Ways to Help a Grieving Child


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My oldest son reaches in to kiss his baby brother before we close his casket and bury him.

What’s harder than living with a broken heart? Watching one of your children try to live with one.

Earlier this week my son was sobbing before school. He didn’t want to go. He has always hated school. In fact I wrote a few weeks ago about him trying to stay home after a class election didn’t go in his favor.

But this time I couldn’t figure why he wanted to stay home. I asked him if something had happened or if kids were being mean. No.

He couldn’t come up with a reason.

All day long I stewed over what it could be. Is he nervous about his science class? Does he worry about kids sitting by him at lunch? Are they teasing him at recess?

Then it dawned on me. We visited the cemetery Sunday – the cemetery where his baby brother is buried. We took a water bottle and a kitchen knife. We cleaned off his head stone and cut back the overgrown grass from its edges.

My second son wipes away dirt and grass from his little brother's headstone.

My second son wipes away dirt and grass from his little brother’s headstone.

It was a beautiful sunny day. But that trip brought back rain clouds for my 9-year-old son. The flood of emotions resurfaced as we spent time thinking of our lost family member.

This time of year is always hard for our family. Six years ago it was a hopeful, exciting time. We were waiting for our third baby boy to join our family. Then our joy quickly turned to sorrow as we discovered he had died. I delivered him stillborn at 37 weeks.

Since then our family has learned a lot about grief. More than we ever wanted to know.

I sat down with my oldest son Monday afternoon and we had a heart-to-heart talk about missing his brother. He confessed that he was overwhelmingly sad about not having him in our family.

Uggh. I hate that. More than hating the fact that I can’t get over the loss of my baby boy. I wish no one else had to feel the same way. I wish no one felt hurt, anger or sorrow because of his death. I wish I could place a giant happy bubble around the ones I love and cocoon them from sadness.

Regretfully I cannot.

So I gave him a grief journal. I told him he could use it to write to his little brother. Part of our grief (because our child died before he was born) has been mourning the fact that we never got to spend time with our baby boy.

I my son that he could write to his brother about things he wished he could do with him. Tell him what makes him sad, happy, scared or excited. Tell him what he remembers about the day he was born. Tell him how much he can’t wait to spend time with him.

We all know writing is therapeutic for me, why wouldn’t it be for my child?

I’m hoping he can pour his heart into the pages of that colorful notebook. And that it will serve as a positive outlet for his sorrow.

There are a few other things I have found that help my children when they are consumed by sadness.

I am in no way an expert. I have no professional education or training on loss. I acknowledge that every person grieves differently. But the following things have helped my children mourn and internalize the loss of the brother they never got to know.

And since I can’t create that happy bubble cocoon, I thought that the least I could do is pass on some of these ideas in case it may help another mother help her grieving child.

First, speak openly – Right after our son passed away I knew in my heart that I had to be honest with my two living children. One of them was nearly three years old, the other nearly two. They were really young. But I felt like they could handle the truth.

I told them that their baby brother died.

I refused to use phrases like, “he is sleeping,” “he is in a better place,” or “he passed away.”

I didn’t want them to be afraid to go to sleep. I didn’t want them to think that our place wasn’t good enough for their brother and I don’t even know what “passed away” is supposed to mean. If I can’t figure that one out, then how can my two young children?

There are so many phrases associated with death that are meant to lighten the blow. Words like “deceased” or “slipped away” are often used in place of “dead” or “died.”

But nothing could lighten my blow. No matter how you said it my son had died.

Being open and honest with my children allowed me to eliminate confusion for them. I still speak freely and openly about his death. And they can as well. I answer all of their questions no matter how strange they seem.

We have had many, many conversations about what happened. And while I don’t know that this is the right tactic for every family, it has worked wonders for ours. My children feel safe talking about their brother’s death.

Let Them Cry and Let Them See You Cry


Crying is healthy. Crying is natural. Yet sometimes we feel ashamed to show others that we are sad. It’s like there is something wrong with us.

Well there is something wrong. Something terrible sad and terribly difficult happened. We buried one of our family members.

