Imagine a world where you are never asked about one of your children, where one of your children’s names is not spoken outside of your immediate family. Everyone pretends that your child never existed, that they do not exist. In this world, the people that were once a regular presence in your life have disappeared, perhaps out of some misguided sense of respect or possibly just out of fear. Every time you see a baby or a family with two little girls, you are reminded of the life that you thought would be yours.
Imagine the world of a parent whose child has died.
After my daughter died, I could feel the people around me, sometimes the people closest to me, tiptoeing around me. As if they had the power to break me. As if I was not already broken. My tears were always just below the surface, ready to spill out, but I learned to hold them in because tears make people uncomfortable.
Ordinary, everyday questions bring new meaning.
The simple question, “How many kids do you have?” was now full of complexities. I avoided situations where this question could be asked for fear of how others would respond. On the way to any sort of social gathering or store, I would rehearse my answer as if I was acting in a play. I found myself having to choose between being honest and lying to avoid making anyone uncomfortable. At times I held back the truth to protect my own fragile heart. If my living child was with me, she would make the choice for me. She deserves to be recognized for her continued role as big sister.
A death of a child affects everyone in the family.
I have overheard my toddler using the terms dead and died in her play in an attempt to process and understand what has happened to her family. When she asks me my thoughts on the afterlife, my heart aches because she deserves to know where her sister is. I know this contributes to the challenges that I now face being around other people. I don’t know how to act when I hear them complain about their children or what seem like mundane, ordinary things in comparison to responding to life and death questions from a toddler.
This world that I live in is the same world that has always been here, but I see it differently now.
Questions about the number of children that I have do not catch me off guard as frequently. While I am learning to give other people a chance to process what I have told them before I rush in to fill the silence, I doubt that there will ever be a time when my heart doesn’t skip a beat with this question.
I know now that I have the choice to say my daughter’s name out loud or in my mind, to talk about my daughter with others or to remain silent. I can choose to stay at home or to go out into a world where babies are everywhere and two-kid families abound.
Eleven months into my grief journey, and I feel less fear. I am choosing to be brave more often, to mention both of my daughters, and to be honest about how I am doing. This world that includes both the bereaved and the non-bereaved continues to pull me in. I find myself wanting to connect with others even when our priorities and concerns are so very different.
Imagine a different world that embraces grief.
I imagine a world that is comfortable being uncomfortable with sorrow and pain. I imagine a time when a parent’s grief and love for their child who has died is treated with compassion and kindness, instead of with platitudes and awkward silence. People will share an understanding that grief is messy and unpredictable, that hope is not readily available in every moment of grief.
I want to live in a world that recognizes that grief for the loss of a child will last forever. A world where the grief and love for our children who have died is equal to the love that people have for their living children. My daughter, Adela, died eleven months ago, but she will forever live on in my heart and in my world. I imagine a world that remembers her.