Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 10/25/2013

Coping with the loss of a child

Daniel-Paul, age 15


Coping implies “something you do” after your child dies when, in fact, it is not a thing, not a technique. It just is or it isn’t. Either you are coping or you are not, minute by minute for the rest of your life. Sometimes “coping” means not screaming. Sometimes it means making plans with another child without making the event (in your own mind at least) all about the child who is no longer with you — another milestone that [the child] isn’t there for, etc. Sometimes it is going for a day without even thinking of your deceased child at all because you are caught up in something else that is bigger than you for a moment, like a business trip.

And sometimes, coping means not crying with guilt because you let a day go by without a thought of your child — or coping means letting go and having a good cry. At it’s most base, coping means surviving, however you do it, in a manner that doesn’t get you locked up somewhere, somehow.

When my son Daniel died, we lived in Milwaukee. After that, we moved to Madison, Wisconsin. However, he was buried in downstate Illinois in a family plot. Every trip “back home” I have stopped at Daniel’s grave, though it always makes me sad. I remember, of course, the last time I saw him there, which was unfortunately in a coffin. I can’t get that image out of my head, and standing in the cemetery where I saw the coffin lid close for the last time doesn’t help. But at the same time, driving by without stopping would feel wrong, too, so what is the “right” thing to do?

This past month, we purchased a home very close to the town where he is buried, and we are between homes now as I rehab the older home we just bought. We haven’t put our Wisconsin house on the market yet, and indeed, I have a thriving, growing business in Wisconsin. However, I felt absolutely compelled to look for homes in the town where my family is buried, including the two brothers I’ve put there in the past five years. I’m getting older, I guess, and as anxious as I was to escape my small home town as a young adult, well, I’m equally drawn back to it now.

We did not stop at the grave when driving down to do the initial walk-through of the second home. We did not stop at the grave while making trips back and forth prior to and just after the sale. In fact, I waited until my first few days alone there, while my husband was otherwise occupied with clients in Wisconsin, and then, after working for three days on a ladder painting and tiling walls (balancing with a bum knee I’d injured), I just couldn’t lift the paintbrush one more time.  I knew the time was finally right. So I packed a quick little lunch and went for a picnic with Daniel.

That time alone at the cemetery was exactly what I needed. I told Daniel’s spirit, which I imagined actively listening to me, all about the house. I caught him up with his siblings and their adult lives — all of which he has missed on this realm. Mostly, I let him know that I’ll likely be back often — not everyday, but a lot more often than ever before.

I find that living closer to where his physical remains were placed,  I can better cope now with the images of him. Given the opportunity to go when I want, instead of when I happen to be on a certain road going a certain place to visit other people, everything is different. And I am healed enough to pull up the happier images of him, too, laughing and drumming and dreaming his dreams. I think I will picnic with him some days and cry over his stone other days, but always he is part of my life, and now that I’m closer again, I’ll figure out, over time, why it now comforts me rather than distresses me to drive past the statuary, passed the watering station, to his section of the cemetery.

I know that there is no right way or wrong way to deal with the cemetery where your child is buried, or the place where your child is memorialized, or the place you scattered the ashes, or the last place you saw them alive — and that’s really what I wanted to say to you today. No one can tell you how to “cope” — you will find that knowledge in your own heart, and it may be a different way than anyone else around you “copes”. That’s okay.

For those of you who recently lost a child — regardless of the age or circumstance — know that we are here for you. This community of parents and grandparents and loved ones who offer our support for you and to you as you make your own journey through grief.


  1. how very true…

  2. It has been 8 months since my precious son passed away and I have yet to go back to the cemetery. I have been overwhelmed with the need to go and the fear of going. I needed to much to hear what you wrote. Thank you so much for being willing to share your own pain to help me. Thank you for letting me know that coping does not look like I am being told it should. You have been a sanity saver many nights!!

  3. Excellent. Many feelings do swirl around visits to the cemetery. At first, my visits made me sad for days. After many years, I am better with the visits. I am glad you have found some peace in your closeness. As with many everyday things that come up, there is no right or wrong. It is very individual and a matter of the heart.

  4. I can’t go to my child’s grave. I panic. I tried, but I can’t.

  5. I can’t go to my daughter’s grave. The place I had to leave her. I panic.

  6. Thank you, specifically for your words on coping. I just lost my son in July.

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