7 Things I Have Learned Since the Loss of My Child

Child loss is a loss like no other. One often misunderstood by many. If you love a bereaved parent or know someone who does, remember that even his or her “good” days are harder than you could ever imagine. Compassion and love, not advice, are needed. If you’d like an inside look into why the loss of a child is a grief that lasts a lifetime, here is what I’ve learned in my seven years of trekking through the unimaginable.

1). Love never dies.
There will never come a day, hour, minute or second I stop loving or thinking about my son. Just as parents of living children unconditionally love their children always and forever, so do bereaved parents. I want to say and hear his name just the same as non-bereaved parents do. I want to speak about my deceased children as normally and naturally as you speak of your living ones.

I love my child just as much as you love yours– the only difference is mine lives in heaven and talking about about him is unfortunately quite taboo in our culture. I hope to change that. Our culture isn’t so great about hearing about children gone too soon, but that doesn’t stop me from saying my son’s name and sharing his love and light everywhere I go. Just because it might make you uncomfortable, doesn’t make him matter any less. My son’s life was cut irreversibly short, but his love lives on forever. And ever.

2). Bereaved parents share an unspeakable bond.
In my seven years navigating the world as a bereaved parent, I am continually struck by the power of the bond between bereaved parents. Strangers become kindreds in mere seconds– a look, a glance, a knowing of the heart connects us, even if we’ve never met before. No matter our circumstances, who we are, or how different we are, there is no greater bond than the connection between parents who understand the agony of enduring the death of a child. It’s a pain we suffer for a lifetime, and unfortunately only those who have walked the path of child loss understand the depth and breadth of both the pain and the love we carry.

3). I will grieve for a lifetime.
Period. The end. There is no “moving on,” or “getting over it.” There is no bow, no fix, no solution to my heartache. There is no end to the ways I will grieve and for how long I will grieve. There is no glue for my broken heart, no exilir for my pain, no going back in time. For as long as I breathe, I will grieve and ache and love my son with all my heart and soul. There will never come a time where I won’t think about who my son would be, what he would look like, and how he would be woven perfectly into the tapestry of my family. I wish people could understand that grief lasts forever because love lasts forever; that the loss of a child is not one finite event, it is a continuous loss that unfolds minute by minute over the course of a lifetime. Every missed birthday, holiday, milestone– should-be back-to-school school years and graduations; weddings that will never be; grandchildren that should have been but will never be born– an entire generation of people are irrevocably altered forever.

This is why grief lasts forever. The ripple effect lasts forever. The bleeding never stops.

4). It’s a club I can never leave, but is filled with the most shining souls I’ve ever known.
This crappy club called child loss is a club I never wanted to join, and one I can never leave, yet is filled with some of the best people I’ve ever known. And yet we all wish we could jump ship– that we could have met another way– any other way but this. Alas, these shining souls are the most beautiful, compassionate, grounded, loving, movers, shakers and healers I have ever had the honor of knowing. They are life-changers, game-changers, relentless survivors and thrivers. Warrior moms and dads who redefine the word brave.

Every day loss parents move mountains in honor of their children gone too soon. They start movements, change laws, spearhead crusades of tireless activism. Why? In the hope that even just one parent could be spared from joining the club. If you’ve ever wondered who some of the greatest world changers are, hang out with a few bereaved parents and watch how they live, see what they do in a day, a week, a lifetime. Watch how they alchemize their grief into a force to be reckoned with, watch how they turn tragedy into transformation, loss into legacy.

Love is the most powerful force on earth, and the love between a bereaved parent and his/her child is a lifeforce to behold. Get to know a bereaved parent. You’ll be thankful you did.

5). The empty chair/room/space never becomes less empty.
Empty chair, empty room, empty space in every family picture. Empty, vacant, forever gone for this lifetime. Empty spaces that should be full, everywhere we go. There is and will always be a missing space in our lives, our families, a forever-hole-in-our-hearts. Time does not make the space less empty. Neither do platitudes, clichés or well-wishes for us to “move on,” or “stop dwelling,” from well intentioned friends or family. Nothing does. No matter how you look at it, empty is still empty. Missing is still missing. Gone is still gone. The problem is nothing can fill it. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after heartbreaking year the empty space remains.

The empty space of our missing child(ren) lasts a lifetime. And so we rightfully miss them forever. Help us by holding the space of that truth for us.

6). No matter how long it’s been, holidays never become easier without my son.
Never, ever. Have you ever wondered why every holiday season is like torture for a bereaved parent? Even if it’s been 5, 10, or 25 years later? It’s because they really, truly are. Imagine if you had to live every holiday without one or more of your precious children. Imagine how that might feel for you. It would be easier to lose an arm, a leg or two– anything— than to live without your flesh and blood, without the beat of your heart. Almost anything would be easier than living without one of more of your precious children. That is why holidays are always and forever hard for bereaved parents. Don’t wonder why or even try to understand. Know you don’t have to understand in order to be a supportive presence. Consider supporting and loving some bereaved parents this holiday season. It will be the best gift you could ever give them.

