Child Grief: a personal experience

There is no word for this, a grieving mother or father, in our English language, the wordiest language in the world. We could create one to give a name to child grief. It is worthy of a name. Instead of hiding it in the shadows of anonymity.

Right here, right now. Let’s think. What about… ‘childow’ (said ‘chill-doe’) for a grieving mother and ‘childower’ for a grieving father? Following the pattern of ‘widow’ and ‘widower’. It’s better than nothing.

weeping woman for grief sadness bereavement

Abortion, still birth, illness, accident, crime, adoption, suicide… the worst grief there is, so they say. So bad, it’s very difficult to even talk about it, certainly impossible to ‘move on’, ‘get closure’, ‘get over’. All those glib phrases like ‘they’re with the angels now’, ‘he’s at peace’, ‘she was much loved’… all fatuous, vacuous noise, an insult to the fathomless loss, the brokenness, the hell-on-earth, death-looks-welcoming state many of us are confronting every morning when we wake up.

Shakespeare knew. His son Hamnet died. King Lear says,  “Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, / And thou no breath at all?” (5.3. 305–306). We may know that hateful secret feeling of resenting our pets are alive and our child isn’t. Or worse, other people’s children.

This is the first time I have dared write publicly about this most agonising experience, and I want to because I felt so isolated, desperate, so so many years. 20 years. I want to let others know, if they have the courage to connect, that the only way out is to FIND THE POSITIVE. It sounded reasonable, but impossible, unactionable for months, years even, as I sank down into the Bottomless Pit of Despair and gave vent to my own Sound of Ultimate Suffering (The Princess Bride). I lay in bed for the best part of 9 months, replaying the last weeks and days in an endless nightmare PTSD loop, between sanity and madness.

But I just about held on long enough, took enough sleeping pills, to pull through the horror. Then I had a cross-roads, shall I kill myself and end the torment or look for the light.  Gradually, I started crowding out the death-obsession with thoughts about what was going right, and reaching out to good people.

I felt guilty, that these efforts at self-distraction felt like forgetting, that forgetting brought respite, made life half-tolerable. After all the suffering, the least he deserved was to be remembered. But as Christina Rossetti wrote:

Yet if you should forget me for a while
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
Better by far you should forget and smile
         Than that you should remember and be sad.
Of course, we will never forget, but the public, unpredictable, uncontrollable melt-downs became less and less frequent as I learnt to live with the hell-hole in my heart. I got better at sensing and preparing for when the pain needed to be vomited up so I could reset again, till the next time. I got myself into a public loo, I learnt how to scream in silence.
But that innocent question ‘How many children do you have?’ will always always hurt. Do you air-brush them out and only mention your living children, or give the total and mention how you lost one, only to then have to salvage the doom-struck atmosphere…
I feel your pain.
Compassionate Friends organises meet-ups around the country for grieving parents but I have never been to one. I’m not brave enough.

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