As a mom who has had a child die, and a grief group facilitator who works with other parents, I’ve come to believe this: on the outside, grief stories look like fear stories, while on the inside, every grief story is a love story. It makes sense: if we didn’t love someone, we wouldn’t feel the loss of them so acutely. The stronger the bond, the more searing the pain of being separated. And because the parent-child bond is wired to be the deepest, the death of a child is for most parents the greatest fear and the most agonizing rupture. And in many ways the greatest love story ever.
I also believe that stories are central to the human experience. From our earliest days, we long to listen to them, not just to be entertained, but to help us make sense of the world and our lives. Stories are one of the most natural ways we learn, and we spend much of our time listening to them, crafting them from our experiences, making sense of them, telling them, and retelling them. It’s embedded in every aspect of life, really, from language to books to education to dreams, social media, movies, radio, television, gossip.
Grief groups aim to provide parents with a safe place to tell our stories, in as much depth and as many times as needed. Many of us write, either privately in journals or in more formal venues like articles and memoir. What I find is that almost without exception, parents WANT to talk about their kids, alive or not. Every bereaved parent I’ve approached so far about an interview for this series has said yes. Every one has chosen to use their real names. Almost every one has sent photos. They are eager to share what they’ve been through, AND share their kids with the world. Over and over I’ve heard parents say they don’t fear being upset by someone mentioning their child who has died; what they fear is people forgetting them.
I have been sitting with grieving parents for over ten years now. And I am always amazed by what I learn from each parent. Much of what parents talk about seems to be universal, and other aspects are unique to the person and their relationship with their child. I feel incredibly honored to get to sit with these people and hear what their experience has awoken in them. I decided to do these interviews and share them as a way to expand the audience. In my view, everyone deserves the chance to witness these powerful stories. All of them begin and end with love.
Of course this is only an offering, and I know some readers will turn away. It’s normal to have very mixed reactions to stories like these. At first we may be scared to even read them, which is understandable. It can be painful and terrifying to imagine ourselves going through something like this. At the same time, part of us is curious. Some call it ‘morbid’ curiosity, but I see it as a very natural human wanting to know. We want to know what can happen in this uncertain life we’re all in, we want to know that people can survive this. And if we look long enough, we can let it develop our own compassion, insight, and courage. Whatever the case, I invite you to sit down with these parents (and other grieving people, as I will probably expand to different losses) and honor them and their children by listening. And let whatever wisdom or awakening that might stir in you bless you, as it does me.