On this day, four months ago, my son died.
These are not words I ever thought I’d write. Some day, far in the future, my son should have written them about me. He’d be sad, because as I know, no matter how old you are, it hurts to lose your mom. But at some point, we all become orphans. Losing our parents is a part of life, part of the natural cycle as we’ve come to know it in the 21st century.
We aren’t supposed to lose our children. This isn’t the Middle Ages or even Victorian times, when disease, hunger and the need for child labor meant a kid was lucky to survive past the age of five. No, this is modern-day America. I found this from the organization ChildTrends: “Life expectancy for newborns has increased substantially over the past 80 years, from 57 years for infants born in 1929 to 79 years for infants born in 2015. Around 1 percent of children born in 2014 (the latest year for which such estimates are available) will die before they reach the age of 20, compared with 11 percent of children born in the early 1930s.”
One percent. Sounds pretty reasonable, unless you are a parent whose child is one of the one percent.
If one percent of children are going to die, and child death has always been with us, why is there no English word for parents who have lost their children? A quick Google search shows this lack is the subject of multiple articles, posts and threads. Plenty of speculation exists around why this is so, and there even some proposals for appropriate words, yet there is no single English word like “orphan” or “widow/er” to describe parents who have lost a child. Instead we say, “grieving parents” or “bereaved parents.”
I have a few other phrases:
- “Parents whose hearts have been ripped from their bodies.”
- “Parents whose arms feel empty.”
- “Parents whose souls endlessly mourn their missing piece.”
- “Parents who get up every day so they can ‘fake it until they make it’ for each other and their surviving kids.”
- “Parents who are drowning in grief and sorrow.”
- “Parents who will never again be whole in this life time.”
- “Parents whose families have been blown apart and are trying to put the pieces back together, except one is missing and healing is painful and sometimes even feels futile.”
- “Parents who would trade almost anything to go back in time.”
- “Parents who miss their child’s face and sweet laugh the way they’d miss oxygen were it suddenly taken away.”
I realize I am a lucky parent, because I still have two amazing children. People say, think about them. Focus on them. And believe me, I do. But focusing on them doesn’t negate the terrible, awful loss of their brother, because they are missing him, too. After all, there’s no word to describe someone who lost a sibling, either.
Witnessing my son and daughter’s sorrow, and knowing how this will follow them through their lives, is a terrible part of my own grief because being a mom—nurturing, supporting and helping to develop happy, successful human beings—is my most important purpose in life, one I joyfully chose three times. And I failed. One of my children is gone.
What’s the word that encompasses that? Maybe that’s the problem. This kind of loss is just too big for a language like English to describe.
Maybe there is no word that can illuminate the depth of grief I feel now, four months after my son died.