In the wake of child loss, everything feels heavy. There is a physical nature to grief that is inconceivable to those who have not lived it. The ache in my heart is real; it feels like a weight in my chest. I have never been so aware of my soul; that is the only explanation for the depths of my pain. Even joy feels heavy, for it is followed quickly by thoughts of what can never be. Why must it all be so heavy? Since my daughter’s death, I have struggled with this piece of my grief. It is unbearably daunting and provokes anxiety for what the future might hold. Will even the brightest moments forever feel heavy? Will my lighthearted nature ever return?
Related: When Joy and Pain Exist Together
The weighty hand of grief bore down upon me as I celebrated my thirtieth birthday recently. I had a festive weekend planned and was looking forward to spending time with people I love. When the day arrived, I was blindsided by the depth of emotion I experienced. Admittedly, I spent much of the day in tears. Guttural sobs racked my body as if my grief was new again, and I felt pain so raw that I thought surely I must be speeding backward in time, back to those early days of our after. There were moments when I could feel nothing beyond my longing for our daughter. And yet, when I look back on this significant birthday, I am able to pinpoint beautiful moments among the sorrow.
These milestones – whether our own or those of our children – have the power to bring us to our knees. Even when they incite joy, a tremendous sense of loss remains. We are deeply aware that someone is missing from the festivities, from the family photo, from the memories in the making. Despite the reasons to celebrate, we carry a heaviness in our chests. This interweaving of joy and sorrow may be difficult for the non-grieving to understand. Can we not set aside grief’s weight for even a moment, to celebrate the joy that remains for us? The answer is a resounding no. Grief is not a choice. It is a constant, and at the most significant times of our lives, it tends to bear down most strongly.
I am learning, albeit slowly, that there is a reason why everything feels so heavy for the bereaved parent. It is because we have much to carry.
Related: Weight: When Loss is Heavy
We carry the knowledge that for every milestone our families observe, the children no longer with us will never celebrate the same life markers.
We carry the responsibility of reminding the world of our children’s existence, for they are not here to make themselves known.
We carry the grace to face a world that is uncomfortable with being uncomfortable, a world that mistakes vulnerability for weakness.
We carry the hope that beauty will join our brokenness, that there is still light left for us here.
And above all, we carry the weight of our children’s stories, and we wield them wherever we can, for their lives matter, despite how brief their lifetimes.
Sarah Burg is a wife, writer, and mother of three beautiful children. Following a heroic battle with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), Sarah’s second daughter, Willow Grace, died in her arms shortly after birth in June 2016. Willow’s death has transformed Sarah into a writer with a reason, and she hopes to offer healing and kinship to the child loss community through her words. Sarah also blogs at The Rising (www.sarahjburg.com), where she explores life after loss.