At 28 years-old I bought a casket. A three-foot cakset, for a child, my only child. Her name was Emma Kelli and she made my world turn; when she unexpectedly passed away, it was only natural that my world stopped. The rest of the world kept moving, but mine stood still.
The grief and pain of losing a child is what I would imagine a soaking wet, extra-large jacket that you cannot get off feels like. A jacket that all beareved parents will wear for the rest of their lives. This jacket won’t ever become a hand-me-down, it cannot be outgrown, and it cannot be lost.
The rest of the world kept moving, but mine stood still.
The jacket represents membership to a club whose members didn’t ask to join because the admission fee is far too high. Bereaved parents struggle daily, not just on their child’s birthday or the anniversary of the loss. At any given moment, grief can hit without warning and has no mercy. It doesn’t discriminate based on who you’re with or where you are, and it certainly doesn’t care if now is not the time.
The natural progression of life is interrupted when a child passes away. Parents aren’t intended to bury their children. People will try to shed light on why a child would die, and I’ve heard them all. At some point in this “new normal” I’ve come to the conclusion that there will never be a reason good enough that my child did not outlive me. On my more rational days, I take peace in knowing that we live in a broken world, and because of that, children die, people get cancer, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. I’ve sat among other parents, mostly mommas, who have carried the same membership card I have. These women have been in the trenches, and while our stories are all very different, we grieve the same pain of knowing what it’s like to visit our child only at a cemetery. These women and parents are some of the most humble people I know. Every day we show grace and humility with invincible strength and somehow survive the pain of child loss.
We’ve all heard well-intended people say some of the dumbest, most ignorant things to us in the midst of our grief. I often get asked how people can help their friend who experienced the loss of a child.
When someone you know is grieving the loss of a child, choose your words wisely and avoid saying things like:
- At least…
- Never start a sentence to a bereaved parent with “at least.” At least they didn’t suffer…at least you had them for as long as you did…at least you have other kids…at least you can have more children…
- Everything happens for a reason…
- Be thankful…
- Parents who have experienced loss this great know the value of life, and therefore are the most thankful.
- Have faith…
- There was a time when I thought, “Maybe if I was a more Godly woman I’d still have a daughter.” Of course now I know how silly that sounds. My faith, or lack thereof, depending who you are, would not have saved my daughter’s life and at some point I needed to not just say that, but actually believe it. In a time of grief so heavy I had to take care of myself and not asking the “what ifs” was a part of my self-care routine.
- Time heals all wounds.
- It’s been 4 years and 10 months since I held my sweet baby and kissed her head. My pain is the same and I miss her as much today as I did on that cold, fateful day.
- Don’t ask for details.
- It’s none of your business.
- Asking for the details of the situation is only asking the parent to relive the worst moment of their life. Don’t post on social media, because it will create a wildfire of rumors. If a person wants to divulge details, they will. Let them do that in their own time.
If you feel like you need to say something, try these:
- Is there anyway I can help carry your burden?
- What do you need from me today?
- I’ll walk with you every step of the way.
- Tell me about your baby. (I want people to speak Emma’s name. I want to hear their favorite stories, and I want to share mine.)
- There is no good reason this happened, I’m sorry.
- I’m thankful for our friendship.
The best gift I ever received after my daughter passed away was the presence of people. Some people just came and sat, and they didn’t say a word. There are times when even I don’t know what to say to others who have lost a child. Just knowing someone took time to just be present was comfort enough.
On October 15th, people around the world will light a candle in rememberance of those babies who never made it home and the ones who didn’t stay long.
To the mothers with empty arms,
I’m sorry, it’s not fair, and it’s not right. My heart sincerly hurts for you. Nothing will ever replace the hole that was created when you had to say goodbye to your baby. You are not alone, seek help, seek therapy because the burden is too big to carry alone. Take time for yourself and know that each day you make it here on earth puts you one day closer to eternity with your child.
Stand strong momma, and when you cannot, drop to your knees and let Him hear your cries.
In memory of Emma Kelli Turner
September 9, 2013 – January 29, 2015