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The Greatest Grief

A sudden accident killed your child.
That terrible phone call changed your life
with no warning – you didn’t get to say goodbye –
this has to be the most terrible loss of all.

Your child died by suicide –
you feel you should have been able to prevent it.
Your guilt is devastating.
How can you live with such an incomprehensible tragedy?

You only had one child –
now you have none and your focus in life is gone.
What’s the point of living?
What could be more devastating?

You’ve experienced the deaths of more than
one of your children – will it happen again?
How does one survive this pain again?

When your baby died, your dreams died
you have few memories and you’re too
young to be suffering like this – this loss
is the most unfair.

Someone murdered your child – an
unbelievable violation – you’re angry and your frustration
with the legal system feeds your anger.
This must be the very worst.

You’re a single parent – your child has
died and you have no one to lean on, no
one to share your grief – surely your
suffering is the most painful.

The unbelievable has happened – your
adult child died – you had invested so
much in that child – now who’s going to
care for you in your old age?

You had to watch your child suffer
bravely through a long illness –
you were helpless to ease his pain and to prevent his death –
how do you erase those horrible images?
Yours must be the greatest grief.

The truth is that the death of any child is
the greatest loss, regardless of the cause, regardless of the age.
Our own experience is far more painful than we had ever previously envisioned,
so how could we possibly comprehend what others have undergone.

To make comparisons between our own suffering and the pain of others is an exercise in futility. It accomplishes nothing and sometimes can be hurtful to others. To say that one type of death produces a greater or deeper grief than another tends to place different values on the children who have died.

Each child is worth 100% of our grief, each person’s sorrow is 100% and each loss is 100% of our being. I can’t imagine wanting to walk in the shoes of any other bereaved parent, can you?

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Comments (35)

  • So true, thank you for writing this. I know many parents that have suffered the same loss from different causes and we are the same.

    • Thank you for these words. Our son and his girlfriend were killed together in a road accident that should never have happened, seven years ago. I have gained strength from the amazingly strong women I have met who have also lost a child, in different circumstances, and are further along the grief path, still walking despite the weight of grief, the howling void and the pain. Each one of them has demonstrated great resilience and a determination to live in a way that honours their child’s memory.

  • Thank you. Yes. The death of a child is the greatest loss. My adult son has died. Son , brother and father of 2 children. His son only 8. His daughter only 3. And though my heart as his mother is broken I weep for them. Their never moments. It has been nearly 10 years since that life changing knock at my door. He’s gone. Just like that. They are the without their daddy now.
    I mourn the should haves for the children. I ache their loss . My grandson 17 now tells me he wishes his dad were here. I feel his pain. I nod. Yes. He would be so proud of the young man he has become.
    I still feel anger. The unfairness. For them.
    Anyhow, I thought I’d write this for children

  • We lost our son in 2012 of Dilated Cardiomyopathy that neither his dad or I had none he had. We were devestated. We didnot know which way to turn. Thankfully some friends of ours have heard of the Compassionate Friends so we started attending their meetings. The Compassionate Friends helped us immensely with our grief at the beginning. The group also made us realize that we were not alone and their were other parents just like us that had lost a child or even more than one. It has been 7 and 1/2 years since we lost our son Daniel but we still miss him everyday and we will until which time wew meet again in heaven. Thank you Compassionate Friends for all the help you have given us since our son passed away.

  • Amazing article – so true! It doesn’t matter the reason, we all endure the same hardship of the loss.

  • I believe this is the perfect poem to make members truly realize they are not alone and to help them realize the many, many ways our children have died. Peggy Sutton really got it.

  • Well written, and very appropriate.

    Our chapter starts every monthly meeting off with three rules. Rule number one ties in with Peggy’s writing.

    We do not gauge one death against another. Our loved ones have died at different ages and from different causes. Our common bond is that we’ve each experienced the greatest tragedy of our life.

  • This completely speaks to me. This is why I love Compassionate Friends SO MUCH: Because no one, and I mean NO ONE has ever made me feel as if my grief is less or more than theirs. There is NO JUDGEMENT in this incredible organization. I go to meetings and give the entire evening to the cherished memory of our son. I call it my “Jack night” — even though he is in my heart and mind EVERY night and every day. And when I meet someone new, who has just fearlessly begun this journey (I say fearlessly because he or she showed up!) then I find healing if I can provide the smallest bit of comfort in any way. We are all connected.

