I might be normal. Or I might just be crazy. Or I might be a little of both. I will never be the same again. Unless you can bring him back.

The parent-child bond is one of the most meaningful relationships a person will experience. Parents who have lost a child can often feel that a part of them has died. The despair and pain that follow a child’s death is thought by many to exceed all other experiences. Parents are simply not supposed to outlive their children and no parent is prepared for a child’s death.

The length of a child’s life does not determine the size of the loss. Parents are intimately involved in the daily lives of young children, and their child’s death changes every aspect of family life, often leaving an enormous emptiness. Parents may be less involved in the everyday lives of older children and adolescents, but death at this age occurs just when children are beginning to reach their potential and become independent individuals. When an adult child dies, parents not only lose a child, but often a close friend, a link to grandchildren, and an irreplaceable source of emotional and practical support. Parents who lose an only child also lose their identity as parents, and perhaps the possibility of grandchildren.

When any child dies, parents grieve the loss of possibilities and all the hopes and dreams they had for their child. They grieve the potential that will never be realized and the experiences they will never share. When a child dies, a part of the future dies along with them.

Common grief reactions

Grief reactions following the death of a child are similar to those following other losses, but are often more intense and last longer. Parents commonly experience the following grief reactions:

  • Intense shock, confusion, disbelief, and denial—even if the child’s death was expected
  • Overwhelming sadness and despair, such that facing daily tasks or even getting out of bed can seem impossible
  • Extreme guilt—some parents will feel they have failed in their role as their child’s protector and will dwell on what they could have done differently
  • Intense anger and feelings of bitterness and unfairness at a life left unfulfilled
  • Fear or dread of being alone and over protecting their surviving children
  • Feelings of resentment toward parents with healthy children
  • Feeling that life has no meaning and wishing to be released from the pain or to join the deceased child
  • Questioning or loss of faith or spiritual beliefs—assumptions about the world and how things should be do not fit with the reality of a child’s death
  • Dreaming about the child or feeling the child’s presence nearby
  • Feeling intense loneliness and isolation, even when with other people—parents often feel that the magnitude of their loss separates them from others and that no one can truly understand how they feel

Read more about common expressions of grief and loss.

Some people expect that grief should be resolved over a specific time, such as a year, but this is not true. The initial severe reactions are not experienced continuously with such intensity; rather periods of intense grief come and go over a period of 18 months or more. Over time, waves of grief gradually become less intense and less frequent, but feelings of sadness and loss will likely always remain.

Developmental milestones in the lives of other children can trigger emotions of grief even years after a child’s death. Significant days such as graduations, weddings, or the first day of a new school year are common grief triggers. Parents often find themselves thinking about how old their child would be or what he or she would look like or be doing if he or she were still alive.

Gender differences in grieving

Mothers and fathers may grieve in different ways. One parent may find talking helps, while the other may need quiet time to grieve alone. Cultural expectations and role differences also affect how men and women grieve. Men are often expected to control their emotions, to be strong, and to take charge of the family. Women may be expected to cry openly and to want to talk about their grief. A working father may become more involved in his job to escape the sadness and daily reminders at home. A stay-at-home mother may be surrounded by constant reminders and may feel she lacks a purpose now that her job as caregiver has abruptly ended. This is especially true for a parent who spent months or even years caring for a child with cancer.

Differences in grieving can cause relationship difficulties at a time when parents need each other’s support the most. One parent may believe that the other is not grieving properly or that a lack of open grief means he or she loved the child less. It is important for parents to talk openly about their grief and for each parent to understand and accept the other’s coping style.

Helping siblings who are grieving

Parents are the focus of attention when a child dies and the grief of siblings is sometimes overlooked. The death of a sibling is a tremendous loss for a child—they lose a family member, a confidant, and a life-long friend. Parents are often preoccupied with the needs of a sick child and then become overwhelmed with their own grief when the child dies. The surviving siblings may misinterpret the parents’ grief as a message that they are not as valued as much as the child who died. Learn more about how to help a child or teenager who is grieving. In addition, parents can help siblings during this time of grief by:

  • Making grief a shared family experience and including children in discussions about memorial plans.
  • Spending as much time as possible with the surviving children, such as talking about the deceased child, just playing together, or doing something enjoyable.
  • Making sure siblings understand that they are not responsible for the child’s death and help them let go of regrets and guilt.
  • Never compare siblings to the deceased child and make sure children know that you don’t expect them to “fill in” for the deceased child.
  • Set reasonable limits on their behavior, but try not to be either overprotective or overly permissive. It is normal to feel protective of surviving children.
  • Ask a close family member or friend to spend extra time with siblings if your own grief prevents you from giving them the attention they need.

