“My eyes fill with tears. What shall I do? Where shall I go? Who can quench my pain? My body has been bitten by the snake of ‘absence' and my life is ebbing away with every beat of the heart.”
— Mirabai, 15th-century Indian poet
These thoughts are familiar to parents who've had a child die as they watch other mothers and fathers happily Christmas shopping for their sons or daughters.
The loss of a child is the most devastating experience a parent can face. A piece of themselves is lost, and their future is forever changed.
Miscarriages, stillbirths and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome bring feelings of yearning and despair.
Parents of murder victims find the suddenness of the death so overwhelming they are often incapable of processing through the grief.
Accidents, illnesses and deaths in war bring disorientation and a profound void. Cancer remains the No. 1 killer of children. The anguish begins with the diagnosis.
Regardless of the cause of death, mothers and fathers are left with the reality of the loss. What they had is gone. What they took for granted is missing. What they presumed would be, will not come to be.
Missing the child never goes away. The age of the child at the time of death does not lessen the hurt. Parents describe the feeling as having a hole in their heart. It is common to feel alone and isolated because family and friends are often a loss as to how to respond.
If you know someone who has lost a child, put that child on your Christmas list. Let the parents know you wrote a check to your favorite nonprofit or bought a toy for a child who would not have one as a way to remember their son or daughter, or write a thoughtful note sharing a memory.
It will not make the pain of loss go away, but it will help to know their child has not been forgotten.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.