Watching a friend experience the loss of their baby and the grief that remains can feel so helpless. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-size fits all” approach to support a grieving friend through loss, but there are many ways to be supportive. When my daughter died at 33-days-old, it was the first loss of this type…
**I dedicate this article to my beautiful son, who taught me more about love and life than anyone ever has and ever will– and for every child in the world who has senselessly died by violence. There are no words to describe the deep injustice that parents like us eternally suffer. It is a torture like none other. This is for every parent who feels incredibly alone, misunderstood and ostracized by society because of the way their child died; for every parent who fears the shame will eat them alive and wonders if they’ll ever be able to survive. You are not alone– please count me in your corner. Together we can carry our overwhelming suffering; together we can survive. Together we can be a voice to protect children, a voice for social change, a voice for shattering the stigmas surrounding a loss like ours.**
I believe it can be incredibly healing to share our stories, our deepest pain, our gaping, bloody wounds. But what if the world can’t (and won’t) hear our story because it is too hard, too messy, too uncomfortable– too much?
What about sharing your story if what happened to you is violent, traumatic and heart-wrenching? Will anyone listen?
I know first hand how hard it is to have a story– a life– that no one wants to hear. I know what it’s like to be treated like a present day leper, and like a woman who is mercilessly stoned by stigmas and condemned in the “town square”. I know the horrific shame and isolation that comes laced like poison on such a story, on such a life.
No matter how much I wish-scream-beg-plead-pray that this story that revolts people in an instant isn’t mine— it is– despite it’s heinousness, despite the fact that I want to sprint in the other direction just as much as everyone else who ditched me. But unlike them, I don’t have the luxury of a choice. It’s my life now, whether I want it to be or not. I can’t escape it no matter how far or fast I try to run. Even after five years of living in the aftermath of it, I don’t recognize myself as one of the main characters in this wretched storyline. Every morning I wake up and think, ****, is this really my life?
Seems obvious to me that someone got the wrong woman, wrong script, wrong life. All of it is wrong, wrong, wrong– on every level– and it never, ever gets easier to keep living it.
Most of the time when I say “my son was killed”, people think I mean everything but what I do mean– and once they figure out what I do mean their jaw drops to the floor and rarely rejoins their face during our conversation. They seem to think he died of an accident, an illness, or a tragic twist of fate. Instead, what I mean is that he was intentionally killed; murdered; as in someone chose to end my son’s life.
It was not an accident.
It was not an unfortunate twist of fate.
He was not sick.
He was not “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
And it most certainly was not “God’s will”.
It was 200% preventable and avoidable– my son would not have died that day had someone not made the choice to kill him.
People seem to think that over time this truth becomes easier. As if, the longer you live in the aftermath of a horrific event, the easier it is to swallow it’s heinous shards of glass. As if it becomes easier to forget your previous life before that moment ruined everything. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trauma, PTSD and trying to integrate your child’s murder or suicide into the fabric of your life does not becomes easier with blessed time. While hard work and intensive trauma therapy can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of a traumatic and violent loss, there is nothing that will cure the incessant ache of a bereaved mama’s heart; there is nothing that will heal the exit wounds of hearing your child’s name and the word murder or suicide in the same sentence.
There is no cure for the way those words annihilate every truth and understanding you thought you once knew about the world, about human beings, about kindness, about love, about life. There is no way to piece back together what violence has permanently destroyed.
It’s taken me almost five years to find my voice again. Even now that I can speak, scream, and stand up again, I can rarely ever say his beautiful name outside the four walls of my house, without being met with shame, blame and the inexorable stigma of a child dying by violence. If I had it my way, I’d be able to say his name whenever and wherever I’d like. I’d be able to share his story any time I’d like. If I had it my way people wouldn’t judge and condemn me because of someone else’s violent choices and actions that I had no control over. Wake up, people. Stop blaming the victim!
It might sound like the dark ages, but for those who don’t know, the stigma of murder and dying by violence is so strong that people seem to forget who you are, as soon as they hear that your child was killed– even if they’ve known you your entire life, and sometimes, sadly, even if they share your same blood. Yes, you read that correctly.
People cannot seem to comprehend such an unthinkable act, and as is common in cases such as rape or other forms of abuse, people tend to erroneously blame the victim(s) rather than the perpetrator. People prefer to devise up any story imaginable in order to put the most distance between themselves and you, in order to convince themselves: This could never happen to me.
The stigma of murder is so unrelenting that I am immediately judged and condemned if I ever share my story, even in it’s simplest form: My son was killed. Most people can’t hear those four words. I’ve even had people cease our friendship right then and there– yes, on the spot!– upon me sharing this short, painful sentence. It’s happened so often, in fact, that now, in order to continue surviving, I usually have to pretend my son didn’t exist to spare myself from further senseless suffering and social castigation.
Where is the compassion, the understanding, the open arms, the love?
What happened to listening, to empathy, to truly being with someone, sitting crossed-legged, snotty nose to snotty nose, broken heart to broken heart, right smack in the middle of their pain??