Continue reading more on how to cope with losing a sibling to cancer.

Helping yourself grieve

As much as it hurts, it is natural and normal to grieve. Some parents find the following suggestions helpful while grieving:

  • Talk about your child often and use his or her name.
  • Ask family and friends for help with housework, errands, and taking care of other children. This will give you important time to think, remember, and grieve.
  • Take time deciding what to do with your child’s belongings—don’t rush to pack up your child’s room or to give away toys and clothes.
  • Prepare ahead of time for how to respond to difficult questions like “How many children do you have?” or comments like “At least you have other children.”Remember that people aren’t trying to hurt you; they just don’t know what to say.
  • Prepare for how you want to spend significant days, such as your child’s birthday or the anniversary of your child’s death. You may want to spend the day looking at photos and sharing memories or start a family tradition such as planting flowers.
  • Because of the intensity and isolation of parental grief, parents may especially benefit from a support group where they can share their experiences with other parents who understand their grief and can offer hope.

Read more on coping strategies for when you are grieving.

Finding meaning in life

Parents report that they never really “get over” the death of a child, but rather learn to live with the loss. The death of a child may compel parents to reconsider their priorities and reëxamine the meaning of life. It may seem impossible to newly grieving parents, but parents do go on to find happiness and reinvest in life again. An important step for many parents is to create a legacy for their child Parents may choose to honor their child by volunteering at a local hospital or a cancer support organization. Or, parents may work to support interests their child once had, start a memorial fund, or plant trees in their child’s memory. It is important to remember that it is never disloyal to the deceased child to re-engage in life and to find pleasure in new experiences.

Every child changes the lives of his or her parents. Children show us new ways to love, new things to find joy in, and new ways look to at the world. A part of each child’s legacy is that the changes he or she brings to a family continue after the child’s death. The memories of joyful moments you spent with your child and the love you shared will live on and always be part of you.

Screw this day, I’m taking an Ambien. 14 months without you is bullshit.

Ronan. Today is the 9th. 14 months without you. I woke up at 5 a.m. to take Macy to the airport. I hated that she was leaving on the 9th. I came back home and fell back asleep for a bit. I heard the text message on my phone go off. It was Macy. Her flight was canceled and she couldn’t leave to get back to San Francisco, until tonight. I texted her back. I told her that obviously you didn’t want her to leave either, since it was the 9th and you knew I needed her to stay. I went back to the airport to pick her up. We came back home and crashed out in our bed for a bit. I had to get up to take your brothers to basketball camp and I did that while our Macy, slept. I ran some errands. I watched your brothers play basketball. We came home and Macy helped me with the laundry. I looked at her and she could tell I was panicking. I asked her if it was alright if I went Inferno Hiking. She looked at me like I was crazy. It was 115 degrees today. I didn’t care. Please, Macy. I promise I’ll bring water. She said alright. I skipped out of the house. I filled up your Ronan backpack with a few frozen water bottles. I drove to our mountain. I didn’t turn on my headphones. I kept singing in my head some little song about “115 and I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care…” It wasn’t a very happy song. I pushed myself up the mountain as fast as I could go. I didn’t allow myself to stop for water until I got to the top. I was dry heaving by the time I got up there. If I would have had anything in my stomach, I would have thrown up everywhere. Good thing I hadn’t eaten all day long. My appetite has been back to not much lately. I can survive off of some string cheese and some fruit these days. I did make Macy and I some of your scrambled eggiess this morning. I ate a bite or two. I really made them, for you.

