A parent’s loss, a missing backpack

It’s that time of year again and busy moms and dads, are getting their kids ready for school.

There’s excitement and anticipation.

…But for some of us, there’s something else, too.

I’ve been a single mom now for the past several years. Summer is split so there’s a time of quiet and there’s a time of excited, adventurous chaos without the regular schedule of our school days and after school activities.

Very excited to be getting my daughter off to school, we begin the school year with a convocation at the local community church. That is a time when we are brought together to really bless the students, the teachers and the parents at the beginning of the school year.

I’ve been to many of these convocations or beginning assemblies at the start of school years.

But they have an effect on me that I want to share with you today because I imagine other parents may experience the same deep sorrow…

The missing backpack

This is a message to the moms and dads, from my heart with love, to those of you that have lost a child at any stage in your life.

I stood there in the back of the assembly within our local community church with parents surrounding me and the students in the rows and rows ahead of us facing the stage. At the lectern the principle of the school was greeting us and beginning his speech.

My own deep thoughts were too loud for me to hear what the principle was saying.  I was looking over to where my daughter’s head was peeking up from her row of classmates and could see her excitement and the quieting of her chatter with the girl next to her.

Smiling, I glanced over the excited children who were full of anticipation and I was so resisting the urge but I couldn’t seem to resist the urge enough… as if I was being invisibly pulled to glance over at the class of eighth graders looking so strong and happy.  I see the kids jostling each other and laughing. I see bright futures and watch as one is called up to the podium to give a welcome address. I watch the young man with speak, confident and so alive.

I see a boy I knew as a toddler, the boy that was a playmate of my son’s. With that, my sadness just welled up inside me, overflowing from my eyes and nose, unable to fight back the tears, I just let them flow…

My son would be part of this class. Would have been part of this experience…

I would have happily had two backpacks this morning.

These are times when reality hits hard.

The need to look forward and reflect on life’s joys

While I am super thankful for a strong faith that has continued to develop, praise God, I discipline my mind to focus on, as it says in Philippians 4:8,

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, and pure, and lovely, whatever is of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy, meditate on these things.

I still falter and my human side conflicts with the spiritual side.

As I wipe the tears with the back of my hand and discipline my mind to focus back, compartmentalizing the other thoughts, the grief, the despair, what could have been, and focus back on the joy here with the living.

These moments, though, do enforce that I am alive. My son is not forgotten. He is alive in me through the love I have for him and the good I can do to help my family and others.

I think as a grieving mom these moments can overwhelm us unexpectedly so much. I imagine it’s the same for grieving dads.

One of the practices and disciplines for me has become one of focusing on the good in life and what we are grateful for. As well as to cherish the memories and keep looking forward knowing that this sorrow is a deep reflection on the joy we once had.

Also, while we may at times desire to be isolated and keep these moments to ourselves, it is valuable to share them with people who understand and love you.

Connectedness and support are so important

Over the years, I’ve heard from many parents of how they have created loving traditions and activities that still commemorate the life of their lost loved one, from donating things at the beginning of the school year, backpacks and such; to celebrating their loved one’s birthday with a cake, to lighting a candle at times of the year, to even reaching out to other grievers like in Compassionate Friends.

Without a doubt, I know that trauma and grief can bring us into isolation and yet it is so important to stay connected, to revive the oxytocin hormone, the connection hormone, to seek community, safe community, and to fully participate in life and things that you love and enjoy and have fun with.

My personal experience and research led me to uncover some of the aspects of the physiology of grief, trauma, PTSD and burnout… the feelings of disconnection, loneliness and comfort seeking.

Honestly, we live within our capacities, our strengths, vulnerabilities and everything in between and that’s okay. I will drive through the car line and pick up my daughter, and avoid looking at the middle school students. For now, anyway. I’ll take her to dance and do some dancing activity myself.

My day started out with getting my daughter ready for school, getting her backpack packed up and ready, lunch made, and out the door with minutes to spare, feeling like I was missing something.

Certainly I was. I was missing another backpack.

Please share your own thoughts…

I would love to know how you as a grieving parent have coped or have seen a grieving parent cope. What are the blessings you’ve held onto in your life?

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16 thoughts on “A parent’s loss, a missing backpack

  1. Oh honey, I feel for you ((((((( hugs ))))))) Thankfully, I’ve not experienced the loss of any of my children, I’ve always thought though that it must be the most heartbreaking thing a mother could ever go through. Your openness about your experience will really help a lot of other grieving mothers. Thank you for your courage.

    LoVe Pauline

  2. What a heartfelt and touching post. I appreciate you sharing your heart, your grief and your faith in such a beautiful way. I know it had to bless so many moms who may have been experiencing the same emotions.

  3. I too have lost a son (he passed away in October 2012). He was 37 years old. But it doesn’t matter at what age you lose a child. A piece of your heart is gone and my heart actually hurt in my chest for a long time. I, like you, try to focus on the good in life and I am so very thankful to have had my son for 37 years. God has shown me such mercy and grace through this season in my life. I know I will see my son again one day in His presence!

    In the meantime, I will live for Jesus and I will always have my sweet son in my heart. My prayers for you are that you will have the peace that surpasses all understanding. We will never forget our children and they are always in our hearts! God bless you!

