"Coping" with the loss of a child
Coping is a verb. It implies “something you do” after your child dies when, in fact, it is not a thing, not a technique. It just is or it isn’t. Either you are coping or you are not, minute by minute for the rest of your life. Sometimes “coping” means not screaming. Sometimes it means making plans with another child without making the event (in your own mind at least) all about the child who is no longer with you — another milestone that [the child] isn’t there for, etc. Sometimes it is going for a day without even thinking of your deceased child at all because you are caught up in something else that is bigger than you for a moment, like a business trip.
And sometimes, coping means not crying with guilt because you let a day go by without a thought of your child — or coping means letting go and having a good cry. At it’s most base, coping means surviving, however you do it, in a manner that doesn’t get you locked up somewhere, somehow.
When my son Daniel died, we lived in Milwaukee. After that, we moved to Madison, Wisconsin. However, he was buried in downstate Illinois in a family plot. Now we live in Florida. Every trip “back home” I have stopped at Daniel’s grave, though it always makes me sad. I remember, of course, the last time I saw him there, which was unfortunately in a coffin. I can’t get that image out of my head, and standing in the cemetery where I saw the coffin lid close for the last time doesn’t help. But at the same time, driving by without stopping would feel wrong, too, so what is the “right” thing to do?
On some visits, the time alone at the cemetery was exactly what I needed. I told Daniel’s spirit, which I imagined actively listening to me even closer than he ever did in life, all about his siblings and their adult lives. Mostly, I let him know that regardless where I live on this physical earth, I know he's near. And he knows I have a home for him in my heart.
There is no right way or wrong way to deal with the cemetery where your child is buried, or the place where your child is memorialized, or the place you scattered the ashes, or the last place you saw them alive — and that’s really what I wanted to say to you today. No one can tell you how to “cope” — you will find that knowledge in your own heart, and it may be a different way than anyone else around you “copes”. That’s okay.
For those of you who recently lost a child — regardless of the age or circumstance — know that we are here for you. This community of parents and grandparents and loved ones who offer our support for you and to you as you make your own journey through grief.