7). Because I know deep sorrow, I also know unspeakable joy.
Though I will grieve the death of my son forever and then some, it does not mean my life is lacking happiness and joy. Quite the contrary, in fact, though it took awhile to get there. It is not either/or, it’s both/and. My life is more rich now. I live from a deeper place. I love deeper still. Because I grieve I also know a joy like no other. The joy I experience now is far deeper and more intense than the joy I experienced before my loss. Such is the alchemy of grief.

Because I’ve clawed my way from the depth of unimaginable pain, suffering and sorrow, again and again– when the joy comes, however and whenever it does– it is a joy that reverberates through every pore of my skin and every bone in my body. I feel all of it, deeply: the love, the grief, the joy, the pain. I embrace and thank every morsel of it. My life now is more rich and vibrant and full, not despite my loss, but because of it. In grief there are gifts, sometimes many. These gifts don’t in any way make it all “worth” it, but I am grateful beyond words for each and every gift that comes my way. I bow my head to each one and say thank you, thank you, thank you. Because there is nothing– and I mean absolutely nothing– I take for granted. Living life in this way gives me greater joy than I’ve ever known possible.

I have my son to thank for that. Being his mom is the best gift I’ve ever been given.
Even death can’t take that away.

~ Angela Miller

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Comments (36)

  • It’s been 39 years. I’m not ‘over it’. Like you say, There is no getting ‘over it’. Recently I found this Hopi prayer which became buried in my disorganized mess. A young Hopi woman was killed in one of the Iraq wars. The prayer was read at her funeral. I find it deeply touching. It’s almost as if my son is speaking to me. Do not stand at my grave and weep – I am not there I do not sleep – I am a thousand winds that blow – I am the diamond glint on snow – I am the sunlight on ripened grain – I am the gentle autumn’s rain – When you awaken in the morning hush – I am the swift uplifting rush – of quiet birds in circling flight – I am soft stars that shine at night – Do not stand at my grave and cry – I am not there – I did not die

  • Angela,
    This is remarkable and beautifully said.
    I’m a grandparent who lost her infant granddaughter and everything you said applies to grandparents too. We also have to grieve for and with our child(ren) who lost theirs. It’s a double whammy but there’s a lot of wisdom in your words, for us too.
    Thank you,
    Vicki T

  • Finally, someone who understands. We lost our 50 year old son unexpectedly on Christmas Day 2013. I love Christmas in church, but I detest it at home. He and I had the same warped sense of humor, and while I can laugh with my remaining son and daughter, it’s not quite the same. It’s good but just not the same. I can’t wait to join him, but our daughter will be devastated, so here I am. The doctor has put me on an antidepressant but I don’t know that it really helps. Of course, I haven’t tried not taking them!

  • Your words could not be more truthful! I am listening to the children from the most recent killings and my heart is hurting even more!
    I do wish people would not dismiss my son and my granddaughter’s passings. This is a grief that never leaves. I don’t force others to be part of that grief so I do not understand why some dismiss it as if it should be ‘over’.

    Thank you for your words

    • I agree with many of the comments made already. Yes, the loss never leaves. It’s been 8 years since I loss my son. Somedays I wake up in tears missing him so deeply. And, yes, while I did want to die for the first couple of years, I came to realize what that would do to my daughter and others. It was the thinking of a coward. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. Thank you for sharing. I stopped sharing for a while. I was just overwhelmed. I recently lost my husband of almost 45 years and even that doesn’t compare. Oh my!!! But life goes on, just differently. Thanks again. Be Blessed.

  • If I could I would put my arm around you, we would weep as one and it would be comforting. When this tragedy happened to us people with whom we had been close friends – disappeared. Other parents with whom we were not acquainted, whose children were friends with our son, came ‘out of the woodwork” in support. I have to confess that before it happened to us I didn’t know how to respond. I think that people are fearful that they might breakdown in tears. That would be the absolute best, kindest thing they could do. Hold you and shed tears with you. that would show how their hearts ached for you.

  • Thank you for these beautiful words. It’s been 27 yrs, and you have said what I wish so many would understand. Every time I mention my sons name people look at me like “aren’t you over this yet”. A few years ago someone ask me what it was like to loose a child. I thought about it for sometime and in my mind it is like a gigantic thunder storm. In the beginning there are the huge black clouds rolling and twisting every which way. As the years pass there is a little more sunshine creeping in. There will always be those black clouds on the horizon that are visible to the eye and felt in the heart.
    Thank you again for your words.

