What is the name of your child who died?
Clint Urban Later (aka CU Later, we had no idea the significance this would have when we named him).
How did he die?
Clint was diagnosed with Hepatoblastoma (liver cancer) on January 25, 2017. Chemotherapy was not his friend and wreaked havoc on his body. After several aggressive rounds of chemotherapy, the tumor in his liver wasn’t shrinking, so he was listed for a liver transplant with Seattle Childrens Hospital. He received his liver transplant in April of 2017 and did phenomenally well. Then, the doctors wanted to do two more rounds of chemotherapy to make sure they got it all. Unfortunately, the final round of chemotherapy completely destroyed his body, his new liver and also his kidneys. That was in June of 2017. He really fought on, but he kept having more and more health problems. Finally, in September of 2017, we learned there was nothing more that could be done, so we brought him home on hospice October 11, 2017. We were so happy to bring him home, as that was his only wish throughout treatment. We set up his hospice bed in front of our living room windows so he could see outside. That night, our daughter had gone to bed and my husband and other son had fallen asleep on the couch. I sat down next to Clint to hold his hand and talk to him. I didn’t think I was sleepy, but I suddenly woke up and he had transitioned at 12:55 am on October 12 in our home.
Did anything help prepare you for this experience?
Yes and no. I don’t believe anything could ever “prepare you” for the death of your child. However, my whole life I’ve been able to communicate with loved ones who have transitioned, including my biological father who transitioned when I was 14. I see us as spiritual beings having a human experience so I don’t see death as the end. We’re energy and energy doesn’t die, it merely changes form.
He comes to me and it’s unmistakably him, like he’s hugging my heart from the inside, I can feel him.
What if anything might have helped prepare you better?
Our culture having a better understanding of death. Everyone goes around denying it as if they will live forever, as if it won’t happen to them. In some cultures, death is a celebration, like the birth of a child. After Clint transitioned, people said “I can’t imagine going through that”, but I think all parents do imagine it. We’re constantly seeing danger and we’re afraid our child or children will get kidnapped or die in a car accident. So I wish people would talk about death more, learn to better understand it and learn to embrace it. Eventually, it will happen to all of us.
What has helped you in your grieving process?
Knowing death isn’t the end. Reading and educating myself on the afterlife. I miss his physical form, his hugs, his snuggles, the way his body felt in my arms, but if you learn your loved one’s energetic imprint while they are here physically, you can experience and recognize it later. He comes to me and it’s unmistakably him, like he’s hugging my heart from the inside, I can feel him.
Grief groups such as WinterSpring and Helping Parents Heal helped. Even general bereavement groups with people who lost a grandparent. It’s a different kind of loss, but there’s no reason to compare, we’re all hurting.
Five years may not seem like enough time, but that was his entire physical life and I do see that his life was complete, he did what he came here to do. I’m not sure why it was so short, but I trust that it was his path.
What has not helped?
My believing in the people I’d been there for my entire life who didn’t show up and/or walked away when I needed them. Maybe they saw my grief as some sort of competition with theirs. I was shocked and hurt, but eventually found acceptance. People can only handle life from their own level of experience and perspective. Other people showed up whom I never expected and I am grateful for those people.
It didn’t help when someone said “everything happens for a reason” or any of the many cliches people speak of when they don’t know what to say. Even though I’d believed that before and I still do now. It just didn’t help in that raw moment. Five years may not seem like enough time, but that was his entire physical life and I do see that his life was complete, he did what he came here to do. I’m not sure why it was so short, but I trust that it was his path.
What do you wish people knew about grieving a child?
Whatever they are feeling is normal. It’s hard and it’s ugly and it will rip you to shreds. The death of a child is unlike any other experience. BUT! Death isn’t the end of the relationship and we can eventually find purpose again and thrive through something like this. In my observation of some fellow bereaved parents, they seem to only identify with that grieving role as if they’re stuck in that moment. For me, Clint’s life was so much more than the moment of his death. I see myself growing and Clint growing along with me even though he’s not in his body anymore.
How have you changed?
I used to be a pleaser and cared about what people thought of me. Not anymore. I am the only person walking my path, so I must live how I see fit. That has been so freeing.
Do you have other children and if so, has your parenting changed?
Yes, I have 2 other children. I’ve learned to hold on loosely. I’m in the grandstand cheering them on and helping to guide them, but ultimately, they’re in charge of their own lives. I realized that their destiny is not mine.
He cried when we had to cut down a dead tree or when a bird hit the windshield on our car. He loved to hug, kiss, snuggle and laugh. He is an old soul and a golden light.
What do you want people to remember about your child?
That he was a love. He loved everyone and everything and he lived in the moment. He cried when we had to cut down a dead tree or when a bird hit the windshield on our car. He loved to hug, kiss, snuggle and laugh. He is an old soul and a golden light. Hoards of people came to say goodbye to him when we left the hospital in Seattle. We weren’t even from there, but just to witness all the many people he’d touched, doctors, nurses, families. It was so beautiful.
Do you still feel connected to your child and if so, how?
Absolutely. I feel him all the time and sometimes I can hear his voice. Also, he loved SnapChat in real life. He and my daughter used to connect with that. Now he shows up in Snap Chat with my daughter and myself. I even ask him to appear and he does, he shows up in the images superimposed on mine. I share it on Facebook so people know it’s possible. Our loved ones aren’t gone or lost! They are always near us.
What do you answer when people ask you how many children you have?
Three. No question.
My name is Mariah Later. I am a 42 year old, happily married woman and have lived most of my life in beautiful Southern Oregon. I love spending time with my family and friends, singing, cooking, baking and sharing the story of my son in spirit and the growth this experience has taught me. As difficult as it was to navigate, I’m grateful that I never gave up. It is my desire to help grieving people heal and to teach them that there is so much more than this physical existence. I aspire to eventually write a book and do public speaking events. Life may be hard, but it’s absolutely worth it. We just have to seek the light through the storm.
Mariah can be contacted at CUL8R1226@gmail.com