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.

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.

There Is Hope

Author’s note: I try not to write too frequently about my angel baby boy. Thoughts of him are constantly in the back of my mind exhausting my emotions. I don’t want to exhaust others with reading about him. But this week I found hope again in dealing with his loss. I know I wrote about him last week, but I had to share that hope without letting another week go by.

OK. Ill admit it. There have been times since the loss of my son that I have become frustrated with my religion. I have felt discouraged and disheartened as prayers and pleadings have failed to cure my broken heart.

This past weekend my faith in healing was renewed as I listened to a church leader, Elder Shayne M. Bowen, speak on the loss of his 8-month-old baby boy.

He spoke on Saturday, October 5, 2012, during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, semi-annual conference. It was hands down the best talk I have ever heard on losing a child.

Unlike most leaders in the church, Bowen validated my loneliest thoughts as he spoke of his lost son, Tyson, who choked on a piece of chalk 22 years ago. He addressed his message to those parents who have lost a child and have found themselves asking, “Why me?”

For so long I have felt guilty for asking that question. I have felt guilty for questioning my beliefs.

Bowen’s words proved to me that I am not alone. He spoke of having similar feelings and thoughts. But not only did he speak about his grief and doubts, he shared ways that he worked through his grief and doubt.

Finally I have a strong example from a stalwart church leader to guide me on my path to healing my broken heart.

A lot of times members of my church attest to being thankful for their trials and the lessons those trials have taught them. I have felt alienated from my peers because I have never felt thankful for losing my son.

In his talk Bowen said he felt guilt, anger and self-pity after the death of his baby boy. He told about the doctor telling he and his wife that there was nothing they could do and then he wondered how he was going to tell his other children that their brother wasn’t coming home.

I have wondered the exact same thing.

He said others told him that they knew how he felt – but they knew nothing of how he felt.

I have heard similar comments.

After his son died he had many sleepless nights, some of them he spent wandering his house checking on his other children.

I have wandered a similar route.

It comforted me to hear that a spiritual giant from my same religious background experienced some of the same things as me – and that he too struggled with his testimony after losing his baby.

It made me feel “normal” for the first time in a long time.

My favorite part of his talk was near the end when he described how far he has come.

“Sometimes people will ask, ‘How long did it take you to get over it?’ The truth, is you will never completely get over it until you are together once again with your departed loved ones. I will never have a fullness of joy until we are reunited in the morning of the first resurrection.”

I couldn’t have said it better. I, like elder Bowen, may be able to be happy at times, but I will never find true, complete joy until I can hug my baby boy once again.

Bowen said that Tyson remains an important part of his family, and Luca is an important part of mine.

After feeling anger, self-pity and guilt, Bowen prayed that his heart would change.
He said that through very personal, spiritual experiences he was given a new heart and even though it was still lonely and painful, his whole outlook changed.

I feel like Elder Bowen is at the peak of his mountain of grief while I am still at the summit. I still have a long way to go to work through my sorrow. But knowing that others have crested over rough boulders and sharp slopes on their way to finding peace gives me hope, hope I haven’t had in a long, long time.

I am still waiting for my new heart, but now I believe it will actually come.

If you too are struggling while dealing with the loss of a child, listen to Bowen’s talk. Hopefully it can bring you peace and hope like it did me. If nothing else, it will show you that other people have been there and you are not alone.

Words of Wisdom

I wouldn’t wish the loss of a child on my worst enemy. And yet, during the past couple of months I have seen three friends forced to face that loss. I am seriously starting to worry that I am jinxing those around me.

I don’t know if I just wasn’t as sensitive to it before, but it seems like pregnancy loss is all around me now.

Ever since Luca died I have been terrified of pregnant women. I worry for them. I stress over them. I feel awkward and nervous around them. I know first-hand that a positive pregnancy test doesn’t necessarily guarantee a healthy bundle of joy at the end of 9-month’s time.

So I’m starting to think I should steer clear of expecting women just in case my bad luck may be rubbing off on them.

The most recent loss impacted me more than I ever imagined it could. My friend delivered her tiny baby girl stillborn at 22 weeks. I went to see my friend and practically cried through the entire visit. I hate that someone I care about will have to face similar sorrows as I did as she works toward healing her broken heart.

Not only did her loss conjure up memories and emotions of when we laid little Luca to rest, but it brought back all of the raw feelings of true sorrow I have experienced off and on during the past 15 months.

The worst part is that even though I have survived the death of a child I am no resident expert on how to live through that loss. Everyone is so different and will have different ways to heal.

You could say that people are being placed in my path because I will be able to relate to what they are going through, but I still don’t know what to say to those who share a similar fate. I have no words of wisdom to help ease others’ pain. There were no words to comfort me when my arms were empty and my heart crushed into pieces. Nothing anyone said or did would ever bring breath back to my baby’s lips and so it did nothing to help.

I wish I were a stronger person. That people could come to me and I could help them understand and work through their losses. But honestly usually all I do is cry as I tell them what they already know – that losing a child stinks. And it stinks forever. There’s no magic solution to remove the pain.

After Luca died, I wanted to be around other women who had experienced a loss. I knew they couldn’t take away my pain, but I still wanted to know how they felt, what caused their child’s death, what they did to remember their baby, and so on. I wanted to hear that they had reacted like I had and that I was “normal” in my loss.

They were the only ones who could relate to what I was going through. The only ones who knew how it felt to bury a baby.

I guess that even though I have no inspirational advice on how to get rid of the pain, I still may have something else to offer. The fact that I survived. Survived all of the lonely nights of self-pity, worry and guilt. Survived the shock, horror and grief. Survived the hardest thing I could ever imagine experiencing.

Maybe the fact that I could keep living in spite of my grief will be inspiration enough. I just hope and pray that my friends who will need that inspiration will be few and far between. Like I said before, I wouldn’t wish the loss of a child on my worst enemy.

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