There is no way to prepare for the death of a child. When a son or daughter dies suddenly, it is earth shattering. Two images still haunt me: my son, Chris, lying in the grass and dying alone and my last conversation with him by phone. It was only an hour before he sustained a gunshot wound to the chest.
I sensed in our last conversation something was wrong. Unfortunately, I thought since he said he would return home that night, he would be okay. Sadly, I didn't listen to my own premonition, nor did my son. I had told Chris not to return to western Pennsylvania as I felt his life was in danger.
So many things left unsaid. So unnatural to bury a child. A horrendous, numbing and unbelievable shock when the police came and told me. How was ever going to tell my very ill husband, Fred? After burying Chris, this was the hardest thing I ever had to do.
Something which I remember helped me in the first week after Chris' death was writing a long letter to him. I wrote everything I felt and feared... anything that came to mind, even questions. I actually took that letter to the cemetery and buried it in the soft soil of his new gravesite. This letter and gesture were the last good-bye I never got to say.
I know not everyone feels comfortable writing. Yet, I encourage trying to write a letter as a way to say good-bye. No one is there to correct spelling or grammar. What matters is speaking from the heart. It will be an effort, not a pain free one, but pain needs expression. It may prove to be an effort well spent.
Remember, everyone grieves in their own way. I believe for my husband, Chris' death was a release as he no longer needed to live to be there for Chris. Fred asked to go to the cemetery. He asked where he would be buried. I showed him his place at the gravesite and sensed at that point after much suffering and hanging on, he was now prepared to die. And he did... six weeks after Chris.
When Fred died, I was so numb with grief about Chris, it took me two years before I could internalize Fred's death. It was a lonely time filled with anger and resentment at them both for leaving me all alone. Two years later, I was finally able to grieve Fred. I went back to my support group with a friend who had newly become a widow.
I mention my feelings of anger and resentment because it is important to be aware of these feelings as well as of jealousy and self-pity. These feelings can really affect couples who have lost a child. It is very easy not to understand each other's feelings and make each other the brunt of personal feelings. That is where support groups and individual grief counseling can be helpful to keep lines of communication open.
Let me add, too, starting to feel better doesn't mean feeling guilty also. Feeling better shows progress, effort and choosing life. This is what a son or daughter would want. Moving forward with life takes time, but there is no clock here. What is important is slow and steady progress.