When a child dies


at the 9/11 Memorial NYC, early May

Dear friends of ours lost their eldest daughter this week. I spent a bit of time with the family last night and was reminded of how I felt during the days and weeks following Owen’s death. I wasn’t reminded in a sad way – I can easily distinguish between how I felt then and how I feel now. It was more that some moments were familiar and even comforting; I saw myself in the silent stretches, the exhaustion on their faces, the sense of bewilderment and disorientation that comes before the inevitable, “Now what?” – and felt connected with my own humanity, and theirs.

I have written previously about seeking out the comfort of grief, that I can sometimes more easily access Owen when I think not just about his life, but about how I felt right after he died… it’s a precious time to protect and even cherish.

So I’ve been wondering what I might share, for them or anyone else who is experiencing the loss of a child, or who is trying to support someone who has. This list popped into my head this morning.  I could write a mountain about each of them.

  • I didn’t have room to be fully sad until the food and flowers stopped coming. I have never been more social than I was in those first three weeks. It was a relief when the flurry of activity ended, and it was also the loneliest time of my life.
  • I regret how I managed Angus in the hours and days following Owen’s death. Example: with Owen’s body still lying in his bed and the police hovering everywhere, we sent Angus to a friend’s house where they attended the friend’s cousin’s birthday party (?!). A terrible decision in hindsight. I think Angus would agree.
  • I didn’t notice that others were grieving in their own right. I only thought of others as being in supporting roles relative to Angus and me. I was always surprised to see others sad or crying. I would think, “I guess they really feel sorry for me…”  I obviously was not a source of support for anyone.
  • Grief is as physical as it is emotional.  The tears and gut-wrenching pain didn’t wait for convenient moments. They didn’t even wait for me to wake up; I had many mornings when I woke to discover I had already been crying for hours.
  • I found it impossible to ‘talk about it’.  And still do. Hope I’m not being confusing: I do indeed talk a lot about Owen, his life, my thoughts on his life, my thoughts on how I managed his life…  What I don’t talk about is how it feels not having Owen around. How it feels to observe how Angus is managing. How much I miss him. What I wished for and never got. (I don’t see this as a problem. Just indicating that I am very much aware of the ‘crafted’ nature of this blog (and even my book) and that most of what I experience remains private.)
  • The cremation was harder than the funeral. Soul-destroyingly so. The funeral was sad but also kind of pleasant and affirming.  The cremation was a cruel reminder of nature’s indifference to a lifeless body.
  • I felt as though I’d instantly transformed into someone new and unrecognizable. The old me was innocent and carefree (relatively-speaking of course). The new me was… wise? mature? The best way I can describe it is I knew that there was no going back. Death is as final as it gets. There was no decision to move on–one just must. And does. (One of my favourite expressions is to say that one got the ‘bum’s rush’ – basically hustled out the back door. This feels about right: I got the bum’s rush out of my old life and was locked out, and forced to face something new.)



  1. I really valued the honesty of this post. I put a link on our Parent Voices at Holland Bloorview Facebook group.

    I have missed your writing! xo

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