October 10, 2017….to many it is just another day with no meaning….for me it is the day my life changed forever. It is the day I became a new person….I became a grieving mother. It was this day that my beautiful, happy, and healthy little girl Kayla passed away suddenly and unexpectedly and from no known cause. Her death is often categorized as Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood or SUDC.
As I sit here one year later and reflect, I wonder how I have made it this far. How have I gone 365 days without hugging and kissing my baby girl? How have I made it through these days without hearing her sweet voice and seeing her infectious smile? Although I am new to this journey of grief, I have learned a lot this past year about grief. I say I am new to this journey because one year is minuscule compared to the whole life time I will grieve. Yes I said lifetime. I will grieve the death of my child for the rest of my life. The love is forever and therefore the grief is forever. And although I have learned a lot, I have so much more to know, to face, and to conquer. But for now, I would like to share what I have learned this past year, in hopes that maybe someone else grieving the loss of a child will read this and know that they are not alone.
The importance of Self Care
I have learned that this is especially important. And I don’t mean just the pampering type….I mean the whole thing…taking care of your mind, body, and spirit. The months following Kayla’s death, self-care was difficult for me to do. I had no energy….I isolated myself, I was lucky to get a shower in every 3 days….basically I just didn’t care about anything…as far as I was concerned I was better off leaving this world to be with my daughter… It took me months but slowly I began to do things again…..I worked out, I listened to a therapeutic listening program, I wrote and read about grief, I made time to get pampered, and I even made time to socialize. You see grief can swallow you whole, tear you apart and eat you up from the inside out. Grief leaves you emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, and socially drained. Unless you take care of all these aspects, you will not be able to start the “healing process”. I say this tentatively because I don’t believe you ever truly heal from child loss….I think you slowly learn to adapt to the pain in order to put one foot in front of the other to live each day again…..one breath, one step, one day at a time.
It Changes your relationship
It doesn’t matter how long you have been with someone or how much you love them…..grief impacts your relationship in many ways and that is simply because no two people grieve the same. When one is motivated, the other is depressed. When one is social, the other is isolating. When one wants to talk, the other withdraws. Role differences can also impact the way couples grieve. Mothers tend to cry openly and want to talk about their grief. Fathers are often expected to be “strong” and be the glue that holds it all together. Because of this expectation, the Dads often suppress their feelings…bottle them up…I have found that men grieve physically….they often throw themselves into work, a project, or a new hobby to keep busy and avoid dealing with the emotions. Differences in grieving can cause relationship difficulties at a time when parents need each other the most. I have learned to be there when support is wanted but also give space to allow your partner to grieve in their own way. Sometimes they need support but it is not always you that they will turn to for it….and that’s okay. I’ve learned to listen when he talks but don’t pressure him to share. The bottom line is both parents suffer profoundly and deeply when they lose a child, even though the grieving looks different. Although grief can put a strain on a relationship, with effort, understanding, and respect for each other’s grieving process, you can survive.
Relationships with friends and family change too with grief. Many people grieve the loss of a child. Some people can only focus on themselves….how much THEY hurt, how much they miss the child…..let these ones just be. They will never understand the difference….with child loss, the parents have experienced a trauma that will never go away…the parents have experienced the ultimate loss…..something an aunt/uncle, a grandmother/grandfather can not relate to because in the end, it was not their child. Cling to the ones that put aside their own grief to make sure you are alright….because I can guarantee you that you are not alright. We need the strength of others to lift us up. We need their love to mend the broken pieces. So thank you to the ones who offer to help, to message me telling me they are thinking of me and that they are there for me. It is this that helps to make it through the most difficult days. Some friends will stop calling because you don’t answer or your turn down the invite. Let those ones go. Keep the ones that continue to call…that continue inviting you out no matter how many times you say yes or no. Those are the ones that you need. The ones that don’t give up on you. The ones that understand that maybe you just need to be alone or that you hurt too much to be social. The ones that believe that someday you will be there, when you are ready.
There will always be Questions
One of the most difficult aspects of sudden and unexpected child loss is the continuous questions and the guilt….Why did this happen to her?...to us? Why couldn’t it have happened to me??... because I would have traded places with Kayla in a heart beat if it meant she was able to live a long happy life. How did this happen??? I will ask this question for the rest of my life. I will never be able to wrap my head around the fact that my perfectly healthy daughter died. How did I not know?? I knew she had a small freckle on her right forearm and one under her lip. I knew where every birthmark, bump, scratch, and bruise was. Yet I did not know that she was going to die?? The wonder if I missed something will be with me forever. I often look back at pictures from that day to see if I could tell something was wrong and I just can’t see it. Why did my neighbor have to bear part of this pain? Why did Daddy and Uncle Nee have to be the one to resuscitate her? Why was Kayla okay during the two naps I gave her at my home and not okay with the one at my neighbors? Was this a way of protecting me from the additional pain of finding her? What if I didn’t have to work? What if she didn’t take a nap? Why couldn’t she be saved? The unexpected death of a child leaves so many unanswered questions that plague parents and all that were involved. It is a constant battle that I am sure we all continue to fight. It replays in the mind over and over again. As a child’s parent we have the responsibility to protect our children. When a child dies, we feel like we have failed, and we place blame on ourselves. The guilt can eat you alive. I can only hope that some day we all find peace….I will say, as long as I live, I will work to help myself and other families impacted by SUDC try to find an answer to the why’s and how’s. I know first hand how debilitating these questions can become. It is not until we have some answers that one can truly begin to calm those voices in our head.
