Living With the Loss of a Child: Update at 14 Weeks

By Suzanne Leigh

For the first few days following Natasha’s death, my body seemed to tell me that I had died, too. I had lost those primordial survival cues that tell us to eat, to drink, to sleep and keep warm.

I was oblivious to the passing of time and confused early morning with evening. I would search, identify and then search again for items of Natasha’s that I thought I’d lost: her pearl earrings, her first pair of toddler shoes, her class pictures and artwork. Sometimes I would frantically sort through her backpack, her drawers, her pockets hoping to find another treasure that encapsulated the essence of the daughter I had just lost.

Back then, completing basic tasks required a Herculean effort. Going to the grocery store to buy a single item would take more than an hour. How to get out of the house and into the car? Oh, didn’t I need my key? How to walk into the grocery store that I’d rarely visited without Natasha?  I had regressed to helplessness. Every errand was overwhelming and inexplicably painful. Those tasks are still difficult but have become less onerous, perhaps because as one bereaved mom friend told me, we are hardwired for resilience — even in the face of staggering loss.

This is what I can and cannot do today:

  • I can pass for normal for limited periods.
  • I can cook, do laundry and clean the home.
  • I can feign cheerfulness and enthusiasm in some situations.
  • I can’t agree with most people’s definitions of crisis. (I get that there’s a crisis in Syria; I’m not so sure about using that word for public education or national parks or the endangered snowy plover.)
  • I can pull off a professional persona.
  • I can walk (very briskly) past the hospital treatment center where Natasha spent much of her time in the last months of her life.
  • I can’t get to sleep without meds.
  • I can’t read an entire book or even half a book. Any book.
  • I can answer the “How are you” question.
  • I can laugh just a little.
  • I can’t witness a stunning sunset without feeling desperate loss.
  • I can’t remember the immediate past a lot of the time; such as, did I just take my sleeping pill?
  • I can’t envisage real joy.
  • I can’t be around groups of children without feeling bereft.
  • I can’t be in certain places without feeling bereft.
  • I can’t understand parents that belittle, bully or seem to begrudge their kids.  (Why don’t they know how lucky they are?).
  • I can sometimes have a normal conversation.
  • I can enjoy being the mother of my surviving joyful, generous, younger daughter.
  • I can’t bear to think I’ll never, ever get to see or touch my gorgeous #1 girl again.

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