Parenting After Loss

Written by Sandra Courtney-Wherry

Experiencing the difficulty of parenting a living child while grieving for the one who has died.

It is 9:30 at night and I am sitting on my couch folding my two year old daughter’s laundry and sorting out clothes that she has outgrown.  I am also sorting out clothes that show the wear and tear of an active two year old’s play.  This makes me just like thousands of moms with toddlers that grow faster than we ever imagined.  But most other moms are not in tears, sobbing while they hold little pairs of jeans with grass stains.

The waves of grief that hit me this night take me completely by surprise and take my breath away.  It has been over two years since we lost my son Ryan, right before his first birthday.  He never played in the grass to get grass stains on his knees.  He outgrew clothes slowly and his clothes never showed signs of wear and tear.  The fact hits me hard in that place in my stomach where the dull ache of sadness still lives.

The challenges of parenting after the loss of a child are hard to explain to someone who hasn’t walked this path.  Each milestone that my daughter accomplishes is washed with pride and joy and wonder, and then bathed again in the melancholy of knowing that Ryan never took a first step, never learned to feed himself bananas, never said “I love you Mama”.

It isn’t that I spend all of my time thinking of what we lost with Ryan’s death.  On the contrary, I am far more aware of all that I gained from being his mother.  But there is the flash that goes off, with each experience, that reminds me of what could have been.

Grief is surprising in its unpredictability.  I expected melancholy on my daughter’s first birthday, after all my son died days before his first birthday.  Her birthday turned out to be a joyful and peaceful day.

On the other hand, many months later, I cried inconsolably when I came home to find my husband had removed the crib from my daughter’s room.  It was bound to happen soon, she was sleeping in her “big girl bed.”  I knew the crib couldn’t stay there forever… just as Ryan couldn’t stay forever.  I wasn’t ready to let go of Ryan, just as I was not ready to let go of the crib.  The decision was made for me, again. Ready or not…
If my own husband had a hard time understanding why I was so upset about the crib being removed, how could I possibly explain it to my friend.  She tried to comfort me by saying “They grow up so fast”.  I wasn’t crying for “They grow up so fast”; I was crying because, sometimes, they don’t grow up at all.