I do not feel strong but…..
I say this because everyone tells me how strong I am….the truth is I do not feel strong at all. What people don’t know is I cry every day…..365 days and NOT ONE has gone by that I don’t break down in tears for my little girl. Unless you are a grieving parent, you could not understand the continuous reminders we face daily that leaves a gaping hole in our heart. The day is filled with “triggers” that can instantly cause an emotional breakdown. Grief has no boundaries….it can hit at any time and any where. Because not many understand, grief can be so isolating. We share to feel better and so I will share what others may not know:
I cry every morning as I am continuously reminded that one of my children is missing. When I walk by Kayla’s room to wake my other two children, it hurts. When I can’t make her the blueberry pancakes she loved so much, it hurts. The emptiness and inactivity of not chasing around a toddler anymore hurts.
It took me 8 months to walk through a grocery store without crying. And even to this day, I still cry more often than not. I’m not quite sure why a grocery store is a trigger for grief, but it is for me and so many other grieving parents. I always took my children grocery shopping. As I shop, my mind often fills with images of Kayla in the shopping cart, throwing her pink wubba nub on the floor for the 100th time…pulling things off shelves, and trying to stand up while buckled in…..I miss the chaos…
One year later and I still can’t walk through a little girls clothing section. I miss everything about having a little girl…the bows, dresses and tutus, dolls….it breaks my heart every.single.time and I just can’t do it.
I cry on the way to work…I wipe the tears away as I park my car ….preparing myself to work with children…..sometimes little girls. I cry on the way home from work because that little girl I worked with reminded me that I was missing my little girl.
I fall apart at pictures of things my daughter never had a chance to do…dance, cheer, school. When you lose a child you not only lose them at the stage they were when they passed. We lose them at every stage we missed. We grieve the loss of all possibilities and all of the hopes and dreams. We grieve all the experiences they will never share.
This is only a small glimpse into what we face on a daily basis. I could give you a million reasons why I don’t feel strong. In reality, I don’t have a choice. No matter how great my loss or how deep my grief, the world does not stop, and therefore I cannot either. This is why grief can be so isolating. It is true that we “hide our tears so we can face the world with a smile.”
I made a conscious decision that I would survive this…… for my two living children and for Kayla. As her parents, it was up to us to honor Kayla and allow her name to live on. And that is exactly what we did through Kayla’s Cause. It is our commitment to our daughter because she deserves to have a place in this world. I don’t feel strong but deep down I know I am because I am moving forward, and that takes more strength and determination than anyone will ever know….it takes all of me.
I’ve Become THAT parent
You know the one…a helicopter parent….one who is overprotective and extremely over-attentive. As an occupational therapist, I was far from this…actually the exact opposite. I believe children learn through exploration…I am all for letting them climb and get dirty….but this all changed after the loss of Kayla. What many don’t understand is that child loss is accompanied by fear and it can be overwhelming! The truth is, once you lose a child, the fear of losing another child takes over you…..and why not? The unimaginable has happened…and unfortunately it could happen again. This fear began with my pregnancy and now it carries over into my daily life. I wake up multiple times every single night to make sure my children are still breathing. If my child sleeps past 5 AM, I have to go check on him to make sure he is okay. A simple cold will drive me to the pediatrician. I get nervous when my child climbs to high, hangs upside down, or is just simply being a boy at the playground. I can’t help but fear the worst. No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake the fear. I can only hope that Kayla is by their side, watching over them and protecting…and that is the only peace I can find.
The Fog of Grief
This is real. Grief causes a fog to roll into our lives, impacting our ability to think or concentrate. Our grief gets so heavy that it clouds our minds and interferes with our ability to think clearly. Many times it makes you feel like a robot…just going through the motions of every day life. This fog distracts me, as part of me is with my baby girl in heaven. I forget to call/text back, I forget to RSVP, I put the cheese in the cabinet instead of the fridge!!! This fog makes simple daily activities so difficult and exhausting to perform. Please be patient, bear with us, and try to understand.
I know this is only the beginning of my grief journey. I have been told that the second year is much more difficult than the first, because the initial shock wears off and the reality sets in. The loss of a child is like no other. It hurts so deeply and is very different from any other loss. You have to learn to stand on two feet and put one foot in front of the other…you have to learn to live again without a piece of yourself. You have to re-define yourself because you are different…you are a grieving parent. You have to let go and grieve…not hide from it but approach it one on one, face to face. You have to feel the pain and sadness in order to begin to become whole again. You have to find the purpose to keep going and keep living and work at it every damn day of your life. 365 days and it still feels like yesterday. 365 days and a life time to go. I will survive! And "as long as I live, as long as I breathe, with every beat of my heart, you will not be forgotten" Kayla Rose Caron 4/13/16-10/10/17