At the top of the mountain, our bench was too hot to sit on so I didn’t get to stay up there for long like I normally do. I tried to sit down, but my butt got scalded so fast that I quickly learned that when it is 115 outside, a rock made bench is not a good place to sit. I think I almost blacked out for a few seconds. I drank some water. I felt dizzy and thought to myself, “Hmmm. Maybe 115 was not such a good idea. But today is July 9th. It’s a danger day. This is a dangerous thing to do so I will just have to find a way back down the mountain, without passing out.” I managed. I looked for snakes, everywhere. I didn’t see any. I keep waiting for the day, that I get bit by a big rattlesnake. I have a plan of how I know it won’t even hurt because nothing hurts like the pain I live with everyday. I have a plan of calling 911 and telling them where I am, what just happened, and how long would it take for the rattlesnake venom to kill me. Just out of curiosity. I might have to google that one. I got down the mountain, somewhat delirious. I dry heaved again before getting into my car. I got home and took the coldest shower possible. I felt a raging headache coming on. Your brothers were hungry and I had to get Macy to the airport so I dropped them to your daddy and took Macy to catch her plane. She rubbed my back the entire way there. She asked how I was. I told her, “O.k.” She said, “No you are not.” I smiled my fake smile at her. We hugged in the car. We both cried. I got out to help her with her luggage. I grabbed her, held her, and kissed her sweet salty tears that were pouring down her cheeks. I tasted those tears of sadness, pain, loss and love as she loved you like you were her own. Her tears tasted just like mine. I wanted to lick her entire face to make her laugh but I just kissed her tears away instead. “I love you, Mace.” “I love you, too.” she said as I watched her walk away. I’ve been begging her all week to move here. She is our family now. She is the sister I never had but you made sure of it, didn’t you, Ro. You always knew that I wanted a sister so you picked Macy for me. Thank you. She makes everything better when it needs to be and everything sad when it needs to be that too. Everything that Macy brings into our world is always a natural vibe of energy, nothing is ever forced or pushed. She is good as just letting me be and I am good at being myself around her. No need for guards up. No need for fake smiles. That is refreshing for me. She is coming back for your September 29th event. I should know more details about that tomorrow. So, we will save your room for her. I like to lay in here with her too.

I came home with a raging headache. One that I hadn’t felt before. Almost a migraine I guess. Too much sun and the sad memories came flooding in today. I saw us all at the Ryan House. They had taken your body away. We had to go and wake up your brothers. Your daddy grabbed Liam first. I woke Quinn up next. “Is Ronan coming home, too?” He asked me. “No sweetheart. Ronan is gone. He can’t come with us.” Quinn looked up at me with his eyes pouring tears.”Where is Ronan?” “Come with me Quinn, I’ll take you to where he was.” I took Quinn to the bed that you died in. I let him lay in it for a while. He sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. He clung on to your GiGi tighter than I have ever seen him hang on to anything in his life. “Are you ready to go? Daddy and Liam are in the car.” He shook his head. I picked him up and watched as the staff watched us walk out of that place. I wonder what they thought. Did they just think, “Oh so sad, but life goes on?” Do you think they took into consideration how broken and shattered our lives would now be? How nothing will ever be alright or the same again? We rode home in silence. Your car seat was already taken out of the car. I sat where you should have been sitting. The sun was rising. My phone kept ringing. Your Mr. Sparkly Eyes. “When can I come over?” I read his texts. “I’m so sorry. I don’t have words. I need your address.” I don’t think I responded. I got home and pounded about 10 sleeping pills and don’t remember much except for hearing Sparkly leave our house. I called him. “You were sleeping. I didn’t want to wake you.” “No. I’m up. Come back. Where is Ronan? I need him! I need to see him. Is he here?” “Darling, lay back down, I’ll check on you later.” “Fine. Fine. Fine. Everything is fine. I’m laying back down. I need more sleeping pills. Goodbye.” I passed out for much more of the evening. I don’t remember seeing anyone but I know they were around. The only face I wanted to see most was just gone! Just gone, just like that. In the blink of an eye. I have the picture of you. Right before you died. Of you and me. Someday I will post it. I’ve decided that when somebody asks me how you died, I’m going to just come out and say, “Oh, my Ronan was murdered.” I’ll watch as these new strangers become outraged and so angry. Then I’ll say, “He was not only murdered, but he was bullied, beaten and murdered by this asshole called Childhood Cancer. I wonder if the truth about childhood cancer, really came out, how people would really feel. Nope. It’s not just a story about cute bald-headed kids wearing sweet looking hats and being happy heroes. The truth is these kids are getting beaten up, bullied, and murdered over and over, every single day. Maybe if the truth was shown, more people would be so outraged, that they couldn’t look away any longer. Something has to change. You will never hear me say the words, “Ronan is an angel now.” That makes it seems like it is o.k. and it is so no o.k. My child should not have to be an angel. He wasn’t ever one in the life that he lived here, so why would he be one anywhere else? That’s not the Ro I knew for almost 5 years if you count the 9 months I carried him in my stomach. He wasn’t even an angel then. He was my extra spicy monkey who made his own rules and listened to no one. You know what else I remembered today, Ronan. Such a little detail but I remembered that I had a french manicure on my nails the day you died. I have not worn one since and I will never wear one again. I hate french manicures and I know you did too. You always wanted the brightest most sparkly colors on your toes. That’s what I’ve been wearing for you. It makes me smile.

I’m going to go now, baby doll. My headache is almost gone and I need to get some sleep. Remind me to tell you about the dream I had the other night. I’m too tired to talk about it now. I’m sorry, Ronan. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. I miss you. I love you. I hope you are safe. Sweet dreams, love of my life.