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Losing a Child: A Parent's Worst Nightmare

Three southeast Michigan families share their stories of facing the unthinkable – death of their kid – fighting through the grief and continuing to live and love and, yes, even laugh

(page 2 of 3)

Separate paths to healing

In the best of times, it has been said that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus." Add the nightmare of losing a child to the dynamic, and the sexes can seem galaxies apart.

"Women tend to get more support, and men are socialized not to cry," Hinson explains. "Men typically have to go back to work sooner. Sometimes that can lead to resentment."

Friedman notes that in their effort to be strong, men may harden their feelings.

"The wife may see this and feel like her husband didn't love their baby," Friedman explains. "In reality, he's acting on training. In their effort to be strong, men may appear unemotional. But I tell people you can be strong, or you can be human. You pick."

Jamerino encourages the couples she counsels to see her together – especially in the beginning.

"It was their child, but they will deal differently," she says. "Often the mother will keep going over what happened. The husband may go to work to cope. It's important to remember that each parent had a different relationship with that child. It's only natural then that they will grieve differently."

Anne Vachon explains her and her husband's grief process as taking two roads to get to the same place.

"We're so different in how we parent and react," she says. "One way is not better than the other. You have to let each other get there. You can arrive before or long after. That's OK.

"People get so discouraged, saying, 'We're not grieving together.' Well, you don't parent as one person. He is not me. I am not him. We're different in every way. We let each other be in how we are going to get there."

When Cliff Patton of Clinton Township first joined Hinson's bereavement group after the death of his infant daughter, Erin, he asked Hinson what he felt was a valid question at the time.

"I asked Sister Beverly if my wife Tammy and I would be together when this was done," he recalls. "She said she couldn't guarantee it, but that she would do whatever she could to help."

While statistics for the divorce rate among grieving parents vary widely, informal reports cite it as high as 80 percent.

Cliff and Tammy came up with a system to help support each other on the especially difficult days following the death of their only daughter. A candle bearing Erin's photo would sit on a table in their home. If one or the other was having a more difficult day, he or she would light it.

"If I came home and the candle was lit, it was a cue for me to give Tammy some space," Cliff recalls. "At first that candle was lit all the time. Ultimately, we knew that when that candle was lit, we needed to be extra supportive of the other."

Caring for yourself

Around the two-year mark after Timmy's death, Anne Vachon recalls visiting her doctor to request an EKG. "My heart was doing all this crazy stuff. It ached," she recalls. "He assured me there was nothing physically wrong with me. It was grief – my heart was broken."

It was this physical manifestation of grief that made Anne realize she needed to take better care of herself. "I've taken that really seriously," she says. "I try to work out and do all the things I can to stay in one piece.

"I always tell other grieving parents, if you have a penchant for drugs, alcohol, gambling – whatever, steer clear from those things. You can't put yourself in jeopardy."

Taking care of themselves in the aftermath of the most profound bereavement there is can be an almost insurmountable challenge for many grieving parents.

Dr. Wolfelt explains that a parent's feelings of loss and sadness will likely leave them fatigued. He encourages them to respect what their bodies are telling them.

"Nurture yourself. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible," he advises. "Caring for yourself doesn't mean you are feeling sorry for yourself. It means you are using survival skills."

Hinson notes that many bereaved parents she meets seek out medication at some point or another to help with their pain.

Dealing with holidays

For grieving parents, there are perhaps few harder times of year than holidays, their child's birthday or the anniversary of their child's death.

"You never have any idea how many holidays there are until you have to celebrate them without your child," Wolvin says.

Hinson counsels the parents she works with to develop a plan for the day.

"This gives parents control," she explains. "You can't let the day take over. Anticipation of the birthday or holiday is often worse than the day itself. Plan for it. You may not want to celebrate holidays the same way you have in the past, and that's OK."

Cliff and Tammy Patton celebrate their daughter Erin's birthday with a balloon launch each year, inviting family and friends to come over for cake and ice cream before releasing balloons into the air.

Erin died at 16 days old from cardiac failure stemming from cushion canal disease and pulmonary atresia – with which she was diagnosed while still in utero.

"She died in my arms," Tammy recalls. "Even so, she was still our miracle."

To honor Erin on the anniversary of her death, each year, the Pattons organize a stuffed animal drive. They deliver the hundreds of stuffed animals they collect to St. John Hospital in Detroit and the cardiac department at Children's Hospital.

"When Erin was in the hospital, she was given a little panda bear," Tammy recalls. "We hold dear to it."

Mindie and Ken Wolvin mark the anniversary of Jake's death – his "Angel Day" – by celebrating what they refer to as "Jake's Lovefest." For three days, they encourage family and friends to join them in undertaking three separate acts of kindness.

"We try to make something positive out of a horrible time," Mindie explains.

Anne and Marc Vachon recognize the anniversary of Timmy's death with a mass.

"The mass is a celebration of his life," she explains. "God has been the answer to everything for us. It's Thanksgiving. It's a way to celebrate with our community. These people have been so good to us. The mass is a way to say thank you."

