In the wake of the horrific Parkland, FL mass shooting and in addition to the sudden and recent deaths of so many children in our country that have died due to the current flu epidemic, I have found myself turning off the TV only to relive Riley's last days and the morning of his passing over and over again in my head. Although the Parkland shooting and recent flu epidemic are two completely different situations, there is one common theme: the sudden and unexpected loss of a child.
Riley's birthday is tomorrow. He would have been 12 years old. Approximately two months from now will be his two year angel-versary. Needless to say, these next couple of months will be very painful for Rob and me as our grief is triggered by these recent horrible events and magnified due to the anniversaries of his passing.
I have found myself these last few days about what I would say to the parents going through the excruciating pain of losing their children in such a sudden and unexpected way, such as how we lost our Riley. Considering my own personal experience, you would think that I would know exactly what to say, how to comfort them and to be able to give them some advice on what lies before them in the coming times. However, this is not an easy task, especially if you are currently in the middle of the trenches yourself. That being said, I have learned a few things along the way and that is the meaning behind this post.
I am no writer by any means, nor am I very comfortable with expressing my feelings on paper much less social media, so please try not to judge my grammar, etc. I just want to express what is on my heart. During times like these I often feel compelled to make my best effort to speak out but usually do not for fear that my words will not be of help, or even worse, may not come out as I intended and inflict more pain somehow.
I would like to tell you a quick story pertaining to this. The other day as I was getting ready to vacuum my floors I thought to myself, "I am just going to scrap this article. It won't help anyone and I just can't write it the way it should be written." No sooner than these words entered my mind did I hear a still, small voice come to me that calmly said, "Write the article." I believe that was the Holy Spirit reaching out to me. I don't know if this post will help anyone, but if it helps even one person I will feel like I have done my part and glory be to God that I was able to do just that. With all of that being said, I have now decided to attempt to give some comfort, insight or advice to the bereaved parents of these two terrible events, so here goes...
Love. The love between a parent and their child is a love that is greater than any love a person can behold. Because of our son Riley's incredibly huge heart full of love, kindness and affection, Rob and I have chosen to spread his legacy through our foundation, Riley's Rainbows. Through Riley's Rainbows we have chosen to honor our son by passing his love and kindness as far and as wide as we possibly can. We also hope to help the bereaved by dedicating a page on our website designated to referencing online resources that we have found helpful throughout our own grief journey.
There are so many different ways that bereaved parents can choose to continue to love and honor their children in the wake of their passing. For example, on Riley's first angel-versary we gathered with our immediate family members to release biodegradable sky lanterns including personalized notes of love written to Riley on them. This year, on his birthday, we plan to plant a tree in our backyard as a tribute to how much he loved nature. Some other suggestions may be to create a scrapbook of photos, memorable stories or sentimental items your child may have worn or used, etc. You could choose to journal (an incredibly healing tool for me) or to begin a blog to share the heartfelt memories you have of your child. Have a blanket made from your child's favorite tee shirts. Some bereaved parents decide to get a tattoo commemorating something special related to their child. The options are endless but the main objective, and a critical point of the healing process, is to express the love you have for your child in a tangible way.
The club. One thing I have come to realize through personal experience is that we are a club that no one would ever want to join, basically we are every parent's worst nightmare, but once we find others going through the same experience we are bonded for life. Losing a child is the loneliest, most unbearable journey a person can experience within their lifetime and the only people who can truly help you to understand it are those who, unfortunately, are experiencing it for themselves.
In this club, we know that anytime one of us is having a particularly rough time we will always be there for one another. Whether it is a phone call during the day or a text message during the middle of the night, we will always answer and we will always be a listening ear to do our best in helping our bereaved friend on the other end of that conversation. In addition, we will each most likely be in a different stage of our grief journeys and for this reason will be able to perhaps provide a different perspective.