It’s too hard to find sometimes, isn’t it?
It’s painfully hard. If we don’t feel comfortable or safe sharing our story, how does the world expect us to “move forward”? If no one will listen to our traumatic story with compassion and love, how will we ever have a hope of surviving it? To someday begin to heal*?
There is no healing without compassion. There is no healing without love. There is no healing without being able to share our stories and our pain, uncensored, “un-judged”.
And when we can’t find those open arms, open ears, open hearts, we wonder, will we ever truly be able to survive the unthinkable? To someday thrive again?
I’m here to tell you, yes– yes you can.
Many years ago, when I couldn’t find this safe place, I quickly realized that my only option was to turn toward myself and sit cross-legged, snotty nosed, broken and openhearted, right smack in the middle of my own pain, and offer myself compassion, understanding, open arms, and the love that the world was not throwing my way. I would do this, and then I would write and write and write and write– for myself, not for anyone else to read. It was beyond cathartic. This is what got me through the first four years when it took everything within me to claw myself up out of the pit of darkness and choose life each day.
Slowly, over time, I began to find healing in the most unexpected places. Compassion and love are sometimes much quieter and more hidden than the all harsh stigmas and judgments, so they are often more difficult to find. If you’re patient, I promise you will find it. You will find what you need to begin healing.
You will find people who will not judge you for your life’s circumstances, people who will not judge you for the way your child died. You will find the right people to scoop you up and hold you in the middle of your messiest, most broken, most painful story. You will find those who will love you even more because of your brokenness. You will find hearts oozing with healing compassion. You will find the rare and special ones who will ask about the beauty of your child’s life, not the horror of the way your child died. I know this because I’ve finally found these dear hearts, and they belong to the most beautiful, courageous and inspiring souls I have ever known.
Even if the rest of the world can’t, or won’t hear your story, just remember, all you need to find are two ears that can, even if that means they are your own (ears) for the time being. Even if that means writing your pain out, and then reading it aloud to yourself. Reading your own uncensored writing aloud can be incredibly healing.
To every parent of a child who died by violence or to anyone who is suffering from the crushing weight of any stigma, I offer you my deepest love, and every ounce of compassion and peace within me. I am so very sorry you’ve been forced to carry this cruel burden. I pray you’ll find a safe, nurturing place to speak your truth, free from the insidious stigmas, a place where your story about your beautiful child’s life and death will be met with pure love and total acceptance.
I know at times it can seem impossible to find this kind of healing place, but I promise you it’s out there. Hold onto the hope that it exists and never stop searching until you find it. A bereaved parent should never, ever feel judged. Their child’s life and story should always be met with the utmost compassion and reverence for the sacredness it is. Every person’s life should be celebrated and honored because every life– no matter how short or long– is sacred.
To the stigmas, and to anyone who wrongly judges those of us wearing these merciless life-long shackles, I say, eff off! Get a life and stop adding more suffering to mine! I refuse to let the way our children died define or take away from the fact that they lived, just as what happened to us does not define who we are. We are not our grief. We are not our trauma. We are not defined by the fact that we receive mail from Parents of Murdered Children or Survivors of Suicide or any other childloss organization. We are not post traumatic stress disorder. We are not whatever the world mislabels us. And most importantly, we are not just victims; we bear the scars of victorious and courageous survivors.
And we will keep on surviving by sharing our stories with the world, one word and one deep breath at a time.
So please, please screw the stigmas with me and share your story! Do not let other people’s own shortcomings, judgments or comfort level dictate what you should or should not say. Be bold and courageous and say what you need to say in order to heal. The world needs to hear your voice, even if no one can handle your truth, even if no one seems to be listening.
I promise you that.
Please know that by “healing”, I in no way mean cured, healed, closure, forgetting, moving on, or any other wrap-it-up/tie-a-big-freakin’-unrealistic-bow/hurry-up-and-get-over-it-and-on-with-your-life kind of message that the world tries to constantly shove down our throats. By “healing” I don’t mean that the throbbing ache of missing your child will ever go away– nor do I mean we will ever stop grieving for our children within our lifetimes. No, I mean this— making it your personal mission to find those who can offer you a tourniquet doused in liquid love for your eternally wounded heart and soul. I mean finding a circle of support that doesn’t add more senseless pain to your already overwhelming suffering. I mean slowly integrating your loss into your life– even though no part of you wants to— and beginning to heal from the trauma of what happened. I don’t mean that one day you’ll wake up healed from childloss, or healed from the trauma. I mean the process of healing, the process of conscientiously choosing, throughout your lifetime, whatever helps soothe your open wounds of grief and trauma, whatever helps you make impossible beauty from this shitty hand you’ve been dealt. I mean putting power back into all the places you can choose.
Please note this process of healing is as individual as one’s grief and that they aren’t mutually exclusive– you can be deeply grieving, and healing, all at the same time. My point is the -ing, the process of, which is not a finished state. I most firmly do not believe in most words ending in -ed in reference to grief, trauma and childloss.