Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 10/14/2015

Rage. Helplessness. Nothingness. Heartsick. What’s “healthier” after a child dies?

griefIndividuals grieve in unique and individual ways. Sadly, here is no “healthy” way to feel. Indeed, a grieving parent may flit from incredibly strong emotions and no emotions in seconds, as your mind shuts off emotional currents to literally save your life. So how should you act? If you act “normal” for a little while, a spouse may accuse you of being heartless. If you linger in the land of the heartsick, people soon will avoid you or say stupid things to cheer you up because sadness feels like a contagion and they don’t know what to say to lift you out of your funk.

It isn’t a funk, though, is it? It’s your life now, without your child. Your child is dead. If you rage at that, often it comes out sideways, as a snide remark to a family member or a cold retort to a work colleague. Because no matter how mad you are, you can’t set things right. You can’t restore your child’s life, and that’s what makes you maddest. And the saddest. Realizing that helplessness, you may feel hopeless. Some of us even become clinically depressed (which needs medical attention). Or you may experience a sense of nothingness — striving for nothingness is something we do with a glass or three of wine and a sedative. But that rabbit hole is a deep one and it doesn’t bring restoration or salvation with it, either.

The hard truth is that nothing restores our heart to its normal function except time, and time does not bring healing so much as it brings scarring. We no longer openly bleed in public. We put on our work clothes and go back to work, or we pick up a trowel and return to the garden, we re-join a bookclub or take up jogging. But the wound goes with us back to the office or into the plant store; it never leaves us. It is only less visible.

And then, one day, it actually begins to fade a bit. It usually doesn’t happen before the first year of missed Christmas traditions or absent chairs at birthday dinners. But later, trust us, it somehow becomes possible to laugh again at a dumb joke or to have a conversation without silently picking at our scar tissue or scab. We make a potroast without crying because it was John’s favorite meal, or we see a girl about Emily’s age — the age she would be now — without making that mental comparison. We don’t go on without our children as if they never existed but we do go on without them beside us. Our precious children are not abandoned, but rather truly carried now in our hearts and minds. We bring them forward with us in memory, but we no longer spend all day remembering because if we did, it would drive us insane. And your mind’s biologically wired to restore you to sanity.

This moving on is healthy. You may not believe in this beacon of light — being able to re-establish a meaningful life without your child — but those of us on the other side of time are beckoning. It is possible. We learn to live as a legacy to our children rather than expecting them to be our legacy. It’s sad. It’s tragic. It’s unfair. It stinks to high heaven. But it’s inescapable after your child’s death, and the state of grace you seek is attainable. With time. Meanwhile, we are here to walk alongside you. Take our hands. Talk to us. We’re here.


  1. Thank you. Thank you for writing from the heart and giving me hope. This is such a complicated grief, it is the support such as your writing that helps.

    • hi Kathy – I do not want to live without my little girl – it is just too much – this place helps me step back at least for a while

  2. We lost our beautiful son tragically on July 20, 2015. Breathing is difficult and wanting too seems all but impossible. I search each day for answers and for understanding, I pray although my faith is shaken. I beg God for a sign, one that I recognize as my boy. You see I never got to say goodbye or hold him in my arms and comfort him when he passed away, he was alone, his life taken by the hands and calous acts of another. I live each day just wanting to whisper one more time, I love you. Bobby was my life and my joy, he truly was and will always be the love of my life. Grieving a child is unlike any other pain, it is an unbearable mark on your heart and your soul, I hope in time to find a way to be able to breath again…

    • Dear Michele I am sorry about your son Bobby. I can relate to all of your feelings. Our son Sean was taken from us in a car accident on June 5, 2015. Truly the worst day of my life. I used to think some of my problems were problems and now I just beg God to bring Sean back and I will try and never complain again. We put a memorial video under sean dortch youtube. There are two videos in memory of him. Breathing is hard and holidays coming up are going to be hard. Everyone is different but I have joined several support groups along with therapy.I feel that is the only way I can breath. My son was also taken by a calous act of another which is unfair because you like me probally have obeyed the law and treated people fair and I even prayed in church weekly for my childrens protection. Faith is shaken some and I feel insecure in the world. Keep praying and You will get your sign. I am truly sorry for our loss of our precious boys.
      God Bless,

      • Dear Angela,
        I truly understand what you are going through, because I lost my precious son, Nate tragically and suddenly on September 7th. He was fooling around in his apartment with his room mates, and fell and hit his head. He was drowsy and went to bed. He was found on the floor in the morning when he didn’t get up. He had fallen again. He would have turned 21 on Nov 8th, so I have experienced the first holiday without him. Like you. I pray to have him back, and I have joined a support group and grief counseling. It helps to not feel so alone. I will watch Sean’s YouTube tribute. My thoughts are with you.
        Take care, Beth

  3. Beautifully written piece Jody. Your words echo through me, it is exactly how I felt and am feeling. Your website is like a crutch, I come here when my emotions start getting the best of me and I cannot stand on my own – and I read your stories and everybody else’s and realize I am not alone, I am not crazy, I am not being overly dramatic. Because everyone on here has experienced the same loss the site gives me hope and gives me people I can walk with through the struggle. Thank you

  4. OK,with all due respect-does jodyglynnpatrick know first hand how it feels to lose a child, and all the pain that it encompasses?

    • Roberto, my son Daniel died in a car accident when he was 16 years old. I do, indeed, understand first=hand all the pain that losing a child encompasses.

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