One of my favorite lines in Expecting Sunshine documentary is spoken by bereaved mom Kiley Hanish, founder of the Return to Zero Center for Healing. Kiley talks about parenting after the loss of a child as challenging, but admits that parenting – in general – is hard. I love that honestly! Every time the film editor, Adam Kidd, and I watched that clip while we were finishing up the documentary, we nodded our heads in agreement.
Parenting after loss can be a confusing bag of emotions. Sometime for the better, sometimes for the worse. Here is my experience, in a nutshell:
(I am starting with the sucky parts and ending with the awesome parts.)
HOW PARENTING AFTER LOSS SUCKS
- I am harder on myself for normal motherly responses. For example, postpartum depression. No mom can control this, and when I felt a deep shade of blue after the birth of my second rainbow, I didn’t extend myself grace. I felt angry that I was depressed because I had what I wanted, a healthy baby. Another example; my livid frustration when I ask my older kids to do something a – literal – ten times and they ignore me. This is so normal, but then the guilt bug bites me hard, making me feel that I should respond differently because I have living children at all.
- I worry about my kids’ safety – constantly. On the outside, I may appear an easy-going parent, a go with the flow kind of mom. On the inside, however, I am nervous about all little stages of letting go. I will probably want to walk my kids to school until they graduate from high school. I am scared about them playing in the front yard because of traffic. My rainbows (5 and 1.5 years old) sneak into bed with my husband and I every night. One time, I woke up frantic, thinking I had rolled over my baby. He was just fine, but I scared the pee out of everyone in bed – not literally – because of my screams.
- The question of “How many kids do you have?” never goes away. I love talking about my son that died. Zachary will always be a special part of our family, no doubt. At the same time, I have moved into a healing place where I do not always need to bring Zach up or put myself into situations where others express discomfort with my loss. Sometimes when I am asked the question, I do answer by saying, “I have three kids.” I know I have four kids. It makes me sad that I don’t have an easy answer. Ugh, this question is a trigger for me, for my emotions, even now – almost seven years after Zachary’s death.
HOW PARENTING AFTER LOSS ROCKS
- I take less for granted. This sounds cliché but it’s true for me. I love most of the moments (I’m still human) of learning who my children are and watching them grow. Yes, it is true, I feel guilty sometimes, but I am slowly learning to show myself grace on the hard days. I work hard to preserve our family quality time and try to give each one of my living children special attention. Life goes by so quickly – and no matter how hard we try, we cannot change that – so being mindful has made a huge difference. I began to research and practice mindfulness and meditation after Zachary passed away. Zach has taught me to cherish the present and love people fiercely because time is out of our hands.
- I am more empathetic. My husband would nod like a bobble head to this. I still have troubles being patient (my mom has always called me a “microwave girl”), however now I “get it.” When people are struggling, even if I have not been through the same situation, I remember what helped – and what didn’t – during my tough times. I know for a fact that I was uncomfortable with death before Zachary. That’s not to say I’m chummy with death now, but it no longer makes me paralyzed. I feel like it is a gift to be able to support others through their losses, through depression and other challenging life circumstances.
- I still feel Zachary with me. This is hard to explain but if I was to endeavor to put words to it, I would describe it something like a pit in my chest. Something is stuck in there, in my heart. Just like I know and experience the love of my living children on a daily basis, I understand that this solid place in my heart is the palpable reality of my love for Zachary, living on in me. Gosh, that sounds bazar! I’m thankful I’m writing to a group of people who “get it!”
Yes, I intentionally started with the hard parts of parenting after loss, followed up by the great parts. Like I said, seven years have passed and I honestly feel like a new person – and for the better. I credit Zachary’s life with this change in me. Knowing him, however briefly, has given me more than I can express. I am immensely thankful for all that I have learned on the journey of loss and love. And the one thing about which I am totally certain: Parenting is hard but wonderful!