“What should we do?”

I’ve asked my husband, other parents of school-aged children, my parents, my pediatrician, and school teachers. “Should I send my children back to school or continue to stay home?” That question has run through my mind every morning for the last three weeks, as I wonder what is the right decision for my six-year-old daughter who will be a first-grader this fall and my son, a four-year-old who needs to start pre-k.

Coronavirus porch project family photo - "What should we do about sending our children back to school during a pandemic?" The impossible decision of a bereaved parent

When coronavirus started, life changed in an instant.

Daycare and Kindergarten were canceled. Online school started at home. Learning moved to iPads and worksheets that my husband and I tried to facilitate while we were lucky enough to continue working from home. We moved through this upset with grace and gratitude as we are not unfamiliar with how quickly life can change in the everyday instant.

“Life doesn’t always go as you’ve planned,” we said and taught our children over and over, speaking from experience. While at dinner, my six-year-old wanted to know why she couldn’t have her birthday party, and my four-year-old wanted to know why he can’t play with his friends at school. I remembered back to when my life didn’t go as planned and how hurt and wounded I was, so I made sure to add to my lesson, “And it sucks. It can really really be hard when we don’t get what we want.” My daughter softened at this validation, the validation I needed to get through her older sister’s death.

Seven years ago my first child was stillborn at 40 weeks pregnant after a perfect pregnancy.

She did not have an underlying illness, I was not immune-compromised, and life is supposed to come before death. She died because a bacteria crawled inside a microscopic tear in her womb’s water sack, causing E.coli to ravage her body before she took a breath.

This is why now I struggle to make the right decision for my living children, in the face of going back to school in a global pandemic in a country that does not have the virus under control. I know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of statistics. I am all too familiar with how it feels to win the shitty luck lottery. I am the mother who had an invisible-to-the-eye microbe steal my child as she slept. I am the parent that wonders if I just would have made one different decision, maybe my baby would be alive today.

I am paralyzed around how to move forward and what to do around next year’s school year.

As bereaved parents, we’ve had enough fear and anxiety to make it through the last four months of change to take the actions to stay safe – online learning, social distancing, and quarantine. Grief and trauma have taught us how to surrender to what life really is instead of what we want life to be. Losing a child teaches you shitty lessons you must learn about letting go of control. I apply this lesson in many areas of my life, but when it comes to my living children, the ones born after my daughter who died, I cannot surrender to this life lesson so easily. I metaphorically grasp onto any control I can have over keeping my children safe, even verging on the edge of being a helicopter or lawnmower parent or whatever they call it these days.

I don’t want to be this type of parent, and yet, at the same time, I have no idea what to do when it comes to going back to school in the fall. I look for advice from other bereaved parents or non-bereaved parents, and everyone else seems to be paralyzed as well. Even though our little family has enough stamina from the fear of knowing loss, to continue practicing social distancing, mask-wearing and giving up birthday parties and vacations, parenting now seems harder than ever. And when it comes to parenting after loss during a pandemic, it seems even more difficult.

When you parent after loss there is this expectation to enjoy every moment because you know the pain of having those moments ripped from you.

But, this does not negate the difficulty of parenting. No matter how much you begged, bartered, and berated the Universe and God for the opportunity, no matter how grateful you are to kiss your children each morning and hug them at night, parenting is STILL hard!

Parenting in a pandemic is even harder. I, like everyone else in this pandemic world, struggle with lack of boundaries between work and home life, COVID parenting exhaustion, the want and desire to have things be as they once were, missing normalcy, along with worry that social distancing is messing up my kids’ mental health. And to top it off, bereaved parents don’t get easier children or have an easier time parenting just because they worked to get to this point harder than others.

In some ways, the expectation of parenting is even more challenging after losing a child. Bereaved parents put the expectations on themselves that we must enjoy every moment, continue to sacrifice our own needs for our children, and make all the right decisions because we worry if we don’t the Gods will see we are ungrateful, and we magically think the penance to be paid is possibly the loss of another one of our children.

That’s what makes the decision of going back to the school this fall during a pandemic SO hard.

As bereaved parents, we know that decisions matter. Every action has an opposite action or in my case, actions that turn into consequences. I don’t want a decision to send my children back to school in the fall, with COVID-19 uncontained in our country, to be one of those actions I regret. And, at the same time, I still desire a sense of normalcy, a break from this new normal.

Which is why each day I ask my husband, “What should we do?” And, we continue to weigh the seemingly innocent and ordinary action of sending our children back to school in the fall in the time of coronavirus, knowing full well that an ordinary everyday action can have disastrous outcomes. Which is why I’m paralyzed and still don’t have an answer on what to do next.

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