For mothers who have lost a child

I just read a post over on Susie's blog. I commented but decided to write a post on the subject myself. I've talked about this before either in comments and/or posts, but whatever, I think it's important. You can take it, and I know you will, in whatever way you want. Some will be hurt, some will be offended, some will be triggered, and some might just hear and take what I have to say to heart.

Understand it's said with the best intentions, with your alive and present children's feelings in mind.

Here's what I said to Susie.

You know, what I've found in life Susie is that nothing ever stays the same. Yeah, it doesn't necessarily always get better but it also doesn't always get worse.

I guess what I would say to you is accept this less than rosy time, which you appear to be, and know that there will come a time, a day, a moment that will fill you with happiness or excitement or some other feeling that's good.

In the meant time, be careful not to let those you do have in your life, your raised kids, feel like they're less than Christopher. That they aren't enough to make their mom happy at Christmas. That the family you actually do have isn't good enough.

I'm sorry it's this way for you, and even sorrier for your kids if they know it. 

I come at this from the point of view of an alive and present kid, albeit an adopted one who is in contact with her bio mom. I am also the daughter of a mother who has lost a child to death, her baby boy, someone whom I myself miss dearly. My little brother.

I know what it's like to be here and present and it just not be good enough.

My mom doesn't do it anymore. She doesn't make me feel this way, this frustrating mix of hurt and compassion. Compassion for a woman who has lost her child but yet hurt by a mom who can't be cheered, who doesn't embrace what she has left, can't be thankful for at least that.

When my mom did make me feel this way, I eventually told her. It was not when my brother initially died. I, being a mom myself, knew how devastating this was to my parents. I'm the one who had to tell them.

I've been there for my parents really forever and in this things were no different, but after a while it got to a point where it just felt wrong. I was here, my son was here, why were we now no longer enough to bring joy or pleasure? When would we become enough again, the way we were before my brother died? Maybe we just never were as important as he was but I'll be damned if I were going to carry on "being there" for someone who I wasn't good enough for. I missed my brother very much too!

I've come to realize that this conversation can evolve into a discussion on "what's worse", although in my mind there's no comparison. If you feel the need to go there, be my guest, but as a mother of one and the daughter of a parent who has lost a child to death, you'll never convince me it's worse to have a child alive and well that you don't see or talk to enough than to have a child that breathed his or her last breath. That there's no hope for reuniting, no hope for a hug or a touching of hands, no possibility of hearing their voice or even reading an email they've written.

That's not what this post is about though. It's about us, the kids that are still here. Your children who call, who visit, who care, who feel so badly for your loss. Who love you, are dedicated to you, and want you to be happy with what you have. Us.

We know that we can never be or do enough to take away the pain. That this person, who we may love and miss ourselves, holds a power to change the way things were, the way things should be, just by their very absence.

As a mom, I get it. I feel sick at the thought of losing my son. I don't even want to imagine what it would be like. I am so so very sorry for any parent who has lost a child.

As a daughter, I implore you to think about what you still have, and embrace it.

edited to supply this link


  1. Hi Campbell!

    I was just getting ready to reply to your comment on my blog, when I saw that you had a new post and decided to read it first.

    I am not hurt or offended in any way ~ I completely agree with you on this matter.

    My raised kids have no idea of the depth of my sadness regarding Christopher. Only a couple of people in my real life really have a clue as to how deeply losing a child to adoption has effected me.

    One of the reasons I started blogging was to have a way to get all the "garbage" out of my head so that it wouldn't effect my day to day life. My blog is kinda like the place I go to tell the ugly side of my feelings, so that I don't have to burden anyone irl with it.

    My kids know how much I love them as I tell them always. They would never guess the depth of the loss that I feel. They know that I wish Christopher could be a bigger part of my life, but then they wish the same thing!

