucky packet surptrise baby and I enjoyed her so so so much. love i have for her, cannot be written in words. all i know, is that i have been strong and positive, but suddelnly, at 9 months after her death, i broke. i feel so depressed, i want to die, nothing makes me feel happy, i only want to lie down and cry and cry and cry for the loss of her, for the loss of who i was before she died, for the ripple effect on every one in my family….death in that sense is cruel. it gives you way more to deal with than just the loss of the one that died.
    i want to be with my daughter. i want to hold her. i want to make sure that she knows how much i loved her, love her still….i want my old life , with her in it, back.

    • Rone, I am so sorry for your loss, and I believe you loved your Daughter with all your heart. Just as you love all your children. It matters not that you have other children, you are still going to grieve for your Daughter, Ziha.

      We are changed after our children pass, and I think everyone of us wants to go back to the time before…We can not do that, we can only go forward, as painful and as sad as that seems. Sometimes it seems impossible, but we keep going. Our children don’t want us to be sad because of them. I understand that sometimes it is just so darn hard, so horrendous we can’t believe this is truly happening. We will probably always have times of anguish, and we will have times that the numbness takes over and we have a temporary break from the pain.

      It sounds very much like you have been very strong for your family, and that perhaps you have not given yourself permission to grieve. Eventually, our hearts, minds and bodies, simply must let the pain out. Crying, screaming, praying, anything that helps. One of my dearest friends who also lost her Son, says she throws socks – she rolls them into a ball and throws them as hard as she can at the wall.

      My heart goes out to you – Lee Anne

  9. I don’t know what to do its been 17 months since my son died and I am more lost and sad than ever . Was there a life before this pain ? Was there a time when life was just ordinary ? How can I go on like this for years and years until my own death will give me peace ? I may live for 20 years .I drag myself through everyday am angry with everyone myself most of all . People expect too much of me and I hate them for it . I want them to go away and leave me alone but there seems to be no where to find peace .

    • Dear Kathy,

      My name is Robin, and I do know how you feel! All the physical, mental, and emotional heartache you go through every single day, I too, go through it. My Son Chase, my only child, passed away 1/7/2005.

      Sometimes I still don’t sleep well, and find myself on Websites reading so many heartbreaking stories from parents, and others that have lost loved ones. In no way, am I taking away from the pain someone feels after losing a loved one, but losing a child is the deepest, most piercing, open wound, a Mother, and Father will ever bear. You can literally feel your heart ache, to its core. I call it a kind of ‘Survivor’s guilt.

      Rose Marie is right, she has been through this too, and one day I too had to make a decision – to stay in my darkness, or since I already knew that taking my life would not get me back to my Son, I had to leave it in God’s hands, and make a new decision for me, for us!

      I know you left this post last August, but I read it now, and I hope you have been able to find even a tiny bit of peace within you. If you would ever like to talk, email, or text me, I am someone who knows this world we both reside in now, and maybe what I’ve experienced can help you a little bit at a time.

      Another Grieving Mother,

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