I have sat across the table from a family that is burying someone far too early, far too many times. And despite these numerous experiences I will never begin to understand the hopeless feeling a mother must go through when she's picking that last outfit for her child to wear. For no longer is her child there to tell her for the 10th time that he just simply does NOT wear stripes! No longer is her daughter there to tell her she's just "so sick of pink - don't you dare bury me in that pink dress. You liked that dress, not me!" What thoughts run through a father's mind when he is selecting a casket for his teen aged son? He's probably thinking this should be a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon and we should be out test driving for his first car. He should be talking his son out of any yellow car. Yellow cars are not cool. He should not picking a matte or gloss stained wooden box. What do these parents feel when they know in a mere 3 days they will never be able to look their child in the face again? Do they regret screaming for their kid to get out of their face because he's driving them crazy? What about the thought of never holding your kid's hand again? All those times you complained about his sticky fingers touching you...
I know kids do just that, they drive us crazy. They test their boundaries by testing ours. They make mistakes as they learn (some extremely stupid ones), and instead of trying to explain to them how terrible the outcome is we turn to the ways we know best, we yell at them. Sometimes out of fear for them and other times out of exasperation. Regardless, we can look back and acknowledge that we perhaps could have handled it much better than we did because you know what? We too make mistakes, probably much more frequently than any of us would like to admit. Is this how we'd want to be called out on our mistakes?
So what I've learned in my 15+ years of taking care of those that have gone before us, is that I'll NEVER begin to understand what a parent goes through at the death of their child. I cannot sympathize, and I cannot empathize. I just cannot (or will not) begin to imagine. The only thing I've taken from these horrible, heartbreaking experiences is this:
- You are never old enough for it to be ok to bury your child. I've buried a woman who was in her mid-70's whose mother, at 94, was still alive. Her mother wept like her daughter was 10.
- Wiping pee off a toilet seat for the thousandth time is also something I've willing to live with and not get angry over even if I just sat in it. It means my son is home and safe and able to pee on my toilet seat.
- A messy bedroom is just that, a messy bedroom. It is something a grieving parent would do anything to have back. It's a shrine of their child's existence. And isn't that what doors are for?
- Bereaved parents are some of the strongest people I've ever met. I still don't know how they walk away from the casket that last time at the cemetery. Or how they are able to remain upright as they watch the hearse leave with their daughter to go for cremation. How do they find the strength to walk out of the funeral parlour at 9 p.m. after all of their friends have left and they aren't able to take their child with them? I'm not sure I'd be able to find the strength to leave him there while I returned to my empty house - A shell of a home.
- The fighting and power struggles just aren't worth it. I'm not willing to chance that that is the last conversation I have with my child. Do not leave a fight as, potentially, your last interaction. Treat your children how you want and expect them to treat you. With respect for their feelings and beliefs even if you don't agree. You can still win the battle, you should just choose to win with grace and decorum.
- Don't let animosity build up and build up until you resent your child. Talk to him, help him understand how he is hurting you. Let him make restitution on his own. You'll be teaching him valuable lessons.
- Sometimes material possessions and the importance of these items overshadow the importance of one's child. Or we stress how important these items are and sometimes forget how to stress how important our children are instead.
- I know not everyone will have these stories, but I do and so I share these heartbreaking tragedies with my two sons. My hope is that they will learn from another person's mistake or misfortune (those words don't seem appropriate though) and therefore that person will not have died in vain. Because if even one (or two) people, like my boys, don't get behind the wheel of car after drinking, or don't try those drugs, or don't swim in unsafe waters, then their death isn't all just loss.
- I've learned that you should find a moment in every day to hug your kids or compliment them or make them feel useful and loved. It takes nothing more than a moment. But they'll remember it forever.
- If it's not going to kill your child and he's happy then don't fight him on it. Just because you don't agree with your child's lifestyle choice just be glad they are comfortable in their own skin. They aren't asking you to fix the worlds problems or views for them, they are just asking you to love them regardless.
- Pick your battles. There are definitely some worth 'fighting' for as you want your kids to grow up to be good people. But make sure the fight is for the right reasons. There's some valuable lessons in that old saying, "There's no use crying over spilled milk."
So I guess what I'm hoping to convey (to other parents who haven't experienced the profound loss of a child), is to take a moment and try to imagine for that split second how badly those grieving parents want to switch spots with us for even 10 minutes. Think of how they probably long to be in that same spot we are, where we are huffing and puffing and grinding our teeth and wondering how we are going to get through the day without harming our own offspring (don't lie, you've been there). Step back before you shout at your kid, even if it's just to give yourself that 10 minutes you need to calm down a bit and let the influx of anger pass through you.
Our children are our legacy that we will (hopefully) one day leave behind, I understand the need to ensure that our legacy is wonderful and brilliant but at what cost? I want my kids to love me, there is no doubt. I want them to remember their childhood not for the tension they felt around me or the hostility in our home, but for the support and laughter they shared with me. Some days I question myself and wonder if I'm too lenient with them, have I gone so far to the other end of the spectrum because I'm choosing my battles? But I let those thoughts quickly fade. I've decided that I don't feel inclined to yell at them a lot because they are good kids and they aren't doing things to require those responses, yet. I've been lucky. I hope that what I've chosen to do with my children (because of the lessons I've learned as a result of another's loss of child) is working. I hope they are hearing the stories and thinking twice. I hope the lines of communication I have with my boys will always remain open. I know for sure they will on this end.
Love your kids and ensure you are able to look back on your own life and love yourself as a parent and a leader because unfortunately in the real world, the opportunity to make changes may be taken from you in a split second.