When Your Only Child Dies

July 11, 2014

Samuel’s pregnancy was our first experience with parenthood. When he died shortly after birth, we became childless parents. It’s been over two years since he died. We are still childless parents. We are people with no place to fit in. Those who have never lost a child don’t understand our pain. Those who have lost a child, but have gone on to have others, or had living children prior to their loss, will never understand our unending emptiness.

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There is a unique pain when your only child dies. I will never in this lifetime know what it means to get pregnant, go through a pregnancy, give birth and raise a child without fear, anxiety, and sadness. My innocence is lost forever, because death is the only outcome I know of pregnancy. Our family is ruined just as it’s begun. We are living joyless lives; we are empty and without purpose. What should have been the happiest time in our lives is now the hardest. Where there should be fun and learning and teaching, there is nothing. Our home is quiet. Too quiet. All the time. We are full of the love, but have no one to bestow that love upon. It’s love with no place to land. We have parenting energy, but no one to use it up. We’re restless. We have returned, against our will, to the lives we had chosen to give up. The lives of a couple without children. This time though, we are not carefree. We live with heavy hearts and broken dreams, and the absence of any hope.

We don’t attend events. We don’t go to family gatherings. We stay home a lot.
Because children are everywhere.
Families are everywhere.
And we are a family that’s broken.
We are parents, but you can’t see the living proof. When I go out in the world, no one thinks I’m a mother. Because my child is gone, but my heart beats like any other mother’s.
You just can’t see it.

I can’t talk with other mothers about mothering, although I am a mother. No one wants advice from a mother who is separated from her child. My motherhood is deniable.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m living a lie when I say I’m a mother, even though I know in my heart I still am.

I can’t say what it’s like to be a loss parent with living children. And they can’t say what it’s like to be a parent with no living children. You’re either one, or the other. So there is no point in saying who has it worse. (We all have it worse; our children died). But I can tell you that living as a childless parent is extremely hard. Every single day feels pointless. Every singe day I feel empty. Every single day, I feel like an outcast, a misfit, an oddity. And every single day, I have to make up something to give my life purpose, even though I’m acutely aware of how shallow it is. I have known the joy and fulfillment of being a parent, but it was stolen away from me. And the hole in our lives is massive.

I know we all hurt the same hurt. We all want our lives to be different. We all would do anything to have our children back. But when I’m desperately hurting, when my heart hurts so deeply is could just as soon explode, I have no one to hold. I have no child to snuggle close and breathe in. I have no one to distract me. I have no one to kiss, no boo-boos to mend, no outfits to buy, no toys to clean up. No one is depending on me. I have no one to tell about his or her big brother in heaven. My arms are empty and completely aware of what is missing.

Samuel’s life, my heart, and soul make me a parent, but my arms are always empty.

That’s what it’s like when your only child dies.

4 Comments

  • Jen

    February 17, 2017 at 1:44 am

    I lost my son (only child) due to a rare chromosomal deletion and subsequently a much more rare and extreme heart defect that is impossible for most cardiothoracic surgeons to palliate. We didn’t learn of this until 33-35 weeks gestation. He wasn’t a candidate for a heart transplant either and had he lived I felt his quality of life would be teetering on the edge of what is ethical to put a child through. My boyfriend and I made the best decision we knew how to make with the information we had and that was to deny life prolonging measures and subsequently to have him pass in the most peaceful manner we could offer. There is a lot of guilt in knowing you didn’t do everything you could to save your child, the what ifs are always there but of the 8 other children I’ve seen born with his exact conditions since he passed only one is still alive. The guilt has eaten at me even more than the loss I suppose because I was only 60 percent sure of that choice. Odds are he wouldn’t still be here even if we had the first 12 hour open heart surgery on him he needed to live but it definitely adds a whole new dynamic to the pain of the loss.

  • Elizabeth

    February 23, 2017 at 11:41 am

    ❤️ Nailed it. Love to you, momma.

  • Ron Bailey

    March 17, 2017 at 1:28 am

    RaeAnne,

    You have captured in words the grief a parent feels with the loss of a child. I cannot imagine how you feel with your specific situation since I am on the other side of that coin you have portrayed here. I lost my youngest daughter when she took her own life last year. My older daughter had already moved out to follow her dreams so we became empty-nesters overnight, without warning.

    The house fell silent. The activities halted. The travel plans halted. Our family shattered. Our purpose feels gone.

    Our older daughter has moved back with us briefly but will be leaving again very soon since she is getting married. My wife and I are past child-bearing/rearing age and even adoption is out of reach now. Our younger daughter was 16 years old and had everything going for her. She had no physical illnesses, was active, had unlimited opportunities and had a brilliant mind. We loved her dearly and are happy we had her but our lives have been forever altered in the worst way. Your family and mine share the fact that we have survived every parent’s worst nightmare; the loss of a child.

    We have not recovered from our loss but I send to you the love and prayers from our broken family to yours in the hope you can find happiness and purpose again.

  • Rosanna Horton

    September 30, 2017 at 9:07 am

    It’s been five years and I still feel like this. You said everything I feel.

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