  • I lost my ONLY child September 16th, 2017 in a car accident. A part of me died with him the day I lost him and it has been a LONG two years without him. I did attend grief counseling for a year which has helped me to cope with the pain, but of course, the VOID remains as I take it one day at a time.

  • This is all so true you have said it all on one page.. I loss my mother, father brother and a boyfriend who I went with for six years but worse loss was that of my five year old son Corey. My heart breaks for family’s that lose a child no matter what age. I will miss Corey till I take my last break. Hugs Peggy

  • This is so touching a perspective that really helps one
    to lose the “competition” of pain. I think this should be mandatory reading for all new facilitators.
    It also helps me to feel the pain of other families in a way I’d not thought of before. Thank you.

  • Those words are so powerful and timely. No one can truly know the place of someone’s else’s pain after the passing of their child. Each person processes that journey based on their own past hurts and experiences of life. The coping systems that were instilled early on or as we aged is the driving force for how this situation is engaged.
    We who have made it past the grief can reach out a hand of compassion and understanding to those who are in the battle for a return to life itself. When a child dies a part of us is changed forever. The plans and dreams are shattered.
    But we can rise again to new life and love others.
    Jesus is the only way back to life again. He is waiting with an outstretched hand. He has always been there even if we did not sense it, want Him, or knew how to respond to Him.
    I have made it back to life and so can you.

  • This list of loss…and the caring appropriate comment by Peggy Gibson showed me that TCF is definitely still caring, helping bereaved parents–as I was helped back in 1982 when I first started going to the Cincinnati chapter. There I met other parents whose children had died of suicide as my son did.
    Sharing our feelings does lighten the burden if given a chance. For five years, I hardly missed a meeting. I went to three national and one regional TCF
    conferences, took workshops, became a hospice social worker and always learned more about grief process, my own and others. Help came from un-expected sources—I still remember a hug from a Catholic priest who didn’t seem to mind I was not of his faith. Although I don’t need to attend meetings now, I can still tap into that energy—what a gift. To newly bereaved parents, I would say—give TCF a chance. Go to several meetings and don’t expect miracles, just share and care–slowly perhaps (we are impatient!) but surely, one day you may find the depression, anger and pain just a bit lighter—and in reaching out to others, healing slowly begins. (note: my e-mail is my housemate’s: Muriel Blaisdell–ok to use)

  • Beautiful poem, it says it all, for everyone! I lost my son in a motorcycle accident, and that call is forever scarred in my mind. Thank you!

  • Peggy,
    You have said it like it is. We all grieve for our lost child (or children), and for others who grieve for their lost child. It’s the most difficult road to walk as we put one foot in front of the other, and stumble along the way. We are often / usually(?) able to reach out and support others in grief. The unspoken language of grief is universal — if we stop to listen. And no words are needed.

  • Amen Peggy – The suddenness of the deaths of my daughter and her fiancé were like no other pain I’ve ever felt. I especially liked that your article ended with a reminder that grief is not a competition – Every death is unique and painful and to compare is not right for us or for those in our lives. Thank you!

  • I have no words. A wave of grief crashes over me. Thank GOD I have been a member of The Compassionate Friends support group of Honolulu, HI. The group saved my sanity & my life. I am forever grateful. Always Chris & Diane’s mama, Jenny

  • This is just spot on with what I felt and still feel about the death of my son. I have learned there are no “better” ways of loosing one’s child and to never, never say differently to fellow grievers. Much wisdom has come to me since my child’s passing; I guess that is one of the “gifts” of grief.

  • That is absolutely beautiful Peggy. Thank you for taking the time to remind us that we are ALL hurting….our child (children) were EVERYTHING to US.

  • I have talked with many parents through my 12 year (almost) journey. Many different ages, circumstances, two friends who have lost two children. I think you have so well described what we all know, losing a child at any age, no matter the circumstance is horrible… the worst. The worst way to lose a child is the way we each lost ours. Thank you Peggy for sharing all of our hearts.

