I know you blame yourselves.
We (the collective ‘we’ of parents who have buried children) always do.
I honestly hate that you’re included in this we. I hate even more that you’re in the subset that encompasses those parents who let out those uncontrollable screams into pillows in the wee morning hours because some crazy, freak accident/occurrence ripped a gaping hole in your heart that will never fully heal.
Child death goes against the natural order of life. It causes us to throw up all of our mental, emotional, and even physical defenses as we try to explain it. If there’s an explanation, then that means we can prevent it from happening because it has an identifiable cause.
My son died. Three and a half years ago, I signed paperwork one morning for a tonsillectomy/adnoidectomy and 16 hours later I was in the fetal position outside an operating room making that sound that only comes from a parent as they plead for the life of their child. The pleading words to trade my life for his couldn’t come fast or frequent enough.
It was the week before his third birthday and two weeks before Christmas. His presents were bought. His Christmas Eve pajamas were ready to go. He’d been with me when I bought them for all of my lovies and I’d let him pick them out.
Caleb was my shadow, my constant companion with a daredevil streak. He was the perfect example of those boy mom jokes about quiet equaling trouble. He lived life fully and fearlessly. Then, a post op bleed, full cardio-pulmonary arrest in the OR, and 5 days in the PICU ended with him dying the day before his birthday and him being an organ, eye, and tissue donor on his birthday. That last part has been the tiny piece I’ve held onto when the waves of grief become tidal.
The biggest enemy we child loss parents face is the should(n’t) have, the what if. Some recess of our clear thinking minds occasionally tries to be reasonable, but through grief blurred eyes that taint our perception we blame ourselves, others, God, or all of the above. As our former, freer selves pour out of our newly ripped heaven hole never to be seen again, our minds constantly sound the inadequate, inept, questioning, regret filled bell.
I shouldn’t have gone to the bathroom until nap time.
I should have double checked the lock.
I shouldn’t have let go of his hand.
I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss that leg cramp.
I should have taken better care of myself when I was pregnant.
I should have made her stay inside.
I shouldn’t have stopped to chat.
I should have made sure the baby gate latched.
I should have taken him to the doctor sooner.
I should have fought harder.
I shouldn’t have left the room, even for a minute.
I should have triple checked.
I should have done better.
I should have listened to my gut.
I should have been perfect.
I shouldn’t have signed those papers.
It’s my fault.
As if it weren’t bad enough to bury a child and live with the guilt of not saving them, we are surrounded by the ease of the internet. We have a general public full of perfect people who can be all too quick to point out our faults as they are perceived through the naive, rose colored glasses of “that would never happen to me.” I firmly believe this comes from that self defense place within each of us.
It all goes back to blame, to an explanation. Some identified misstep on the part of a child loss parent is a misstep that can be avoided, thereby protecting every other child from facing the same fate. I’ve even heard pediatric cancer parents blamed for not seeking the most aggressive, experimental treatment. There are no boundaries to the finger pointing.
I know this is the absolute, most difficult experience you will ever face. There is no wound deeper, no heartache greater than that which comes from burying your child. There are no rules on how to properly handle it, no guidelines for erasing the nightmarish images that prevent sleep. There is only trying to adapt to an entirely new normal. A normal with a darker reality woven into it.
I have often used the fork in the road metaphor since I buried my corn silk haired Bubba. When he died, myself and my family had a choice to make. We were faced with a fork in the road. I could walk a dark path or a well lit one.
The sadness, darkness, and anger can be, and regularly are, all consuming. The dark path is one so easy to gravitate towards. The well lit one, the one with hope and purpose, is so much harder. At first, steps were taken on that well lit path because I had other children to mother. Really, it was a well lit fog that I sort of stumbled down. They’d just buried a brother, I couldn’t let them lose their mother.
With time, I’ve learned the very best way to still honor and mother Caleb is to live on that well lit path and be stronger from the horror I’ve lived through. I’ve also learned it’s important to take trips to the darkness, to let out the wretched thoughts and feelings that would drag me down to depths unknown. I then pick myself up (and let others help me stand when needed) and keep on living, keep loving. I’ve even started to learn to forgive myself a bit. Not fully there yet, but the guilt doesn’t make it so hard to breath anymore.
Does this mean time heals? Hell no. That’s total bs. Anyone who tells you that this is a wound that heals has never experienced it. This is a wound that becomes a very thin scar that will rip open, although less often with time. It is a transformative experience that reshapes reality and your sense of normalcy. I only pray that you know you are not alone and my heart aches with yours.
So, if it’s ever 3am and you can’t sleep or the heaving sobs feel like they’ll never stop or you’re trying to stop yourself from physically harming the 74th person who reminded you that at least you have other children (as if they’re interchangeable or replaceable) or that you should really pay closer attention, shoot me an email. Find me on FB and shoot me a DM. Reach out and I’ll give you my cell number. Because I get it and sometimes you just need someone else who gets it, too.
With heartfelt love and empathy,