By Amanda Browning
---- — There are several words to describe people who have known loss.
A person who has lost their spouse is a widow or widower. A person who’s lost his or her parents is an orphan.
But there is no word for someone who has experienced the loss of a child. Personally, I believe that’s because it’s impossible to convey such tragedy with mere words. Myself and several other parents I’ve met in the same situation prefer to call ourselves “angel parents,” for lack of a better term.
It goes against the natural order of things for a parent to lose a child. As parents, we believe that our children will outlive us by many years and will be vibrant and alive long after we are gone. However, for some, that is not the direction life takes.
My son, Gabriel Steven, was 18 months old when he passed away July 17, 2009. It was beyond any shadow of a doubt the worst day of my life. It was the day my soul was ripped apart and I became a broken person. All signs pointed to SIDS as the cause, but he was more than a year old. We searched for answers, but “undetermined” is the best answer we will ever get. He just went to sleep and didn’t wake up, and I must learn to accept that. Gabriel had an identical twin, Michael, as well as an older brother and sister, Aarik and Amaris. Despite my hurt, they still need a mom so I had to pull it together.
With the holiday season rapidly approaching and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I can’t help but think of what I have to be thankful for. Since Gabriel died, holidays have been a horrible balancing act for me. I have other children, so I must put on a happy face for them because I can’t stomach the idea of their memories being tainted by my sadness. But my pain is real and it never goes away. It is very difficult to celebrate a family-oriented holiday when my family is no longer complete. I must balance between the soul-rending heartbreak and the festive mask that children expect to see for the holidays.
However, along with the sadness that holidays bring, comes hope. Hope that one day I will be able to offer a genuine smile and experience real happiness again. I now actively thrive on the positive because if I don’t, the negativity of my situation will overwhelm me. I am no longer broken, but bent. My children need me to be strong and that is now my only option.
It took me a long time to see it again, but I have many things for which to be thankful. I have a wonderful family that is my whole world. My three surviving children are alive and healthy. We have a safe, warm home filled with love and laughter, even if I have to force it sometimes. My husband loves me and our children. And even though he has been gone longer than he was with us, I had 18 beautiful months with Gabriel. I am so very thankful that I was given that time with him.
Because memories are all I have of my son now, I cherish those memories. Every second of his short life is etched into my mind and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. I’m grateful that I have found the strength in myself to teach my family that they never have to be afraid to talk about him and that we are able to focus on the good memories because they are all that matters now.
This holiday season, I will strive to truly be happy in the presence of loved ones instead of being consumed by grief over those no longer with us. I am thankful that I have found the strength in myself to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and carry on, even when the task seemed insurmountable.
Above all, I am thankful for the friends and family that stood by my side in the darkest days of my existence and surrounded me with love, allowing me to fall apart when I needed to. Those same people are still by my side, constantly showering my family with love, which is, after all, what holidays are all about.
This holiday season, I encourage everyone who is mourning the loss of a loved one to begin the journey from heartbreak to hope. Focus on the good times and forget the rest. Remember your lost loved one as they deserve to be remembered and take time to share those memories with others who loved them. It truly helps and will bring you one step closer to a real smile.
If you are alone during the holidays this year and feel yourself slipping into dark and dangerous emotional territory, please call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 812-376-4888 or 800-832-5442.
There are people who care and will listen.