That is huge.

I tell my kids that there’s no reason to pretend that we don’t get down about it sometimes. They have seen me sob over my son. We have all hugged and cried as we have watched his memorial video or the home video we have of his time in the hospital or visited the cemetery.

Letting my kids show emotion about the loss of their brother has allowed them to work through it when it comes. It has minimized them bottling up their sadness.

Give Them Something to Hold on to – My oldest son has a wallet-sized picture of his brother that he keeps in a protective plastic sleeve. He sometimes puts it in his backpack or hoodie pocket and carries it to school.

It reminds him that his brother was real. It keeps him close to his thoughts.

He will put it on his bedpost or inside his wallet. He will show it proudly to others.

I think having a tangible object to hold close to his heart helps with the pain.

Start some traditions – I mentioned earlier that this time of year is difficult for our family. All around us the world is awakening from its slumber. New life is forming as winter melts into spring. While this brings a lot of hope and excitement, it also brings us memories from a darker time. The day that our baby died – April 22 – is particularly rough.

So we have started to do some special traditions to honor his memory – things that we can look forward to when we are feeling sad. (You can read about what we did a couple years ago here)

About one week before his death/birthday I create an online Facebook event for friends and family. I call it “Serve in Luca’s Memory.”

People did so many great things for us after Luca died. It brought us peace and comfort to see the service of others. So, we thought, why not help others? It can be a way to give back and keep his memory alive.

Friends and family members post pictures and comments of things that they do for friends or strangers. From helping a friend move, to donating clothing to others to sending someone flowers. It’s so nice to see what people do for each other in his memory.

We spend Luca’s “angelversary” together as a family. We visit the cemetery and take him small gifts. Sometimes we invite friends and family together to do a service project for Utah Share. Last year we planted a tree together at a local park.

luca's tree 2

DSCF7689Each year we end the night by sending lanterns to our baby boy. We light wish lanterns, watch them fill with hot air and then float off to the heavens.

Those are some of the things we do to celebrate our little Luca’s birthday. They give us something to look forward to on our day of dread.

We do other things throughout the year as well. One thing we have grown to love is donating gifts to a child that would be Luca’s age at Christmas time. We contact a local shelter for a name of a little boy in need. Then we buy him presents and deliver them to the shelter.

There is nothing we can do to bring back our baby boy. But helping and serving helps us feel like we are giving back to others who are having a difficult time. It softens our sad hearts and gives us things to look forward to.

I am sure there are many, many more ways to help children cope with tragic loss. But these are a few things that have worked for us. While I hope no one else has to see their children grieve the loss of a close loved one, I know that it happens to far too many.

If you know of any other great ideas – for children or adults – I’d love to hear them. Because grief is always changing and different things may work better at different times. I am always looking for more ways to work through the sorrows of my heart.

My Angel’s Story – Four Years Later


Author’s note: Four years have passed by. FOUR YEARS!!! Part of me wants to run outside and scream, “NO!” The other part has quietly come to grips with the fact that four years ago my beautiful, beautiful baby boy died.

I hate that he died.

I hate that I can’t get over it. No matter how many months, days or years pass I will still miss him. I will still wish I could have brought him home from the hospital. I will still close my eyes and picture his still body, feel the brush of his soft chubby cheeks against mine and stroke his sweet tiny hands and fingers.

I remember wishing more than anything that his chest would start to rise and fall. And whispering softly to him that I was so sorry he didn’t make it. So sorry that somehow I couldn’t help get him here safely.

Losing a child has changed me forever. And so once again I dedicate this week’s blog post to my angel baby Luca. Because having him has made me who I am today.

He would have been four on Tuesday. Maybe he’d be learning his ABCs and coloring with crayons. I bet he’d love chasing bubbles and digging in the dirt. He’d probably run when I tried to give him kisses and giggle when I tickled his tummy.

I love him. I miss him. And I can’t wait to hold him again.

My Angel’s Story

I was tired, I was huge and I was ready to have my baby boy. But not ready for the way it would all turn out. I would have happily carried him weeks beyond my due date if it meant he had a chance of being born alive.

