How Mothers Are Impacted When They Lose a Child
Mother of four, Patty Holliday of Northern Virginia lost her firstborn son to the aftermath of a congenital heart condition.
By 9 months old, little Jacob had a heart transplant surgery that bought his family more time with him. But on October 20th, 2005, the Hollidays lost Jacob to a type of cancer common among heart transplant patients.
“Fourteen years later, the pain still goes deep. I’ll never hear his voice or touch his sweet skin. I’ll never get to watch him grow up. That level of gut-wrenching grief doesn’t just go away,” Patty writes.
“As time marches on, the deep, searing cuts in your heart scab over a little, and the pain mellows at times to a dull ache. But the passing time can also create additional wounds that bring a different kind of pain. You even question your seemingly healthy way of dealing with the loss.” (1)
Coping with the Loss of a Child
Everybody’s grief looks a little different. In Patty’s case, she felt driven to do something to honor her son’s life.
“I had a sense of purpose almost immediately after his death when I realized I wanted everybody to know about him. That was what got me up in the morning after he died.” (1)
Over time, she found ways to remember Jacob. She visited Disneyland, his favorite place, and hopped on his favorite train ride as often as she could. She eventually became a travel agent to organize other families’ trips to Disneyland.
She began to receive video clips of friends riding Jacob’s favorite train ride in his honor.
“Some people worry that mentioning Jacob will bring up a fresh wave of grief within me,” she says. “But I just love when people remember him.” (1)
“Little things go a long way to show us that you know our child was important. That though his life was short, his impact was great and, most importantly, that he is still deeply loved and never forgotten.” (1)
Healthy vs Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Grief
Claire Bidwell Smith, a licensed clinical professional counselor, grief therapist, and the author of Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief told WebMD, “When you’re grieving death, it’s helpful to connect with others, because they’re either grieving themselves or can support you.” (2)
A WebMD survey from May 2019 found that many people experiencing grief have found that it helped their healing to: (2)
- focus on maintaining strong family and friend relationships
- listen to music
- practice their spirituality
- stay engaged at work
- exercise regularly
On the other hand, many people find themselves slipping into unhelpful coping mechanisms. Donna Schuurman, a family therapist and senior director of advocacy and training at Dougy Center, pays special attention to the ways in which people cope with grief.
“Life is a process of accumulating losses. How we integrate or ignore, process or push away those losses starts to become patterns. It shapes how we look at the world, who we become, how we’re able to show up for other people,” she says. (2)
“Numbing behaviors” such as overeating, shopping, excessive drinking, or isolating oneself are among the types of coping mechanisms that only prolonge true healing. (2)
Creative Ways Moms Keep Their Child’s Memory Alive
Lisa Sissons, author of blog Dear Finley opened up about her experience of being a mother of a child that has died. These are among the ways she and other moms remember their lost children. (3)
- Commission a local artist to create a portrait of your child, and display that portrait in your home.
- Write your child’s name as often as you can. Whether it’s in the sand at the beach or in a bowl of alphabet soup, keep their name commonplace in your life.
- Fundraise for a meaningful charity in your child’s name.
- Keep a memorial box in your home, filled with items that remind you of them.
- Continue to celebrate their life. Eat a slice of birthday cake for them every year or find creative ways to include their memory in your family traditions.
- Journal through your grieving and healing process. You can share your experience if you want, but even if you never share your letters, don’t throw them away.
Read More About Grief:
Support and Resources for Grieving Parents