“No matter what life brings, no matter where we go, I promise I will always be by your side.”
That is what the folded letter read, the one you passed to me in between 2nd and 3rd period. It was folded into a perfect triangle with hearts and I love you scribbled on the front. When I got home I stuck it in a box buried deep in my closet. The one that held all your notes. I cherished them. Relied on them really. Knowing you would always be there. It was comforting in an unknown world believing I had someone who would walk alongside me no matter what.
What you wrote was true at the time.
We had always been there for one another. Through school, graduation, college. weddings. I considered you my best friend.
Then my son died.
5 years after you passed me that note in the hall, I stood next to my son’s tiny casket. When I looked out among the crowd there was a sea of familiar faces. Beautiful and amazing people gathered with us to celebrate our son’s life and grieve with us.
Your face, though, was nowhere to be found.
Your absence did not go unnoticed. It was painful to be honest.
You texted me a few days later to let me know you were thinking of me. Sorry I couldn’t be there, You said, I had plans that day.
As the weeks and months pulled me further from my son, your absence in my life became bigger.
You stopped by a few times. But I became to uncomfortable for you to be around. I wanted to talk about my son. You didn’t. I cried and you didn’t know what to do with those tears. So you stopped coming around.
Then you stopped texting and calling altogether. It was as though we were no longer friends.
Maybe my grief was to painful for you. Maybe you didn’t know what to say. Or it is possible you felt as though every move and word you said would be critiqued by me in my raw heartache.
Eventually you dropped out of my life. It was easier for you I am sure, to not be around my sadness.
Did you think about if it was easier for me?
I know my heartache was hard.
I know it was difficult because I had to live through it.
I still do it.
Death is hard. The death of a baby? That is downright impossible to bear.
Why bear it if you don’t have to?
When my son died I was catapulted into a life that I did not know existed.
It is a world where I often feel like an outsider. A world where a simple question like “how many children do you have?” or “all girls huh?” causes my heart race.
It is a world where I have to answer the hard questions about death and sickness and life from a child who cannot even tie her own shoes yet.
This is a world where I have to consume the heartache and grief of my living children over a sibling they never even met, carrying their pain alongside them, as they try to navigate an alternative life.
It is a life where I have to be mindful of my own triggers, putting my needs above others, when I hide yet another pregnancy announcement from my Facebook or stay home from the third baby shower in a month.
It is a world I cannot expect you to understand.
It is a world I had wanted you in any way.
My son’s death forced me into an open door. I didn’t have a choice. My family and husband did not have a choice. Many friends and family members chose to follow us in without hesitation. They chose the muck and pain because they chose us.
I watched as you stood at the doorway, you lingered. What was inside scared you. It was painful. The decor was to ugly to look at. The reality was too much for you to bear.
You turned around and then you were gone.
I don’t write this to make you feel guilty. I don’t write this to hurt you.
I write this because I want you to know I understand.
I pray you never have to experience the agony of losing a child. I pray those close to you never walk through the doorway of child loss.
But if one day they do, do not be scared this time to get down in the muck and pain. Do not be afraid to experience the heartache with your friend.
They do not need your perfect words.
They do not need you to fix them.
They need you to be there.
To walk alongside them as they navigate the unknown.
They need you to choose them.
They need you not be scared to enter that world with them.
Because as scared as you may feel staring into the doorway of child death…
..your friend is a thousand times more petrified than you.
disclaimer: I do not write this to cause any shame or hurt. I simply write it to open up dialogue on the topic of child loss.