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When your child dies,…

October 17, 2008

I believe a parent’s greatest fear is forgetting. It is my fear. Either that I will forget the details of his life, his mannerisms, his personality, even his smell, or that others will forget. There is already this great constraint from others about not mentioning “his” name lest it cause you as “his” mom to lose it. So the cat walks through a room of rocking chairs, the eggshells litter the floor, and the white elephant trumpets throughout the room. All there, and all a great heavy burden. For everyone.

One mom, whose son died at 9 months old, described the sensation as going to a party missing an entire arm. Everyone complimented her party dress, her hair, even her shoes, but no one asked about her missing arm. Instead, the not asking about her missing arm was like being handed heavy party platters of food that required two hands to hold.

I think the news flash many moms would send is that in those early days a tender commercial about car insurance can cause you to lose it.  I probably even cried over “Roaches go in, but they don’t come out.”

I’d rather have someone ask me about “him” then avoid all mention of “him.” No mention is another fresh killing of your dreams, another death because all around you moms are talking about their children, you see children, you hear children.

Just not yours.

Now, a dozen years later hardly anyone at all asks me about James. Certainly most people in my life now never knew him, and I am sure they do not know what to ask, let alone what to say. It is what it is. I do not talk about James a great deal. Instead, I choose to write the memories. The writing I do on this blog about James’ life is my most vulnerable writing. It is a way to remember for myself, and one day for his brothers.

The remembering that is precious these days is those friends and family who recognize that my crabbiness and confusion and madness of melancholia, (even when I don’t recognize it) is part of this week’s inheritance. They get that I usually don’t have it in me for major decisions or even reasonable thinking through regular life decisions. They pray for me. They write supportive emails, comments, and cards. They take my sons for the day so I can be a big eggplant if necessary. They feed me fried shrimp and french fries, without comment on the cholesterol or calorie count. They let me lie around on the big, red couch and watch senseless entertainment. They give me permission to be a big, huge, ugly and ridiculous mess.

It’s over. I was never so happy to see an October 17th.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 17, 2008 6:25 pm

    Twelve years of our lives have slipped by like waves gently lapping the shoreline, or angel wings gently brushing the clouds. But, fall and winter are cruel times for our larger shared family. The 17th marks another angel as well…. Alex. We could gravel the road with all those stones we collectively carry in our shoes. **hugs**

  2. October 17, 2008 6:25 pm

    Thank you for sharing James’ story with us, Elle.

  3. October 17, 2008 6:56 pm

    A mother’s heart can never forget.

    I pray you’ll always carry the details of your son with you always and that you will gain comfort in remembering his ways.

  4. October 17, 2008 7:28 pm

    Oh, Elle. I wish I could give you a real life hug but this will have to do. This and the knowledge that so many of us are praying for you. Thank you for sharing with us.

  5. October 17, 2008 8:22 pm

    Wow, this is a touching post. I’ve only personally known one woman who had lost a child, a son in his infancy. When I met her, I didn’t know that was part of her story until another woman said something about it during a meeting we were having. So, I asked her if I could ask her about it one day. She said that would be fine. So we sat down one day I just asked about it — I wanted to hear what she had learned from the Lord in that time of suffering (much like what you’ve shared on your blog). She had not talked about it in years because no one had ever asked. She had not even looked through his things since he died. It was like in order to protect herself, she closed that chapter and moved on. It was almost as if she had forgotten she had lost a child until I asked about him. I thought that was so sad. I think it’s a good thing that you are able to remember and feel what it was like to be James’ mother, to love him and care for him, and then have to let go of him. God can use your memory to minister to other women. I’m not sure that my friend can do that.

    Now, I wouldn’t go up to a woman and say, “So, how are you going without your arm?” Do you have any suggestions for approaching a mother who is grieving the loss of a child?

  6. October 18, 2008 1:34 am

    This is a poignant picture of grief, Elle. May God continue to touch your aching heart in ways only He can.

    (But I’m glad the week is over, too. Such a heavy load to bear.)

  7. October 19, 2008 8:45 am


    Like Leslie, I thought this was such a touching post. Your sharing of James is truly some of your best writing, probably because it is so vulnerable. Somehow, although I haven’t experienced your loss, I can begin to understand it.

    But I have Leslie’s question too. What could I say to a mother who has lost a child? On my own, I would start by asking if she was comfortable talking about him/her and if so, I would ask how they died. After that, I would just listen. Kind of clumsy.

  8. rosemary permalink
    October 19, 2008 11:52 am

    Elle, every mention of James is precious, especially, I think, to those of us who have also suffered the death of our child. I would so rather speak to you face to face about him. Commenting in this little box is so inadequate because I can’t convey what’s really in my heart. I’d love to sit with you, look at pictures, hear the minute details of his life and your heart. Except for rare instances, our daughter’s existence seems remembered only by my husband and me, and to mention her causes obvious discomfort. I still do, sometimes, because her life and death is meant to speak of God’s work and purpose.

    On the day before my brother died recently, I was able to talk with him about my daughter; to ask him to lift her into his arms and tell her we loved her, that it won’t be long before we’ll be with her. In his near-coma state, he told me he would. That’s a priceless memory.

    Elle, I’ve prayed that God will comfort and sustain you and cause His glory to be known as He intends through James’ life.

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