A choice. You must eventually make a very difficult choice. Admittedly, a choice that took me a very long time to come to terms with myself. You must attempt to choose to wake up, go outside and make yourself search for beauty in the little things every chance you get. This is difficult to do in the midst of your grieving when all you want to do is to close your blinds, turn off the lights and isolate yourself from the world.
Our Riley taught me how to do this. He taught me how to notice the sometimes small but always important things in life like colorful rainbows, gorgeous sunsets, bird nests gently resting in a tree, starry nights and the wonders of how each tiny star fits together with other bright and tiny stars to make beautiful constellations. He taught me these things from his childlike perspective, a perspective many times overlooked by us adults who are too often distracted from carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders.
Please remember to stop and take the time to enjoy these things as it will also honor the memory of your child. Your child would want this glimmer of happiness for you and by doing this you are also taking care of yourself, which we all need to do in the midst of a tragedy such as ours.
Triggers. There will be triggers all around you. An example of this is when I once found myself waiting in line at a sandwich shop just up the up the street from our home. There were two young boys waiting in line with their mother in front of me. Suddenly, I was on the verge of a meltdown. Usually if I was out in public, which was rare in those days, I could contain myself if I felt my emotions overwhelming me. I could compose myself long enough to finish what I was doing and then get into my car and let my emotions out freely without feeling self-conscious. However, this was a very long line to wait in, and to think in, while my emotions kicked into overdrive. Let's face it, what else do you have to do while you are waiting in long lines but to think? I knew the sandwich had to wait.
Triggers like this can come from things such as a street you often drove down with your child, a sign or advertisement for an event you once attended, seeing a child that reminds you of your own child or a grocery shopping trip where you walk down a particular aisle only to see your child's favorite food staring you in the face. These are just a few examples of the triggers you may experience, but I can share with you that the more you bravely face these triggers the less they will affect you.
Moving forward. The passing of your child completely breaks you in a way that is unimaginable. Your life will never be the same but you will eventually get to a place where you can move forward. Please understand that no matter what anyone tells you there is no specific timeframe for you to grieve. There will always be an everlasting grief for your child that never goes away. However, as a wise friend further along in her own grief journey once told me, your grief becomes more manageable as time progresses.
The what if's. This is something that I still struggle with 22 months into my own grief journey. I recently read in a news article of a man who lost his teenage daughter in the Parkland, FL shooting. He was struggling with the fact that he couldn't remember if he told his daughter that morning before she left for school if he loved her. He mentioned that, in the hurried moments of that morning, she left quickly and although he always took the time to express his love for her before she left to go somewhere he could not remember if he did so that morning. I suspect that he asks himself frequently, "What if I didn't tell her?". I have something that I would like to share with this father, something that I try to remember each time I feel these same emotions coming to surface. It is this. Regardless of whether you told your daughter that you loved her or not, she knew in her heart that you loved her. From what I read in that article, I could tell that you took the time to express your love for her each and every day through your words and through your actions and just one morning will never ever change that.
For the parents that lost their children due to the deadly flu epidemic, they may ask themselves what would have happened if they hadn't taken their child to a movie theater, or a park, or some other public place where their child could have picked up the virus. This is another question that I grapple with myself due to the similar passing of our son Riley. There is no way that a parent could have ever known what would happen to their child in that moment.
I have learned the hard way that these questions only lead you down a dark rabbit hole of more depression and heartache. Questions such as these will never bring you comfort. The what if's are hard to overcome, but try to remember that they are of no use to you throughout your healing process.
Finally, to all of the the bereaved parents that I refer to in this post and to bereaved parents everywhere who have lost their child in a tragic, sudden and unexpected way, I have this to say. You are not alone. We feel your pain. We wish you the strength, comfort and grace that only God can bring to you throughout this difficult journey.
"Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you." Psalm 55:22.
Hello, and welcome! My name is Sonya. I am forever Mom to Riley, our sweet angel in heaven, a photography lover and Founder of Riley's Rainbows Foundation.