  • my adult son was my only reason for living. I have Major Clinical Depression and was in the hospital when he was admitted to hospital..Treatment never completed. I am currently trying to get into a hospital for medication management. The problem is it is like going to jail, doing time. Anyway I am broken. Simple things are hard…like deciding which tv dinner to eat. should I wash my hair……I battled cancer this year and chemotherapy changed me. I feel like a child that needs to be taken care of. I am grateful you are here

    • Dear Claudia, I am so sorry that you are going through such a difficult time and my heart goes out to you. If you will call me, I would like to talk to you about finding a chapter meeting of The Compassionate Friends near you as well as some other resources we have to offer you. It sounds like you greatly need support. You can call hear at 877-969-0010. Or you can go to the chapter locator on our website and look for one yourself; it is very user friendly: https://www.compassionatefriends.org/find-support/chapters/chapter-locator/ We want to help you, Cathy

  • Our handicapped and medically fragile daughter died at age 42, last year. The least helpful and one of the most hurtful remarks we have experienced are “you were lucky to have her as long as you did” and “she is better off” when all I can think is that we are unlucky to not have her any more and how could this be better. She will never again attend her day program and spend the day talking with her BFF, no more paintings of balloons, or watching her favorite movies, or going to the ‘dinosaur museum’ and enjoying staring at the huge dino skeleton displays. Our pain is not diminished because we knew she was ill and that it would happen eventually/soon. I share my experience of pain and grief with others who have lost children whenever or for whatever reason, as there is nothing else like it.

  • It’s been 7 yrs. And it feels like so much less my son my baby boy went to be with Jesus after a car accident on his way to church. I Love and Miss him oh so very much and I still wait for him to come home to walk through that door to be at every family function to be at church to watch a movie with me to hug me so tight and tell me he loves me 🤗🙏 to do the same to all his brother’s and sisters Jay, Gary, Anna,Shell,Em,and Kay and his Dad. God I miss him so very much and I just middle through each day because I really just feel like dying.

  • Thank you for this. My daughter choked to death at the age of 35. Although it may be a cliché, it is a grief that Nobody should Ever endure, and I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from this.

    Since the death of my daughter, I have known friends of mine that have had children die, as well. Two of them were lost to suicide. Suicide is something that I’ll never be able to comprehend. You are right, though…Each child IS worth 100% of all that goes with the loss.

  • Beautifully written, Peggy! Leaves alot of room for introspection; which is a great tool for helping others on this site.

    Sometimes, I find myself in a similar or reverse thought pattern rather…I think for example, my cousin Becky; 3 days after I lost my son Bryan, she lost her only child, Hershel. I still have a son; she doesn’t.

    Bryan and I were so close and did so much together…I never realized until this year, how much he did for me, was such a part of my day to day life; I was so blessed to have had him 33 years like that, in my life…I am so thankful. Becky’s and her son were both in the military, but he got a drunk and disorderly twice and was court marshalled. She was angry at him, said alot of things she wished she hadn’t. They went years since then not talking. She tried to contact him to see him a month before he was killed but he wouldn’t take her call…she never got to tell him how sorry she was and how much she loved him! I know it eats at her daily…breaks my heart for her.

    There are other friends I have who have lost multiples, of course I have lost two as well, but my Cami Leigh was newborn; I never got to know her personality, never got to do anything with her. I love her, I regret that she never got the chance at things in life…but then I think of friend who lost their 2 teens 5&10 years apart…they had traditions together, they were close. It breaks my heart for them. One couple are older and cannot have more children, the other couple, the kids were his, she didn’t want any kids and made him get a vasectomy; he would love another child…creates a fruction and an impasse that is so very sad.

    But, I agree with you…to each of us individually as parents of deceased children, I woukd never dream of imagining that any parent losing a child, despite their behavior, woukd hurt any less than I have or do over mine!

    That is one of the things I love about Compassionate Friends…the love and compassion reached out to each and every one at TCF, in need of a friend, comfort, a hug, understanding, sharing in their story, grief and experiences, or just a willing ear without rendering judgement.

    Thank you so much for your and Dave’s love and dedication for the Nashville Chapter of TCF! Like so many others who have attended the meetings there, I don’t know where my life would have ended up with finding this group. It has brought so much healing and support to me! I am sure you daughter looks down from heaven watching you both and is so proud of how you have taken such a painful event in your life and made it a positive healing experience for so many .

    I have been a nurse for 30 years. I co-owned a Nurse Practitioner owned clinic for 6 years, befire beginning volunteer hospice nursing for cancer patients. I was Administrator of a medical non- profit for 6 years as well, and did grant writing for our organization. I additionally was a facilitator teaching conflict resolution skills for the Rutherford County Court system for Donestic Violence offenders fir 5 years. Anything I can do to ever help the TCF group, I would gladly be willing to help out!

    Thanks again for your love and dedication for TCF, in honor and memory of your precious daughter.

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