  • Reading this publication – no matter the article – makes me break down in tears. Then I want to copy to my Facebook profile so my friends and family will understand but they never will. They WANT to fix me and the advice never stops pouring ear. I have a dead ear to the world now and stay even more solitary in the empty spaces.
    If you are not on anti-depressants, I don’t see how. If there is a stigma, I don’t care. All I know is that without them, I would not be here today – I would have left a long time ago.

  • Passing the Hopi Prayer along was comforting to me although I shed many tears as I typed it in. This is another tribute which I found somewhere, sometime along life’s pathway. I think the author was writing as a tribute to a friend who had died but it’s also as though the one who is gone is speaking to the living.
    I have been given to the winds – To fly forever – My soul is free of earthly cares – And I am one with the infinite God – Creator of the Universe – I am soaring on winds from the seas – The eternal skies hold me – As tenderly as life itself – Look for me in every sunset – Each awesome cloudless day – And star filled night sky – For I will be gliding – O’er the mountains with the eagles = Thank you for being my friend – I shall never forget you – You are with me – Whenever I need you – I am not alone – All is well with me – My heart is full of joy – I wish everyone peace – Follow your own path – We will surely meet again someday – And when that someday comes – We will fly together – Again.

  • I agree with most of your points, but I disagree that it cannot get better, that the pain cannot ease, and that you cannot learn to live with it better. There is tremendous help available. There are great therapists out there that can help and attend to your particular needs. We do not all grieve the same way. There is no magic formula. It’s a treacherous painful road, but you will come out a better person on the other side and you will learn to live your life with the pain. Eventually the pain will not overwhelm you as the positive memories will start to dominate. There is hope and there is much good you can still do on this Earth. So don’t ever quit. Your child is expecting great things from you don’t disappoint him!

    • Tony, thank you for embracing hope and possibility, for I, too, do believe that we all have the ability to heal our heartaches big and small, and 27 years after my son’s unexpected death following his delivery, I am so honored and proud to celebrate the time and life we had together.

  • My son, William, was mentally disabled all his 33 years so he had been constantly with us. I have grieved until I could not grieve anymore since 2015 when he died from colon cancer. Tomorrow would have been his 36th birthday! It is a hurt like no other and none can understand except those that have also walked this way. However, as the years pass, the sting of his absence lessens and my whole family can move on. Wish all that have lost a child, peace, and consolation from the LORD to face each new day.

  • Mike says, No one no’s what a parent mind goes threw after losing a child, the greif is like a fly that keeps coming back and landing on you; it never goes away like the love of the child

  • Thank you for sharing this. It has been almost six years since I lost my daughter to an accidental overdose. She had had numerous medical and emotional problems, but I know this was accidental. This was just before Narcan became a household world, and it hurts every time that word hits the news. It also hurts so much when people said to me – even before the first anniversary of her death – get over it! Now many people seem to ignore the fact she was ever here. What you have written is so well said. Thank you for it.

  • Thank you for writing this. My beautiful son passed 2 years ago feb 15th. He was only 32. And although he did die as a result of poor lifestyle choices, it doesn’t make it any less tragic for me – the mother who loves him unconditionally and always will. You’re right; no one wants to talk about our loss – like “he is at peace and in a better place” and all that. And although that may be true, I still miss him every day –

    • Dear Jill,
      I am sorry for your loss and your son’s death. Sending you wishes for comfort, Neighbor. Please know that there are people who will talk and listen and please know that the first step in healing is to honor your grief. Be kind and gentle with yourself.

  • Your words touch my heart. My beautiful daughter has been in Heaven for over eight years. I see and feel her through every sunrise, sunset, beautiful birds, clouds in the sky, babbling brooks, fall leaves….. Yes, we do grieve, but we do feel the beauty of God’s love very deeply. From my heart to yours, big hugs.

  • Angela, the seven things you have learned since your son died are the seven things we all have had to learn, and hard lessons they are. Number three is the hardest for me, as holidays are absolutely brutal. It is mind boggling when I am among family members who loved my daughter yet they are in a celebratory state, enjoying the festivities, while I still don’t understand why she isn’t with me. Sometimes I feel like it’s a magic trick gone bad. While everyone eats or opens their presents for birthdays or Christmas, I am waiting for my daughter to just suddenly walk in the door to join us. I often feel like I have one foot in the “here and now” and one foot on another plane.

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Thank you for this beautiful article from Angela Miller. It highlights so much what all parents feel who have lost a child. My husband and I lost our son, Joseph, 29 years ago to SIDS. We will carry our love for him each day for the rest our lives.