  2. I like this post but sometimes when your going through something the emotions take charge of you. For me personally the holidays haven't been too big of a problem for me. I find happiness in the fact that I can give my daughter presents now.
    I do remember being upset that after my older sister moved away that the family traditions of getting together just kind of fell away. I do remember feeling like why can't we be enough. My Dad says that it breaks his heart that the oldest is so far away, but I will be honest being a birthmom sometimes makes me hard. I just can't feel sorry for him for missing his daughter that just choose to move out of state. I will say for those that are going through the struggles your suggestion is easier said than done.

  3. That's awesome Susie, and kinda what I figured as far as you're concerned. Good for you! I hope other people can learn from you and I am happy your kids, all of them, have a mom like you : )

  4. Maybe that's what it takes sometimes birthmothertalks, actually knowing the feeling of "why can't we be enough".

    I know it's easier said than done, and that sucks.

  5. Death often destroys the relationships between the living. That experience is definitely known to me; I identify totally with what you described. That is one reason why mourning is work, and it doesn't just happen.

    This was an excellent post, Campbell.

  6. I agree. Loss should not make what you have less important.

    I think many times when I read blogs about loss (loss of all kinds) that it's almost like the person's diary. They might share their feelings on a blog, rather than "in real life," because they do realize the importance of not letting loss consume what they have with those around them.

    On my blog, I talk about how adoption is broken and needs to be fixed and how it has impacted my life in both good and bad ways. I could imagine that someone would wonder if I have these conversations day in and day out with others in my life and how those around me would feel about it. I'm sure if I did that those on both sides of the family who tried to make my life perfect through adoption would be hurt and tired of hearing of it.

    I try to be very aware of that, which is why I don't talk about adoption a whole lot in my day to day life. My life, seriously, is pretty average lol.


  7. My raised kids have no idea of the depth of my sadness regarding Christophe

    This is my situation as well Susie. I read Campbell's comment on your blog and found it a bit off (from my own perspective and experience) and came over here to read to get a better understanding of what she was trying to convey.

    I am not sure I agree that it is awesome you do or have to keep this to your self but I understand why you do (and why I do).

  8. "I am not sure I agree that it is awesome you do or have to keep this to your self but I understand why you do (and why I do)."

    It's not awesome to have to do it suz, it's awesome that she, and you, and other parents do it in spite of that.

    It's also not awesome that we, present offspring, aren't enough and that many times we know that no matter how our parents handle that fact, we do or have to keep it to ourselves.

  9. I read this as I was getting ready to walk out the door for work this morning, and it has sat with me all day long. I've tried to think of the perfect comment, and still have none, but couldn't let this post pass without at least acknowledging its importance.

    This is a revelation I have recently come to on my own (which is horrible and embarrasing given the fact it has been twenty months since I placed)and after reading this...I was so thankful I had.

    This part of your comment..."I'm sorry it's this way for you, and even sorrier for your kids if they know it." made me cry. Big fat tears, that sat with me on the hour long commute I had.

    For the last year and a half, my precious little ones have grown, physically and as little individuals, and I am ashamed to say I have missed most of it, wallowing in sorrow for the one that is not here.

    A month or two ago, I took a break from all things adoption, and a long, hard look at what my family was turning into as a result of the grief, and made a VERY conscious decision to stop it. It's been baby steps, and is certainly not something that could be changed or repaired overnight, but progress is being made. A week ago, my nine year old son and I were watching a program together, and he put his hand on mine and said, "I'm glad you're back to loving us again." God almighty...there were no words for the hurt in my heart at that moment...standing face to face with what I had done to his little heart.

    My decision to place was made with so much weight and emphasis given on what was best for them, as well as for the baby...and for a long time, I never thought about what the aftermath of that choice did to them. Of what my absense did to them. Of what my inability to see past anything beyond my own ache did to them. But in hearing his little staying away from the computer for days at a time...I am learning.

    This is rambly and doesn't make much sense, but I sincerely thank you for taking the time to write it...and I am so sorry that you were ever made to feel that way.

