PLEASE, YES, DO ASK ME ABOUT MY CHILD WHO JUST DIED (Part 1 of 2)
By Katie Allison Granju – Knoxville, TN
You know how if you are a parent, you sometimes secretly allow yourself to “go there?” How you sometimes let your mind truly imagine – just for a heartstopping moment – how it would be if your child died? Or maybe you’ve had a terrible nightmare once or twice in which your child was lost to you forever in some horribly tragic and permanent way. You know that dreadful feeling? I used to have those “what if” moments and those occasional bad dreams just like all of you do, times when I tried to even begin to imagine the pain of one of my children dying in a car accident or from cancer or at the hands of someone evil and cruel. But then I’d shake my head and turn on the radio or roll over or do whatever it took to drive the dark vision and the momentary sick feeling of dread from my consciousness.
Then it actually happened to me; my worst nightmare, your worst nightmare – EVERYONE ON THE PLANET’S WORST NIGHTMARE actually happened. The most primal human fear became real for me, like some terrible horror movie leaping off the big screen and into my lap. My beloved, gorgeous, talented firstborn baby died after suffering terribly in two hospitals for five long weeks. He died a painful, cruel death, and in the last hours of his life, his father and I held him in our arms and tried to be brave for him as we assured him that he could go on ahead to the next place, and that we would be along to join him later.
But I wasn’t really brave at all. Inside I was screaming and wailing, and every fiber of my being longed to run out of the room and go find the nurse or doctor who would turn the machines back on.
So he died. And he’s gone. It’s been less than four months. Since May 31 (2010), I have done my level best to continue functioning on a day to day basis – for my other four children, for my husband, on the job, in the community. After a few weeks of complete shutdown following Henry’s death, I began to re-emerge back into the world because I knew I had to. I’m actually pretty proud of how well I’ve managed to hold it together and move forward. I hope I am setting a good example for Henry’s younger sisters and brother, who will undoubtedly suffer losses as adults themselves (although I pray to God that none of them ever experience the loss of a child).
Because I am trying to move forward and be strong, I think that on the surface, I must look relatively “normal” to other people. I go to work. I laugh. I sing along with the radio. I get haircuts. I sit in the bleachers at J and E’s games. I’ve even begun easing back into the occasional public social occasion, like lunches with coworkers and friends. This Sunday, I want to try returning to church (haven’t been able to go since Henry died).
But no matter how normal I look on the outside, the fact is that I just lost my child. He died. In my arms. As his brilliant mind swelled and swelled and swelled until it could expand no more. He opened his eyes once near the end, looking absolutely terror stricken, and then he was gone.
This is my reality. This is what I walk around thinking about every day. Even when I’m able to turn off the specific memories of what happened, there is a leaden hurt that lives in my chest all of the time. I hope and assume that one day, the pain won’t be quite so acute, but after all, it hasn’t been that long, so it’s normal, I think, that I am still hurting this much.
I have never known exactly what to say to someone after their loved one dies. It’s hard to know what to say, and every grief stricken person is different in what they want to hear from others. I know that I found it particularly difficult to know what to say when two people exceptionally dear to me lost their toddler son in an accident in 2005, and then later, in 2008 when my friend and coworker lost his gorgeous 6 year old daughter to cancer . Because losing one of my own children was so terrifying to me, I couldn’t figure out what to say to these parents who had had the Worst Thing Ever actually come to pass.
Part 2 of 2 continued on Thursday, April 5, 2012