Yesterday my sister girlfriend Barbara's 40-year-old daughter passed away from cancer. Tragically, this is the second daughter she has lost. How do you make sense of this?
Hearing the traumatic news of a death usually throws you into a state of shock and disbelief as you try to defy reality and pretend it hasn’t happened. The sheer intensity of your feelings, the utter despair at the loss, and sometimes the physical pain you may suffer, all lead to a sense of numbness.
The death of someone close can be the most devastating experience you'll ever have. But the death of your child must turn your world upside down. To watch someone, whom you gave life, who's an extension of yourself, lying dead while you are a live, challenges the nature of things. Parents have to be left with making sense out of nonsense. Children should grieve the loss of parents, not the other way around. We help our children over the year's deal with the death of a pet and loved ones such as grandparents, but we are not prepared to deal with the death of our children. Coping with the death of a child has to be the biggest burden any parent could possibly bear.
I remember when my parents died, I felt like I had lost my past. When you lose a child, it must feel like you have lost your future.
I also remember after their deaths, how difficult it was to experience each birthday, anniversary and holiday without them. For a parent it must seem near impossible to get through all the things in the future that their child would have enjoyed had they lived. I can' t imagine anyone fully recovers from the death of a child; they just adjust to it the best as they can.
My heart breaks for Barbara, for her daughter Sheri who died way too young, and for her granddaughter Danielle who is in her early teens and will have to live her life without her mother to share in her life's journey of joys and sorrows.
So what can I do for my friend? Be there. Encourage her to face life at her own pace, listen when she needs me to, join a support group if she needs to, and encourage her to find ways to honor her daughters memory down the line. I am not talking a cold shrine here, but giving back in some way; perhaps make a donation to a cause Sheri favored, or provide support for others who are just beginning their journey of grief.
I imagine when your child dies you gasp in the air. I pray that Barbara learns to breath freely once again.