  10. Mrs Perrbear....thank you.


  11. "Death often destroys the relationships between the living."

    I didn't even realize how profound that was until I looked back on the experience I had with my first boyfriend and how his dying grandmother impacted our relationship at the time.

  12. I sincerely appreciate this post. I am a mother that has lost a daughter to death, and I have learned how to not dwell on what I don't have (it's taken me a good 3 1/2 years), but what I do. We've been trying to adopt for nearly four years, and I think I'm finally at a place where I can say that I love what I do have. Sure, adopting a child will be most welcome, but for now, I'm going to cherish what I do have, my sweet six year old son, - not linger on what I don't. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. I am sincerely so very sorry for your loss LeMira.

    I know for sure my brother would want my mom to do just that, cherish what she does have.

    Thank you for commenting.

  14. I absolutely believe in what you have all said about loss not changing the positives that we do have in life, and that it is important to remember those blessings and keep them present in our minds.

    Kids can feel when parents aren't emotionally present. I know this from my own current struggle with major depression. I want to be close to them, to love them, to focus on them, but sometimes my disease makes that more than I can do at any given moment, even with medication, therapy, help, etc. What works for us is allowing my kids to talk about how it makes them feel when I am crying and unable to function at anything more than breathing. They are heard, I assure them that how I feel is in no way related to them, and although it's difficult for all of us, we find a way to get through it If I could soldier through and paste a smile on my face and act as though nothing were happening when they were around, that would be wonderful But I can't, at least not now.

    While I agree that putting the children and their needs first is important, I was also wondering about something that doesn't seem to have made it into this conversation thus far. How about encouraging kept children to talk about how they feel about the sibling that isn't there. No judgments, of course: if they're fine with it, they're fine. But perhaps they wish they could share things like holiday dinners, etc. I remember a while ago on Ms. Feverfew's blog when she said that one of her kids said that they needed to remember to save a slice of pie for the absent child. Children *know*, and their feelings are just as valid as the adults' feelings. It doesn't have to be sob fest or an assertion that things are necessarily negative, but simply that there is a shadow presence who is worth talking about, whether it be a placed child or dead child.

    I say this because shoving things under the rug and acting "all fine" for the kids has a way of backfiring, as well, if the parents don't have the chance to grieve at all. My nmom's parenting skills were clearly adversely affected by her keeping me a secret.

    Too much of a thing can be harmful, as in untreated depression or grief that paralyzes a family. But perhaps both of those eventualities might be helped by a family who is willing to speak openly about positives and negatives. Just a thought.

  15. ms marginalia, hey, thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    I'm actually saying that loss can change the positives we have in life, which is where the problem lies.

    I feel horrible for those, such as yourself, who simply can not act as though nothing were wrong, even worse can't truly feel that what they have is enough, can possibly never be enough. I'm no expert but I am well aware depression has that effect. I've watched people do what they can to cope with that horrible disease and it's heartbreaking. It's also something that's not necessarily even related to the loss, although it can be.

    I'm in agreement of allowing, even encouraging, kept or surviving children to talk about how they feel about a sibling that isn't there but I'm not sure about it being in a way that's intended to be support to the parent. In fact, depending on the age of the child and how aware they are of their parent's feelings, I'm not entirely sure the parent would be someone they'd share their true feelings with, someone who could be a true support to the child. How could they share if what they felt wasn't loss but rather anger? Anger toward the missing sibling for making their mom or dad sad. Or guilt? Guilt for being the one still alive or kept. Or feelings of worthlessness? For not being enough to make mom and/or dad happy.

    I'm not in any way shape or form talking about shoving things under a rug. Unless that's a person's style for coping, it couldn't be healthy.

    When I took my mom to a group for parents who'd lost a child to death, I was blown away by how long it had been since some of the parents had been going to the group and the depth that they were grieving, by the effect it was still having on their families. Although I was dedicated to taking my mom as long as she wanted to go I was VERY relieved when she decided that the group wasn't something she'd find helpful.

