How did your child die?
I was coming home from an event, and I was coming down the driveway, and both of the boys ran up to the car and greeted me. It was kind of a ritual that we did because they played outside a lot. And then they would dash down through the garden and meet me on the other side. And for some reason that day Koa chased the car, and I didn’t see him do that, and when I turned into my parking spot the car bumped his leg and he fell and hit his head on the rock wall. And so he was pretty much…he was still in an alive state but that was pretty much the end of his ability to survive it.
What was your initial response to the death?
When I felt my car bump something, I thought it was pretty normal, because I hit the rock wall a lot. But some kind of mystic and angelic moment was that the first thing that went through my head was, Victoria, whatever just happened was meant to be. And then I looked in my rear view mirror and saw Koa lying on the ground. And at first I thought, okay, maybe I just hit his leg, or knocked him unconscious, but I didn’t even imagine he was going to die. And when I turned him over and saw what I saw, it was pretty clear I was in a whole different moment in my life, and I mean, so many emotions there.
My initial response was one of responding to a major medical emergency, and being a mom. I mean, holding his face for him because he was so badly hurt, and trying to get help, and a hundred percent focus was on him and the possibility that somebody might be able to help fix it. So whatever time was between that moment and finding somebody who could fix it, it was sort of my destiny, like a pointed direction. And then there were small realities all along the way, like getting to the fire station around the corner, and him stopping breathing in my arms, seeing the blood, seeing everything, and the slow realization of what I was really facing. It was: help him, get to help, and slowly realizing that this was my new reality.
What (if anything) helped prepare you for this experience?
Having done my personal work. If I didn’t have a healthy personal orientation, having done a lot of work on myself, God, who knows, I could see it ruining my whole life and taking me down completely. But because I had faced a lot of grief before in my life, none of it death, but abuse and other things like that, and I had done a lot of deep diving and developing tools for self care, I had those in place already. I would hate to have to develop them in the middle of that kind of grief, I don’t know if it would have worked.
Is there anything you can imagine that would have helped you prepare?
Having had exposure to death and dying. That people die. And that kids die. The reality of our human nature, that we are disposable. Just having had some access to that, in a healthy way, would have been good.
How do you live with the loss? Cope? How does this evolve?
I spend a lot of time with natural elements, just watching the life cycles, trying to see the life and the death, realize that it’s not personal.
I make space for it. I’m honest about it. I take time for it and with it instead of trying to get over it or push it away. It lives with me, I don’t know that I live with it. I’m still living and breathing and walking around so I just go with that, and whatever comes. I believe that there’s a natural understanding somewhere inside of me and in people in general that knows how to be with living and dying. So I’ve sunk deeper back into the knowledge that I have what it takes to move through this, and that people have been living and dying since we’ve been on this mother earth. Trying to tap into that really deep well of wisdom. How did everybody else get through it? There weren’t any answers, they just did, right? So nature helps me a lot, I spend a lot of time with natural elements, just watching the life cycles, trying to see the life and the death, realize that it’s not personal. That really helps.
In the beginning, it was all about Koa. The funeral, the memorabilia. It was all Koa Koa Koa. And then it turned to family, how am I going to keep my family together, and stabilize Banyan (her other son) and Andrew (her husband)? Keep our home in place. And then getting pregnant and having another baby. Family, family, family, stabilize, stabilize, stabilize. Stabilize the marriage. And then it evolved to more personal grief. You know, Koa’s in the ether, or wherever they go, I have to leave that a mystery and not try to unravel that. And my family is intact, my husband is back at work, and my kids are okay. So now’s it’s my look into the world, and how do I feel now? And where do I want to point my energy now that I know what I know? How do I want to live now that I know what I know? What do I want to tell other people? Looking at myself as an individual again.
How have you changed?
I haven’t let it change me yet. Everything’s been about stabilizing and getting back to some sort of a rhythm, a life that I could recognize. I didn’t have big structural changes like some people do, whose marriages fall apart and such. I think the change is starting to come now. I kept going to all my friends’ kids’ birthdays, feeling the pain of it all. And now I can go to those and not have it be painful.
What would you tell others about helping someone grieve?
Don’t say anything encouraging. Don’t try to make it better. It’s about presence. Don’t tell them they’re gonna be okay. Just show up. Do the dishes, deliver food, hold them when they cry. Send a card. Buy them a book. But try to cut down on the words. Help them to find point people to go to when they’re really needing encouragement. Find people that have been through it. That’s where you’ve gotta go.
What has helped you in your grieving process?
Permission from other people is very helpful. A reminder that it’s not going to kill me. I had my point person, I found a healthy relationship with someone and that’s what I went to her for. And every time that grief got monstrous, that’s who I called, and her reminders were gentle, to just really truly go deeper into it.
Going to the native cultures and people who know how to be with grief, like Africans, and Native Americans, the Pueblo people. I just seek out the teachings from other cultures.
What has not helped?
Having to normalize so fast. And to live in a culture that has no tools for being with grievers or death and dying.
Has anything about this experience surprised you?
The sheer amount of beauty and grace and deepening and exquisite unexplainable energetics of loss and life. In some ways my senses are dulled and in some ways I see more than I’ve ever seen before, It’s a deep, deep pathway that has been carved to live life, and to try and appreciate it.
What do you wish other people knew about the death of a child?
I wish people knew that children do die. It’s not just adults.
It is a natural process and we absolutely have what it takes to get through it, no matter who it is we lose at what point in our lives. We have it inside of us, and it’s not always going to feel like it, so find good reminders.
I wish people knew that children do die. It’s not just adults.
What do you want people to remember about your child?
Remember him. Talk about him. Share their memories. Remember that he existed, that he was part of my family. Remember his brother. And care for his brother. One way to remember him is to recognize that we’ve been through this, and not try to act like we haven’t.
Do you still feel connected to your child and if so, how?
My teachings and things that I’ve received in life before this happened and my settling place is to really have a lot of respect for where he is and allow him to be crossed over. And not try to make him here, or make him alive or make him communicate with me, or make him act like he’s a part of my daily life when he’s physically not, though he spiritually is. The way that he is a part of my life is that I’m parenting a child who is on the other side, and what that puts me through still grows me. So he continues to have his place in our family. I don’t try to call him out or ask him to help me with things. I just let him be dead. That was his path. So I let him be there and keep trying to learn the lessons that come from being his mother.
How is it having had another baby since Koa died?
Well, she looks just like Koa, especially in profile, like when she’s nursing, so that’s a little trippy. And she has the life-sized personality Koa had. And I’m still working through the distance, you know, from the way a mom in heart loves a child and the way I feel. I’m not able to be all a hundred percent present with the love the way I was with the boys, it’s like an involuntary part of my heart that’s not thawed out yet, that I don’t have access to. So I would say to parents who have children after their children die, it doesn’t replace, it doesn’t fix it. Now what I have is a beautiful little girl, AND my grief. It didn’t take the place of anything, it was actually more challenging and confusing than it was healing and helpful.
What do you say when someone asks you how many kids you have?
I always say three.
Victoria Markham is a grief counselor with a practice in Ashland Oregon. She assists people through loss and trauma and is also a personal life coach, ceremonial design artist, certified minister/spiritual care advisor, public speaker ,writer, and a sister in the revolution to assist women to rise. 541 261-1870