Parenting my living children has proved to be one of the hardest parts of losing a child. Grief over a child squeezes every last drop of patience and sanity from me. It leaves me a husk of my former self. Emotions like anger, guilt, regret, sorrow, and bleak depression grip me on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Many mornings, I awake, not actually tired any longer. Still, I don’t want to get out of bed. Getting out of bed requires willpower. Once that willpower is expended on getting up, what is left?
Parenting on a normal day can feel like an endless cycle of drudgery. In the face of child loss, it takes on another dimension of difficulty. Menial tasks that once didn’t bother me now leave me asking why? Why do I have to do the kids’ laundry? Why do I have to pay the bills? Why can’t I just feed them fast food every single day and let them watch TV? Why does ANY of this matter?
And yet, it does. Our living children matter, and they need us very much, in the exact time where we have virtually nothing left to give. The world expects us to go on. So from somewhere within, each day, I must find the strength to not just do an okay job. I know how easy it would be to slip into apathy, turn on My Little Pony, and bring home McDonald’s for dinner every night. There are days I do precisely that. And yet, I have to make myself find a way to allow my grief to coexist with my living children’s needs.
Here are ways I have found to parent in the face of grief:
- Take a parenting class. Despite having a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old, I realized that it’s never too late to learn how to better communicate with and role model for your children. We joined a group called The Incredible Years. It has helped me to see my children clearly, as well as address their needs.
- Remember the importance of self-care. Self-care is not synonymous with escaping my life and my grief. It is finding a way to make sure that my needs are fulfilled emotionally and physically so that I can meet the needs of my children. My self-care includes regular exercise, healthy eating choices, time alone to write, to read, and to grieve my son, and time with other loss parents.
- Start a five-minute journal. While I believe in acknowledging and experiencing my grief, I often find it swallowing me whole. It overshadows the good things in my life, and it makes me forget the many things I am doing right with my children. This Five Minute Journal is helping me to remember those things that I do well and the things in my life for which I am grateful.
- Let go of the “perfect parent” ideal and quiet the inner critic. I am trying to learn this. I am beginning to realize that some days, grief allows me just enough space to feed my children and, however I get them fed that day, it will be ok. Some days, grief demands that I lie on the couch, cancel all of my appointments, and let my children watch TV. And they’ll be ok, because they know that I love them and support them.
- Look to your children for respite from your grief. Allow yourself to smile when they smile. Let their laughter salve the wounds, if only for a moment. Do not feel guilt that your living children can bring you joy. Children are wise in grief. It exists for them as seamlessly integrated into their lives as play. They don’t fight against it. When they are sad, they cry. When they are happy, they laugh. They don’t struggle with the guilt and regret of adulthood. They don’t look back and question. They accept what is, and they go on with life – grief a part of them as much as love and laughter.
Parenting my living children may be my biggest challenge as a mother, but it may also be the most rewarding and worthwhile. Solace can be found in their bright and smiling faces. In those faces, I see echoes of their little brother.
Photo credit: Catherine Ashe