Honestly? I wasn’t quite ready for a third child. I always wanted my kids close in age, but my two boys, ages 3 and 1, were a lot to handle. I was okay with waiting a while. But both my husband and I had strong impressions that we needed to try for another baby.

Despite those impressions, I was still extremely nervous about how I could be a good mom to three boys under the age of 3. Each day I grew, not only in circumference, but also in my confidence in being able to raise three tiny spirits.

On April 21, 2010 I had my 37-week check-up. Luca’s movement had been slowing down significantly for a while now and I was worried. I discussed my concerns with my doctor and we listened to his heartbeat, which appeared to be strong. So, my doctor and I decided that maybe little Luca was running out of room in my overcrowded womb.

The beginning of my pregnancy was a piece of cake. I felt better than I had with my other pregnancies and had virtually no morning sickness. But the end was pretty bad. I kept having sharp pains in my side and my muscles were aching.

Fearing the worst

My mother-in-law kept my other two boys while I went to my appointment so I decided to lie down and take a nap until she brought them home. That’s when I started panicking because I couldn’t remember the last time I felt Luca move.

I know what some of you are thinking? Why didn’t you rush to the hospital??? Knowing what I know now, my advice to any pregnant woman who is the least bit concerned about her baby, would be, GET TO THE HOSPITAL, NOW. Speed if you have to. What are they going to do? Tell you your baby’s fine and send you home? Hopefully. Laugh in your face about your unnecessary worries? Never. In all reality, even if I had been in labor and delivery when Luca’s heart stopped beating, they still wouldn’t have been able to save him. There wasn’t anything I could have done. I realize that now. But there are other reasons why babies stop moving. In my opinion it’s just better to get it checked out as soon as possible.

I literally worried all night about my Luca’s movement. I think the strong feelings and confirmations I had received that I was supposed to have another baby kept me waiting for his little legs to kick or his fists to punch. Luca’s pregnancy was my only pregnancy I haven’t run into problems conceiving. I thought that was a sure sign that this truly was meant to be. It was meant to be, just not in the way I hoped or expected.

I waited, and waited for him to move. Finally at about 2:30 a.m. I couldn’t take it any longer. I got up and sat in the bathtub for a long time. Travis came in and convinced me to go to the hospital. My mom came over to sit with my boys so we could run up to the hospital. When I got there, they hooked me up to a monitor and we found the baby’s heartbeat. Well, at least we thought we did — turns out the sound of my own heartbeat was reverberating back. We didn’t know that for sure until they hooked me up to a basic ultra sound machine and zoomed in on the heart. I knew immediately that my son had died. I looked at my husband and he knew it too. We had seen a number of live, beating hearts in ultrasounds. This one was still.

But the nurses said nothing. They tried to remain calm as they called my doctor and asked him to come in. He arrived at about 4 a.m. to confirm my baby’s death. We all cried — nurses included. He told me I could go home and come back later to deliver my baby or he could induce me right away.

The thought of leaving the hospital knowing that I was carrying my dead child made me cringe. I knew that having a stillborn was going to be the worst thing I had ever experienced. Delaying it wouldn’t change anything. They wheeled me into a corner room and posted a grieving sign on the door.

Shortly thereafter we started calling family members to let them know they were going to have to come in sometime that day to simultaneously tell Luca “hello” and “goodbye.”

Sharing the Heart-Breaking News

My poor mother. She was the first to hear of his death. And she had to take the news while watching over my other two little ones in my quiet, lonely home. I can’t imagine how alone she must have felt. She texted me awhile after I called to tell her he had died, asking what she should tell my other boys when they woke up. That literally broke my heart. What did I want her to tell them?

We didn’t want to tell him that their brother was “sleeping” or that he was “gone.” We decided to tell them the truth. That he had died. They were sad, but their grief was expressed differently than an adult. They didn’t cry much but they did throw more tantrums and asked to be held a lot more.

Telling people and hearing their reactions was one of the hardest things for me. I could handle the pain that I was going to have to bear, but having to inflict some of that pain on others made me so sad. It still makes me sad.

