When your heart is breaking and there are no words to describe the way you feel how do you go on? What is it, within us, that gives us the strength to put one foot in front of the other when all we want to do some days is curl up and fade away? I am often told that I am strong. I hear the words, “I don’t think I could survive if I lost a child!” or “Bless you for being so strong!” The truth is, yes… I am strong, but I still feel the pain and ache of loss. Some people seem to believe that strength equates to an absence of fear, pain, sadness, or anger. This is not the case. True strength equates to feeling all of those things, sometimes at once, and still moving forward. True strength is found in the willingness to be vulnerable, exposed, and willing to try again. True strength is found in the ability to suffer a tragic and traumatic blow to the core and still be willing to put yourself out there, knowing fully that you could be hurt again.
I am strong, so are many of the people who say that they don’t think they could experience the death of their child and still go on. You don’t realize, until you are in that moment, just how capable you are. It seems superhuman to those who watch but to the one living it… it’s simply survival. I did not choose to be this strong. Life delivered me into a situation which only had two possible responses… go on living or die. I chose to live and that… that is when I discovered how strong I really am. Ask any parent who has lost a child and they will tell you how deep their pain runs, how many nights they laid awake – staring at the ceiling – playing that moment over and over in their head, crying so hard they could barely breathe, and then getting up the next morning to take care of what needed to be taken care of. They chose life, knowing it would be hard, and also knowing that to do otherwise would only serve to add more pain to those left behind.
My daughter, Kristin, would have been three years old on March 22, 2016. She died, unexpectedly, on August 4, 2014, after experiencing complications following surgery. It’s times like these, around her birthday, or Christmas, that I wonder who she would be now. What would she look like? What would her favorite color be? What would her favorite toy or activity be? How would her and her sister, Katie, get along? We’ll never get to know the kid, young adult, or woman Krissy would have become. We’ll never get to see her ride a bike, start Kindergarten, graduate from college, get married, or have children of her own – if she chose to do those things. All we have are photographs and memories of her infectious giggle and crooked little smile… flashes of her twinkling eyes, or echoes of her first attempt at words… ma-ma, da-da, uh-oh, and geddit (get-it). All we have now is an empty place which we fill as best we can with our Love for her and the happy memories. All we can do now is be strong and carry on in her memory. We live life because she cannot.
I know that my family and I are not alone in this ocean of grief. Unfortunately, the company we keep is great in numbers. Every smiling face holds a sadness and longing in its eyes. Every voice cracks ever-so-slightly when it speaks their child’s name. Every heart wears a scar, like a badge of triumph over adversity. Every mind wanders from time-to-time to thoughts of little fingers, little toes, and all the moments stolen away in an instant. Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, we speak with more compassion, we carry ourselves with a bit more grace, we act more boldly, and we hold much less fear… I mean, honestly, what is there to be afraid of when you’ve already experienced the worst of what you could have ever imagined?
So again I say… yes, we are strong, but we wish we didn’t have to be. We’d rather have our children back so we could hold them again and tell them how much we love them. There is nothing that will ever take away the empty space we hold inside. You don’t “get over” a loss like this and time only dulls the pain, it doesn’t remove it. No, all we can do is learn to live with it and, if we feel called to, we can use our experience to help others. My heart goes out to all the parents who have lost a child. We hold a membership to a “club” we wish didn’t exist, and one that none of signed up for, we got selected. In those moments where the pain takes your breath away I offer you my heart, my thoughts, and my prayers. I know they do little to mend the wound but they are all I have to give you.
May our children never be forgotten and may the Love we have for them reign above all else.