Old to new | New to old
Jun 15, 2014 01:26 am
 Posted by  christina/34

On June 25 I received a phone call to go to the hospital my daughter was there. They said she went there because she couldn't breathe. In two more days she was going to deliver my grandson. The doctor said her heart collapsed. It took them fifteen minutes to get it started then they did a c-section and got the baby. While all that was going on she had a stroke in her brain it blinded, paralyzed her and put her in a coma. They said she would be a vegetable. We waited two months but no miracle came.I talked to her brother and her oldest son and decided to put her in hospice. Then I had to do the unthinkable, take her feeding tube out. I told myself I would never regret the decisions I had to make. I lied. The guilt is unbearable. I thought I could deal with it on my own. I was very wrong. My grandson is blind and brain damaged. It took my daughter 32 days from the time I stopped her feeding tube. My only daughter Christina left us on Aug, 22 2012. Her brother and father and two other sons had to suffer. It took my baby from day one 57 days. My husband says I never moved on. I don't know how.

Jul 10, 2014 12:32 pm
 Posted by  LaurieM

Dear Sister,
I am so sorry that you have lost your daughter and that you are suffering. My daughter Lindsey died last summer at age 17, also from a stroke. Mercifully, we did not have to make any of the agonizing decisions that you had to because of the severity of her condition. I would not even begin to try to tell you to "move on" or "get over it". Everything you are going through is huge and seems hopeless. I have been in those dark places myself, and I still go in and out of despair. 2013 was already shaping up to be a personally challenging year for us, and our grief has not lessened any of our problems. Regarding your guilt, I am sure that your loved ones have already told you that you did the best you could given a horrible circumstance, that you are not responsible, and I would say the same thing to you. But 2 years later, you still are burdened with guilt. If you are or have ever been a Christian, you were taught that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. But how does that help us now in our grief? Being the punishment for our sin meant he would bear everything related to sin: death, sickness, war, hunger, greed, despair, and even guilt. Christ's sacrifice can buy even the worst criminal back for God and he has already paid the price for all of your suffering and sin too. Please know that God does not want you to live with this guilt; He wants it. He paid for it. And nothing would delight Him more than for you to hand it over along with everything that burdens you. In my grief, I sometimes feel that nobody is suffering as much as I am, and I feel alone. Centuries before Jesus was born, Isaiah wrote that the Christ would be "a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering." (Read Is 53) A suffering God sent to love a suffering world. He loves you, your daughter, and your grandson so much. With all the boy's trials from birth, God still has a purpose for him, and people will be changed by loving him. You will be changed by loving him. I will pray for you all.

Aug 4, 2014 07:52 pm
 Posted by  debby8043

I lost my 21 yr old daughter June 29th, 2014 in a car accident. She left behind an 8 month old son, George. I woke that morning to hear that my daughter had been killed on the news. I didn't receive a phone call or a visit from the police. I went to the local hospital because I thought if she was in an accident she would have gone to the hospital. But, the hospital or the police stations were no help. There was a Chaplain at the hospital who searched for 4 hours until he found my daughters body. That was the most heart wrenching 4 hours of my life. All I wanted was answers & there were none. 5 weeks later & I still have no death certificate or what was the cause of her death. All I can do is pray & cry & ask god why he took my little girl. Abigail was the light of my life. I honestly don't know how to move passed this horrible time in my life. All I can do is tell her son every single day how much his mommy loved him.

Aug 26, 2014 07:51 am
 Posted by  donna

It's has almost been 2 years since my son's death. He was 28 years old, the youngest twin. I am still doing day by day. Life is soooo different and not sure what is the new normal. Just trying your keep faith and believe God.

Sep 5, 2014 07:33 pm
 Posted by  Springflowers22

I have loss four sons starting from 1992 to the year of 2003. My four sons were in good spirit, they climbed trees and rode bikes like any other normal children. One day our lives were shattered knowing the fact that they all would die with two blood disorders. They were the age 11, 14, 9, and 19. Our 19 year old was in college and was engaged to be married. After losing these four boys I thought I could never move on with life without them. But I can tell you now I have move on but I will always keep deep memories of them. I wrote a book called Angels Never Die - A true story of love loss and faith that was pulished in 2014
by Gwendolyn S. McNutt.

Oct 3, 2014 01:36 pm
 Posted by  CJ

I lost my 33 year old daughter Sept. 23, 2012, she worked with me and was also a mother of two who are now 10 and 14. she got a lethal combination of prescription drugs from a pain clinic dr. that killed her. this dr. was nothing but a pill mill dr giving out deadly addicting drugs cash only. my heart aches for her everyday and there is not one minute I'm not thinking of her.

Nov 5, 2014 12:06 am
 Posted by  JJmommy0815

I feel so close to Jake's mom. I lost my 7 year old son on October 11, 2014. He failed his second brain test but we fought for him to stay on life support for 11 days. My faith in Jesus allowed me to fight and has allowed me to continue with life. We (my two sons and I) were in a tragic car accident and I'm so blessed to be alive as well as my 1 year old son but my heart aches for my son Jahlani. Every day is a fight. I plan to change people's lives. I've met so many people since the accident as well and have been blown away by the sheer love and kindness from strangers. My life purpose has been shifted. I will always have two sons my first born will always be my first born. I love him with every ounce of me. God bless all the parents who have lost their child/ren.

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