Our family members started gathering at the hospital and at our home waiting for the time when they would meet Luca. I knew we would only ever have a few short hours with him and so I prepared to face my nightmare with a smile on my face. This was the only time I was going to hold my baby. The only time I could take pictures of his beautiful face. I wasn’t going to let my grief overcome my ability to make the moments meaningful.

I don’t know if it’s all in my head, but I don’t think I had the full power of my epidural during his delivery. It was by far my most painful delivery. Not only emotionally, but physically. Maybe that’s because I didn’t have the anticipation of meeting my healthy baby to pull me through. With each painful push, I knew I was a step closer to meeting a baby I wouldn’t take home. I’ll never forget the shock in my doctor and nurses voices and faces as Luca was born. They all gasped in unison. He had suffered a cord accident that was visible the moment he was delivered. The cord was wrapped around his neck several times and it contained a true knot. Umbilical cord knots are extremely rare and knots resulting in a baby’s death are even more rare. Although I will never be grateful for what happened to my son, there is something I am extremely grateful for: The fact that we found out why he died.

He was born at 5:13 p.m. and weighed 5 pounds 13 ounces. He was beautiful with curly reddish brown hair and rosy red cheeks. We each took turns holding him and taking pictures. Utah Share came and casted molds of his hands and feet. Pat Wimpee came and took dozens of priceless photos of him and our family. I don’t know what I’d do without those photos. I think I would forget the details of his face. The wrinkles of his toes. The size of his tiny fingers. At times I stared at his little body, waiting for his chest to rise or his eyes to open. He literally was perfect.

We had Luca in our hospital room for five short hours. My legs were still numb from my epidural, so I was forced to watch everyone’s encounters with him from the comfort of my hospital bed. That was really hard for me. I wanted to hug and comfort everyone and yet I was stuck on the sidelines. I am sure that those who came to the hospital to meet him will forever be changed. There was such a special spirit in the room. It was a terribly sad, yet wonderfully peaceful experience.

The next several days were a blur. I left the hospital on a Friday morning. That afternoon I sat in the mortuary office preparing a funeral. We had a very small service on Monday, just four days after I delivered. Thank heavens for pain medications. Without those my traditional delivery pains coupled with the pain of my milk coming in, would have been unbearable. I buried my baby and part of my heart on April 26, 2010.

How am I dealing with his death?

I believe, as my religion teaches, that I will raise little Luca someday. Sometimes that thought brings great comfort, other times it is little solace for a grieving mother who longs to hold her angel infant now. Although he is in a better place, free from sorrow and sin, I wanted the challenge of raising him in this crazy world. Wanted to see him wrestle with his older brothers or hear him giggle as the four of them cooked up mischief. I hate that we don’t get to have him now.

I have experienced all of the traditional grief stages at least once. I have felt depressed, angry, honored, jealous, comforted, tired, rude, bitter, overwhelmed, out of control, anxious, stressed and unmotivated. There have been times I have sat on my couch, not wanting to do anything. Then other times that I feel an urgency to give back to others in honor of my son’s memory.

What do I do when the grief is too much to bear?

I take long soaks in the bathtub where I blast Pandora and cry until my eyes are strawberry red.

I watch movies like Tangled and sob when I see Rapunzel reunited with her parents. I wish I only had to wait 18 years to meet my “lost” baby.

I take my boys fishing. Fresh air and the beauty of nature clear my head and remind me of my place in the world.

I lay by my other boys while they are sleeping. I put my hand on their chest to feel their heart beating and their lungs filling with air. That reminds me of the beautiful boys I do get to raise on Earth. I can’t let myself take them for granted.

I start finding something I can do for others. I know it sounds cheesy, but sometimes serving others has been my saving grace. I understand the need to be still and internalize my grief and emotions, but sometimes it’s overwhelming. I have to find a productive way to patch over my grief until my emotions settle and I’m able to digest them.

Finally, I write through my heartache. Writing has always been a way for me to work through life’s problems. I imagine I’ll write through this problem my entire life.

