Dear Mother Hen,
Until last summer our life was almost perfect. I wish that I had realized how great it really was back then. We had a beautiful eight-year-old daughter with her father’s curly red hair, and a lively four-year-old boy who wore pants out at the knees as fast as we could buy them.
In June, Emily started to complain of headaches. We gave her some children’s Tylenol, put cold cloths on her forehead, and thought nothing much of it at first. When she began to wake up screaming in the night, I booked an appointment with our pediatrician.
This turned out to be the first of many visits to doctors’ offices. When all the tests were run and the MRI came back, they told us that Em had a brain tumor. By this time she was throwing up every day, and in such misery it broke my heart. We agreed to surgery. I was so terrified that day that I was throwing up too, running to the bathroom then running back in case I missed any news.
It was cancer. Emily had both radiation and chemotherapy, and she was so brave. She turned out to be stronger than me. The first day she woke up with some of her gorgeous red hair sticking to her pillow, I broke down and cried my heart out.
My sweet little girl told me, “It’s okay, Mom. Really, I don’t mind,” and I bawled even harder.
We lost her at the end of August. Emily was buried in a white sateen dress that she was supposed to wear to my sister’s wedding just a couple of weeks earlier. Her curls were just beginning to grow back, and they surrounded her head like a halo. When they closed her casket, I thought my legs were going to give out.
I try to be strong for my son, but I walk around like a zombie most of the time. I know that he needs me, but my heart just isn’t in it any more.
Her birthday was in April, but she is never going to turn nine. I was a mess all that day. My husband tries to be supportive, but he deals with it by throwing himself into his job more than ever.
I am already dreading the day in August that will be a year since she left us. How am I ever going to get through this? I miss my baby girl so much!
Dear Mom with Empty Arms,
I am so sorry for all that you have been through with Emily’s illness and death. There is no pain like that of watching your child suffer, and then having to go on without her. I understand, because I am also a mother with empty arms. My son had cystic fibrosis, and we said good-bye to him six years ago.
Losing a child is like having a limb amputated. You will never be the same, ever, but as you go along you get better at coping. We just have to try to live our lives in honor of our wonderful children who are no longer with us.
Somehow, we survive from one day to the next, until we get “used” to the pain, that dull ache that is always there. Eventually, you catch yourself smiling at a precious memory, or you realize that you haven’t cried for a day or two. We go on, for those we love who still need us, and because that is what you do. You find a new “normal.”
Give your son what you can, and enlist others to help take care of him. You are emotionally exhausted, so being kind to yourself! When you are attentive to your own needs, and take care of your son’s mother , you are also taking care of him.
There is no doubt that certain dates, like your daughter’s birthday or the anniversary of her death, will be particularly hard. Some of us look through photo albums and cry. Some go away for the day and plan something special. You may wish to visit your daughter’s grave with flowers, or even have a spa day if it makes you feel better. There is no single correct way to grieve. Whatever makes the day more meaningful or bearable for you is what is right.
You ask, “How am I ever going to get through this?” You do it one minute at a time, then one hour at a time, then a day, then two, until finally you realize that life is going on for you, and it’s okay.
Our love for our children will never die. We are not going to forget. We are not going to get over it. We will, however, because of love, go on anyway. Life still needs us here, so we will find a way.
In memory of Emily, Darren and all of our dear children, let’s live fully every day. They have taught us what a precious thing life really can be.