    What I'm trying to do here is encourage parents to do their best to truly embrace those that they still have, not to fake it. To do what they're capable of doing in sparing their present children feelings of guilt, feelings of being less than the person who is missing, feelings of just not being good enough.

    We can all only do what we can do. I know this.

    It's interesting, I always have been and continue to be a secret in my bio mom's life and it didn't affect her parenting skills whatsoever. Nor mine.

  16. I think it's healthy for a kept child to say that he or she is angry. That's valid. And if it helps the parent who placed to get a reality check, that's great, too.

    I know from where I sit as an adoptee, I was never allowed to say anything negative; I suppose I was given the latitude, but worried that what I said might be held against me.

    I guess for me it comes down to adoption not being a happy solution for many families, yours excluded, and that you're right: there is often no easy way for people to express their feelings without hurting anyone else. While I believe that children should be spared the worst of adult issues, sometimes that just isn't possible.

    I can't really speak about dead children, except to say that my amom never gave herself a chance to mourn the babies she lost to miscarriage and took that out on me. When I attempted to bring it up as an issue in my 20's, I was quickly shut down. Some people are better able to process than others, but I feel uncomfortable judging them for how they do or do not follow the template of my family or what *I* judge to be appropriate.

    How fortunate for your nmom that your birth was something that she could walk away from and say, "Great, next thing!" She didn't miss you, you didn't miss her, and all is well. That is not a common story, as you must know.

    My nmom is a self-hating, cold-hearted alcoholic (by her own admission) who doesn't have a single picture of my kept brother up in her house. Doesn't sound like the kind of parenting you'd approve of, Campbell. She told me recently that she married my brother's father ASAP after my birth, after only meeting him six times, to try to atone for the sin of having me. Not that she particularly loved me, either, but the shame was overwhelming. There is a deep history of mental illness, including suicide, in my nfamily. Not in my afamily. I must say that it came as a relief to know that I wasn't aberrant: my genes were simply different.

    Anyway, I am sorry for the loss of your brother, and I know it must still be hard for you and your mother.

    I regret that my depression is affecting my children's quality of life to such a terrible degree. I feel awful about it, but there isn't much I can do except try to keep moving and tell them I love them. Frankly, I should never have been a parent--my disease takes me places I don't want anyone else to go, but I am not about to give my boys up for adoption.

  17. Trying to keep moving and telling them you love them is huge ms marginalia. It is much, it is everything, since it's what you can do.

  18. This is such an interesting post! And it occurs to me that it can apply to so many situations: death of a child, loss by adoption, depression, or loss of expectations for a child like in my case (with my special needs son.) I have somewhat stepped away from blogging and reading blogs about autism and sensory processing disorder because it WAS becoming all-consuming. It is easy to get wrapped up in all the the therapies you can try and all the different ways there are to help a child. However, when one of my typical kids mentioned that I am always off at therapy with Alex, it hit me that I need to step back. I have 3 other kids who are healthy and need my attention as well. Alex is who he is. He is thriving and doing very well. I think it will do our whole family well to step off the autism train for a while and just live our lives. My other kids need to know (really KNOW) that they are just as important as Alex is and I have been making a huge attempt to spend more time doing things they want to do.

    I am sorry for the loss of your brother. That must have been very difficult. I think sometimes when bad things happen to kids (death, illness, loss by adoption, special needs) the siblings who may also be hurting, get forgotten.

  19. Although it's getting a little off topic, your comment made me think of something else Kris.

    It reminded me of the extra attention I got as a kid/teen. Without going into all the gritty details, things could get quite tumultuous between my mom and myself and much of her focus was on me and my "bad behavior". I'm pretty sure my sister commented at some point when we'd talked as adults about how much of my parent's (my mom's) thoughts and time I took up, took away from the other two kids in the family.

    Personally, I think they should have thanked me ; )


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