I just have to keep reminding myself that life is hard, life is good and life is necessary.

Faith To Turn Eyes Red


Why can’t I have faith like my sons?

Last week my 4-year-old was hunched over in one of our living room corners. His back was to me and I was certain he was up to no good.

I kept asking him what he was doing but he wouldn’t tell me. I think I asked him three times before he finally confessed – He was praying that his eyes would turn red.

Not. What. I. Expected. I think I said something like, “Why on Earth would you want red eyes?”

He shrugged me off, looked over at his older brother and said, “Are they red yet?”

He said it with such conviction and confidence that I knew he truly believed his prayer would be answered. Quietly and carefully my 6-year-old studied his brother’s eyes for a minute then happily declared, “I think I can see some orange!”

They both have amazing faith. Sometimes I take their faith for granted.

Like a month ago when my oldest lost an electronic recorder outside somewhere in our yard. We noticed it was missing right when we were supposed to be heading out the door to a family night at the elementary school. Knowing it was going to rain that night and probably ruin the recorder, we swept the yard dozens of times looking for it.

We were late for the school party and I was having a serious I-can’t-find-something anxiety/panic attack. I grabbed my 6-year-old, held onto both of his shoulders and demanded that he use his faith to find the stupid recorder. I suggested that he pray to know where it was.

Keep in mind I know my son has enough faith to do miracles, but I shouldn’t have asked that of him. I felt like Mrs. Incredible asking her daughter, Violet, to put a force field around the airplane when being shot at over the ocean. She knew Violet could do it, but the timing wasn’t right.

Despite my son’s heartfelt pleas to his Maker, he didn’t find the recorder. And because of my stupid charge that he pray to know where it was, he went to bed doubting his faith.

The next day I found the tiny black audio recorder in our garage underneath his bicycle. A place we had searched dozens of times.

Faith is a funny thing.

To this day my 4-year-old still has green eyes and my 6-year-old didn’t find his recorder when he believed he would be swiftly led directly to it.

Sometimes we have faith, but what we really want isn’t meant to be. Sometimes the timing isn’t right.

Try telling that to one of your children. Try telling that to yourself.

Sometimes no matter how much you believe something will happen, it just isn’t going to. It isn’t God’s will.

Like the night I stayed up waiting for my baby boy to move inside my full-term pregnant belly. Call it shock, call it faith, call it wishful thinking, I thought for sure that if I believed hard enough that he would come back to life, he would.

But I am left only raising three of my four sons.

It seems like every year around this time I face doubts about my faith. Those doubts make me grouchy and moody and I get stuck in a funk.

It normally happens a few weeks before April 22 – my third son’s birthday and angel day. The day he flew back Home.

I have a strong testimony of my religion. But when I stop and think about my little baby boy, buried in a cemetery 5 miles from my home, the doubts start to fly and the “what ifs?” and “will I reallys?” arise.

What if I never see my son again?
What if this life is the end?
Will I really get to kiss his chubby cheeks again?
Will I really get to raise him?

These doubts start in the corner of my mind and creep down into my heart where they paralyze my faith.

It doesn’t help that Easter – a holiday built on religion, faith, and resurrection – lands just before my baby’s angelversary. Oh how I miss him.

But sometimes the Lord doesn’t answer our prayers. Sometimes he’s trying to teach us something. Sometimes – like in the case of the missing recorder – he’s trying to teach someone else – your mother – something. Like to not stress out when things go missing. They’ll come around eventually.

And luckily so will my faith. It does every year, eventually.

I still don’t know if I will ever have faith that my eyes could change to red, but after wrestling with my mind and searching deep into my soul, I normally snap out of my funk. I remember the peace I have felt.

And although right now I’m still feeling a little off, a little agitated, a little tormented, I know I will find hope again, eventually.

Sentimental About Skeletons

Halloween – The dark and twisted time of year when blood and gore rules. When snakes, spiders and other creepy crawlies are considered festive holiday décor. When monsters, goblins, zombies and more stalk the streets in the name of fun.

