Carrying Forward

Carrying Forward

Grief and Grieving

Grief is our outward response to loss—it’s that emotional state that floods over you like a tidal wave and brings you to your knees. Grief is both a universal experience and as unique as the person who is experiencing it. Grief isn’t something that you get through or that you get over; it will forever be a part of you because the love you carry for your child will forever be a part of you.

Grieving is what happens as we adapt to the fact that our loved one has died; grieving teaches us how to be in a world in which our loved one is no longer living. There is no right way to grieve, nor is there a timeline dictating how you should feel and when. Some days you may feel grief as an intense yearning and sadness; other days, you may smile as you recall a sweet memory of your child. And other times, a smell or song might trigger intense emotion. Simply give yourself permission to feel what you feel when you feel it. Your relationship to your grief will evolve over time.

Remember that you do not need to grieve alone. Receiving compassion from others will help you discover what you need. Seek out friends and family who can bear witness to your grief, share in your memories, and provide support in big and small ways. Patience with yourself and with others is key as your loved ones come to know how they can help you. Some friends may be more comfortable with concrete tasks such as mowing the lawn or bringing you meals. Others may be comfortable accompanying you to gatherings that feel overwhelming to you. Research online resources and forums and consider scheduling time with a therapist. Your funeral director or healthcare provider can provide suggestions for local grief support organizations.

You may want to seek out additional support that addresses your unique circumstances. There are many types of grief programs for the loss of a child, including perinatal and infant loss support, and support for traumatic loss stemming from suicide, homicide, overdose, or chronic illness. Other bereavement programs offer support unique to the grieving person’s role in the
family, including programs for parents/couples, single parents, siblings, mothers, fathers, and grandparents.

The grief you are experiencing after the death of your child is very real. Building a trusted support network will make your grief more manageable and help you carry forward in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

Creating Rituals, Building Legacy & Carrying Out Acts of Love

Your child will always be a part of who you are. It may help to build rituals, find memory-making opportunities and other continued acts of love to keep your child’s memory alive and express your grief. Some acts will be personal and private, while others may include your family and community as you continue to honor your child’s memory. Parents who have lost a child offer the following suggestions to help you find purpose and meaning and to help keep your child close to your heart:

  • Light a candle on special dates or simply at every mealtime or bedtime
  • Celebrate your child’s birthday with their favorite home-cooked meal, or at their favorite restaurant
  • Host a birthday celebration at the cemetery or other meaningful location
  • Regularly visit your child’s favorite park, beach, playground, sporting arena or field, or other special location
  • Keep your child’s photo at your bedside to kiss good-night and good-morning
  • Commission a portrait of how your child might look at another age
  • Engage in your child’s favorite activities
  • Print and frame EKG heart strips or footprints
  • Order note cards that feature your child’s artwork
  • Drink your morning coffee or tea in your child’s favorite mug, or personalize a mug with their photo or artwork
  • Sew a quilt or pillowcases from favorite t-shirts, clothing, or baby blankets
  • Plant a tree or garden, or create steppingstones or a bench in your child’s honor
  • Curate a playlist of your child’s favorite songs, or songs that capture their spirit and personality
  • Personalize t-shirts, pillows, or other items with your child’s photo
  • Name a star after your child
  • Create a coffee table book of favorite photos
  • Frame your child’s art or handwritten phrase
  • Release butterflies or sky lanterns
  • Engrave your child’s monogram on special jewelry or other keepsakes that can hold an ultrasound photo, lock of hair, fingerprint, or cremated remains
  • Create a space in your home for your child’s special items
  • Fundraise, advocate or support research for a special cause in your child’s memory
  • Gather a team to participate in local run/walks in your child’s memory
  • Turn cherished items such as booties, mittens, mobile animals, or small toys into ornaments
  • Express your grief through regular movement, journaling, or creating art
  • Blog or write about your experience to help other bereaved parents
  • Include your child’s name on your holiday card or a symbol that represents them
  • Place meaningful objects at your child’s grave
  • Get a tattoo of a symbol that represents your child
  • Plan an annual memorial service or religious service
  • Visit the place where you scattered your child’s cremated remains
  • Perform anonymous random acts of kindness in your child’s memory and encourage others to do the same
  • Invite classmates to decorate special rocks to bring to your child’s grave at a later date, or to keep in your garden
  • Host a picnic in memory of your child on the anniversary of their death
  • Place a potted tree on your front porch for family and friends to leave ornaments in memory of your child
  • Join in-person or online support groups
  • Donate books or toys in your child’ memory
  • Host a bike parade or tea party

Thoughts, Notes & Feelings

What is carrying me forward?

One Day at a Time, One Moment at a Time

Everything you know changes when a child dies. You feel like you are swirling in a hurricane of emotions. Your world is upended. You might now look at time as “life before” and “life after” your child’s death. Simply carrying forward each day—each moment—demands all the strength you can muster.

Please remember that you are not alone. Bereaved parents (and the professionals who walk along with them) offer you this guidebook with compassion. We understand that no matter how hard you wish for it, there is no magic wand to ease your grief, nor words to mend your unimaginable heartache.
Grief is messy and hard. Healing takes time. Be gentle with yourself. Pause. Breathe. Allow tough feelings.

The love you feel for your child lives on in your heart. As the days pass and the fog lifts, you may look back on this time and wonder how you found the strength to honor your child’s life and plan a funeral. Recall your acts of love and legacy with tenderness. Take comfort in knowing that your choices were right for your family.

When special days approach—and each and every day—we encourage you to consider how best to continue your bond with your child, honor your love for them, and reflect on their legacy. Revisit the suggestions on how to remember, to journal, to create art, and to reach out to those who can support and remember with you.

Your work begins in figuring out how to find a way to feel hope and joy again, while living with the pain and grief of losing your child. One day you will laugh out loud and surprise yourself.

Joy and grief can live side by side.
Embrace each feeling as it rises.
Trust yourself to know which direction will carry you forward.
And know that you are not alone.

“Hearing Greta’s name brings tears and smiles. She will always be in our hearts.”
—Greta’s Dad
“Remember the memories that you have and tell about them. Don’t keep them inside. Tell them out loud.”
—Joey’s Sister

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