  • Beautifully written. Thank you. Still feel very lost and alone. Can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that I will never again hear my son’s voice or see his smile in person. I would give all my tomorrows for that. All I have now are memories. The ache just never goes away.

  • Thank you, Angela, for your words. It has been four months since my son’s death and I wake up every day feeling empty and without purpose. I often wonder if I will ever feel joy again. You have given me hope that I will once again feel joy.

    • Diane,
      I am so sorry for your loss. I’m so happy for your moment(s) of hope as I can honestly tell you that you can do this and you can one day feel light and joy, again. Honoring your grief is the first step in healing, so please remember that it’s okay to not be okay. Here if you need me, Neighbor.

  • It’s been 5 years that we lost our Andy, This truly hits home for me. We miss him every minute of every day. Love never dies.
    Thank you for sharing you thoughts with us. I would like to see if our local paper would print it, is that ok?
    Being Andy’s mom is the best gift I’ve been given also. Thank you

  • your words are so very true…i will never get over losing my precious daughter and then 3 yrs later losing her little angel that she had left behind…my comfort is in knowing i will see them again! The pain never goes away…we learn to “live with it” but grief has no time frame…it becomes part of who we are…hopefully, we can be of some help to those around us who are also on this journey…just knowing someone understands helps so much!

  • I am counting the days when my son will be thirty years old. March 1 is his birthday. How do you celebrate the birth of someone who has passed. I gave every member of my family a dragonfly necklace to wear on the day he passed and his birthday. This is our way of celebrating Dan. Two years ago on January 27 we lost my son. Every minute of every day is both painful and happy. I will not let anyone forget him. This is how I honor his life and legacy.

  • It’s ten months since my beloved son only 33, died unexpectedly in his sleep. I find myself crying at the oddest times and look for signs of him everywhere. I too, will grieve til the time I take my last breath and hopefully be reunited with him. I think I still can’t believe it some days. I babysit his two year old and worry what the future will bring with her and her mother. It’s a painful journey and I force myself to find some joy in life.
    God bless you all!

  • I, too, lost my son (well, nearly!) 7 years ago. for some reason, his birthday this year was particularly hard. But I knew what to do to start to feel better…a mile swim and a walk in the woods. That is one of the “gifts of grief” that the author mentions. I now appreciate nature (particularly walks in woods) so much more now than I ever did. I knew my spirit needed the healing wisdom of the trees on that difficult day.

    People do NOT understand what it’s like to lose a child.

    It helps to know that others also know that we will never get over this, and that we will grieve for the rest of our days.

  • I remember going to my very first Compassionate Friends Candle Lighting Ceremony. There in the row in front of my husband, daughter, mother and I were an elderly couple. I told my husband that we were going to be that couple for the rest of our lives. I felt a peace during that first service but I also felt that this is a place that I don’t want to belong. I think of my son just like you said, every day, every moment. I think those of us who have lost a child are more compassionate to those people that think we should get over it. I am sorry if they feel out of place when I talk about my son but I listen when you talk about yours. There is no difference, my son will always be a part of my life forever and I will not stop saying his name or sharing my stories, he is important to me. He made a difference.

  • I lost my 23 year old daughter 6 months ago. I am so heart broken I can barely function. I am out of my mind with grief! I am seeing a counselor and am on medicine, but the future looks so very bleak. How do I hang on?

  • Your words and thoughts are so well put together and written. I have been on this journey of grief for 8 1/2 months and everything you said resonates with me so much. Thank you for sharing from your soul to help others who need to hear those words and know in the end we can find that joy and be a light for our lost child.

  • Yes.i have that prayer too. That young woman’s death touched me very deeply and the prayer is starkly beautiful. If I can ever get myself to put up a gravestone for my Branden I’d like to get permission to put it on there. He’d get it and approve. Thank for posting

  • This is beautifully written. Thank you, your words and thoughts has touched my heart. I have been grieving for 1 year now. I lost my beautiful handsome son on 11/7/16 at 7mths old. Everything is still fresh and new to me.

  • Thank you for putting so many of my very own thoughts in one collection! You really hit the mark…and I, too am sorry we are part of this same “crappy club”. It is almost 13 years since my daughter, Carly, died in a motorcycle accident. She was 27, on her own bike, in her own lane. An oncoming driver came left of center and killed her. I am told she died instantly – the only blessing – if I had to find one. No citations or charges were filed, even after we had it investigated. I live with the loss and the injustice of it all. Worst of all, I miss her big blue eyes, shining smile and raucous laughter everyday – the physical part of her. I have to be satisfied with many great memories. The kind and loving person she was lives in my heart and mind forever. I wish your letter could be read by all of the people we have to deal with each days. I would wear it as a sign for them to read! I have become more kind and compassionate to others and more tolerant, too. You never know what someone else is dealing with.

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