I’ve never given much thought to haunted houses, walking dead or other traditional scary Halloween staples. Until last week when my 4-year-old started sobbing over a skeleton – a skeleton that reminded him of his deceased little brother.

I was making 3D paper coffins – cute black-and-green ones with big RIP letters on top. My second oldest son watched quietly with fascination as I used a machine to cut them out.

Then he started asking questions.
“What’s a coffin?” came first. I told him it was something that we use to bury dead people in.

He watched for a little while longer and helped me punch out the cuttings. Then I started cutting out the skeletons that I planned to put in the coffins. As we were punching those out he held one up and said, “Can we name this skeleton Luca?”

It caught me totally off guard that he wanted to name one of the skeletons after his baby brother who died two years ago.

How did he think of that? How did he make the connection between his brother and the 6-inch paper skeleton he held in his hand?

We decorated Luca’s headstone a couple of weeks ago for Halloween. After that my 4-year-old told me he wanted to see his brother. That he wanted us to get him out of his grave.

I tried to gently explain to him that his baby brother wouldn’t look like he used to. That he isn’t in his body anymore.

Maybe that’s where this skeleton thing came from.

No matter where it came from it made me sad. I told him that I didn’t want to name one of our paper skeletons after his brother; that I didn’t want to think of Luca as a skeleton.

And quite honestly I don’t. I hate to even think of my baby being in the ground. And as sick and twisted as it sounds, I have had thoughts of the state of his buried body before. Thoughts that I try to push from my mind the instant they arrive.

But kids are a lot more matter of fact. I am sure my 4-year-old has thought of his brother as a skeleton. He was innocently connecting his brother with the Halloween decoration we were making and wanted to name it the same.

When I told him no, he started sobbing. He kept saying, “I miss Luca,” over and over. It totally broke my heart.

It makes me sad to think that my children will grow up their whole lives looking at dead things differently than most children. When I was a kid, no one I knew had died. I was 17 years old before I first saw a close loved one pass away. My grandpa died my senior year of high school, and he was 90.

My sons have known someone who died since they were 3 and 1 years old.

Luckily, I have amazing pictures of our little Luca to remind us what he is really like. After my son was crying for his brother, I printed a small 3 by 5 inch portrait of Luca off for him from the computer. It’s his own personal copy now that he can carry around when he misses his little friend.

As for the skeletons, I finished my craft and stuffed the coffins with candy before giving them out as gifts.

I never thought I would feel sentimental about a skeleton, but I’ll never look at the bony skinny guys the same way again. Not even the smiling plastic glow-in-the-dark ones.

They’ll forever remind me of what they actually represent, former human lives.

Spring: Finding Hope in New Life

I think sometimes I could sit on my couch all day with my hands on my middle, enjoying the kicking, wiggling movements of my unborn son.

Each jab and nudge are a miracle to me. A miracle I tragically took for granted last time I was pregnant. I still can’t believe I am going to have another baby.

I wrote last year about how spring seemed like a slap in the face. The birds chirping, the flowers blooming, were all salt in my wound — reminding me of the son I buried in the spring of 2010.

This year my attitude is somewhat softened. Today, spring is a reminder to me of the miracle of life. I have come to know how close the line between life and death can be. How easily it can be crossed.

Something as simple as a little more water would have meant life to my poor pine tree. And a simple true knot in a vital life chain meant death for my third baby boy.

It’s crazy how fragile life is.

And although I still miss my Luca like crazy — last weekend I cried until I thought my eyes would melt as I thought about his loss and the changes it has forced into my life — I have been thinking more on the miracle of life than the tragedy of death.

With Easter coming I talked to my boys about the meaning of Easter eggs — how they can be a symbol of new life. Now whenever I see a colorful egg I can’t help but think of new life. And more specifically the new life that is growing inside me.

I guess I am kind of like a giant Easter egg. (We all know I am starting to look like one.) My round, bursting belly is a symbol of new life. A life I can’t wait to meet. No matter what happens.

And although I still take far too many things in this life for granted, this year I am trying to enjoy the warming of the Earth, the rebirth after winter.

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