I met Meg a few months after her son, Christopher, died. She was very reluctant to join our bereaved parents group but gave it a try for one night. She’s been gracing us with her presence for four straight groups now, and is planning to take the WinterSpring training soon and become a facilitator. What strikes me most about Meg is her complete honesty about how she’s doing in the moment. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, or pretend to be grateful for any part of what happened. She is also hilarious, as truly honest people often are. I admire how she continues to love, laugh, work, and tell her truth every day.
What is the name of your child who died?
Christopher Philip Stevens
How did your child die and how old was he?
He was nineteen years old and he was killed by a train that hit the car he was in. The car he was being driven in tried to race the train as far as I know.
How did you hear the news?
A policeman showed up at my house at 1:30 in the morning and told me. I didn’t know what to do. I mean, what do you say? At first they had his birthday wrong, so I told him, no that’s not Chris. And then they corrected it, and so I said, yes, that’s him. And they told me about the coroner and all that. And meanwhile behind me the dogs were barking like crazy, and I knew my girls were up. And so I just said, thank you for coming by, I know this is a hard job. Talk to you later, I gotta go. I didn’t know how to react. It was strange.
Parent bereavement groups help. I’ve been to four eight week groups through WinterSpring. Talking with other parents helps.
What has helped you in your grieving process?
Family. Friends. Work. I had a huge support system. Parent bereavement groups help. I’ve been to four eight week groups through WinterSpring. Talking with other parents helps.
What has not helped?
Drinking does not help in that I don’t know how much I’ve actually accepted Chris’s death. I still wear his clothes. I have his ashes in my bedroom, I’m not ready to scatter them yet. I don’t want to let go.
I was telling my sister that I’ve actually started taking care of a few things again, like mowing the lawn, and she said to me, if you’re getting better, why not get all the way better? And I said to her, I’m not getting better, I just got off my butt.
I don’t care how educated you are, until you suffer that kind of loss, you don’t really get it. You don’t really understand how far down in your soul it goes. So it’s not really fair to expect people to get it. I have not run into any really unkind people. So anger at people doesn’t help, even if they say stupid things, and they do. I’m just a lot more accepting of people now.
Has anything about this experience surprised you?
I can’t believe it happened. I never in a million years thought one of my children would die before me. It would be like God actually coming back or something. It was just totally never in my mind. So the whole thing was a very big surprise. I was not surprised by the outpouring of support from the community, the high school, and so on. I was surprised by some of the feelings I had. Like the instant rage when people would say, hey, how ya doing? I hate that phrase. But I get it, I mean, have you ever tried not saying that kind of thing? It’s hard! Harder than giving up drinking. So I’ve stopped hitting people who say it (laughs). But I still hate it. I knew they didn’t really want to know how I was doing. I mean, I didn’t want to know how I was doing. And so I drank. I didn’t want to know.
Everybody wants you to get better but it’s not like that. You cope. You do what you have to do. You try not to feel guilty about laughing and having a good time.
What do you wish people knew about grieving a child?
You don’t get better. Even though you go to parent bereavement, and AA, which I started going to, it’s not better. It still hurts. And if I actually do quit drinking, it’s going to hurt a heck of a lot more. Everybody wants you to get better but it’s not like that. You cope. You do what you have to do. You try not to feel guilty about laughing and having a good time. But it’s always right there. They say the waves get better, but I’m 23 months into it, and so far it hasn’t. A lot of people don’t understand that. But I’m getting very accepting of how people feel. Cause I know how I feel. And now I know other people are walking around with losses like this, and that’s had a big impact on me. I used to just go up to people and say, how ya doing? And now I know that that person could have lost a kid, and that person could have lost a kid, I don’t know. That was one of the biggest realizations for me, that they’re not just people, they all have their story. And they all need to be treated accordingly. So I smile at them. You can’t help everybody, but you can smile at them. To find myself in that position, I mean, I don’t want anybody else to have to be in that position, ever. But they are. And they’re out there.
How have you changed?
I used to know people who had lost a child but I just sort of said, well, I’m sorry, and walked away. Like, sucks to be you! I never even thought about what that person was going through. And it’s not just people who’ve lost someone, it’s any loss. My friend’s daughter is in prison. And I’ve been there for her in a way I couldn’t have before. Loss is loss. I don’t care if it’s you cat, or you kid, or your parents, or your sister. They’re all different types. But I recognize the symptoms now. I’ve been able to help people. People losing their jobs. I got over thinking I had the worst loss.
I have more compassion now. More understanding. On the other hand I have less patience in some ways. I walk away from things more than I used to. I don’t want to fix everyone anymore. I’ve always been a fixer, being the oldest daughter, and being a mother of four children. But when you realize you can’t fix something as major as your child dying, you tend to realize you don’t need to be fixing other people. It’s too much effort. I used to get in all sorts of trouble for sticking my nose in others’ business. Now I just let people have their issues. I needed that, because I was too far the other way.
I might end up doing something like counseling other parents. Watching people get comfort in group is powerful.
The more people say about Chris, the happier I am. So it’s very, very important that nobody forgets, that I don’t forget.
What do you want people to remember about your child?
What I’ve heard: his smile, his happiness, his always being willing to help. I just want them to remember. Anything. And I like it when people come and talk to me about him. The more people say about Chris, the happier I am. So it’s very, very important that nobody forgets, that I don’t forget. I look at pictures of his childhood and realize how much I’d forgotten before he died, just because you do. But yeah, remembering his smile, his happiness, his love, his caring for his family, taking care of his sisters, that’s what I remember. And that’s what people tell me, and that’s good.
Do you still feel connected to your child and if so, how?
That’s a hard one because I hear people say they can feel their loved-ones, and I really don’t. I don’t know if he is there and I’m missing it? Or if it’s not what I expect, maybe I’ve watched too many ghost movies or whatever? I’ll see stuff, you know, like last year we saw an upside down rainbow, which was actually a circular rainbow, which doesn’t happen very often, and we blamed Chris. Stuff like that I always throw out to Chris. Good times, some really good storms. But I don’t know how spiritually connected I am. I’m struggling really hard with that. I don’t quite understand all that. Maybe AA can help me, they’re really into spiritual awakenings. I don’t dream about him much, once or twice. In a dream I felt him come up behind me and hug me, which was nice.
What do you answer when people ask you how many children you have?
Four. If people ask for more than that, that’s fine. I just make it simple. Four. And if you want to talk about it, I’m more than happy to talk about it. I’m happy to tell the whole story. Every now and then I’ll blurt out to a stranger, I lost my son, today’s an anniversary, it’s really hard…and they’ll say, I’m so sorry. Blurting it out to a stranger works, because what are they gonna say? They aren’t going to be mean.
Meg Selby has worked in the printing business for over twenty years and is the mom of three daughters and a son.