    1. Hi Lynn, I am sorry for your loss too and I agree that no matter what age or how long it has been there is a strong memory and for this I am glad. Yes, and our hearts can and do physically hurt, mine did too. Sending love, Dr. Anna

  4. Oh wow! I am now 62 years old. And I have learned over the course of my life, the loss of someone one is a bitter pill to swallow and the sick feeling truly never goes away. But I have also learned “Love never dies!” We can’t see it or touch it, but it is there and forever will be! God bless you and your family.

  5. Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry for your reoccurring sorrow over the loss of your son. I have not endured the loss of a child although I know the loss of a brother and watching my mom and dad and all of us grieve his loss. I also know what it’s like to have a child with disabilities and to change your hopes and dreams for a child. God gives us all crosses To bear and it does connect us to know that others need our prayers too

  6. Things I have done to cope with the loss of my son, my only child thru the years. He died at age 21 in a Jeep accident. In 2002. For several years I gave his closet guy & girl friends cash on his birthday to spend as they wished. Every year on his death anniversary I plan a trip to a spa in Austin, TX to pour in to myself during that week. I also take a trip during the week of his birthday, sometimes with my mother and sometimes with a girlfriend. To some place where I can be poured in to for a few days. What happened to your son?

    1. Thank you Kelly for sharing and those are really good ways to honor your child and your grief. I do feel it is important to honor our grief and not let it build or surpress it. My son died in a pool accident. He was 18 mo old. For years, we have funded swimming safety programs now. Sending love, Dr. Anna

  7. Thank you for sharing this difficult topic about the passing of your son at a young age. I have unfortunately had something similar although my son made it through his first year of high school and was 16 since he’d home-schooled and ‘went in at an older age, of 7, into first grade. I look at the many years I had with him when that was not always an option or the way it worked out for many people in the mid-1990s.

    Kaelan Palmer Paton tried to save his friend from strong waters, and it rocked our community, on the last day of school year, 6/16/09 (which I hadn’t realized was the case since the schedules change a lot that last week.)

    I reflect more on Remembering Kaelan (online) and have a blog with many ideas, and a FB page for him I share on as well. Each season and year unfolds in ways that are informed by having been him earthly Mom and I feel we are all still connected…but it all takes time.

  8. For those of us that have lost a child, a friend’s blog always assures me that we are not alone in our confusion, grief and navigating to come out the other side:

    Identity “Crysis”
    JANUARY 23, 2018

    I want to scream…and cry.
    I want to know how to rid myself of this lump in my throat and this ache in my heart.
    I still want to know why I even have to deal with this identity crisis.
    But I do.
    I didn’t even consciously know this crisis existed until a specific moment this week, but now that I know, I have to do something… and that will be tough.

    I had an epiphany. It was an eye-opening and heart-heavy experience, mixed with a whisper of freedom for my bondage. I could see it so clearly, and it hurt. And it embarrassed me. And it angered me.
    But…worst of all, I knew “it” clearly identified me.

    I used to be my own person. I used to know my identity. I was strong, I was creative, I was happy, I was “blessed”. I was a child of God.
    I was Lorna Hering.

    I lost her. Actually, she was abducted at 3:23 on December 28th, 2015 when Rhett died.
    I don’t blame myself. I didn’t chose to lose myself.
    The grief was all consuming. It ate me alive.
    If you aren’t on this side of the “child loss equation”, you simply cannot understand.
    It’s beyond your ability to comprehend the ripping and tearing of your DNA when your child dies.
    And I have to admit… I used to be on the other side of that ugly equation too…and maybe I was a bit judgmental when people couldn’t move on after a loss or a tragedy. Maybe a bit too quick to think I had the answers. Maybe a bit too hasty to give up on a grief stricken soul. And, I was totally incapable of understanding the plight of parents who have had to live through such a deep identity crisis.

    But I have had a shockingly-hard epiphany.
    It breaks my heart and leaves me feeling lost.
    I have totally forfeited my identity as anything other than Rhett’s momma. The dead kid’s mom. The lady who lost her boy in an ATV accident. The bereaved mother. The heartbroken shell of the ex-Lorna Hering.

    I never did that intentionally. I just kept slipping and falling and grabbing on to Rhett. I did not and do not want to let him go. And to be honest, I don’t think I will ever successfully figure out how to really let him go as long as I am breathing.

    But… I do have to give Rhett back to Rhett.
    I have to let Rhett have his name and his identity back.
    As much as I love being associated with that sweet boy of mine that died too soon, I hear God saying that I need to remember that I have my own identity…
    I love that. I hate that.
    It feels like freedom. It feels like heart break.
    It feels like I’m abandoning my boy and letting go of his memory.
    It feels like hope, like I’m letting go of heaviness.

    Jesus says…
    My real identity is that I belong to Him and share His DNA.
    My real identity is that I am a child of God that has survived the unimaginable and am somehow now better equipped to help others.
    My real identity is not “a bereaved mother” but “a beloved daughter” of the King.

    I am Lorna Hering.
    I have scars and bruises and rips.
    But, I am still who He made me to be.
    I am not just a product of the most devastating tragedy that my heart has ever known.
    I am more.
    I have to locate the real me again. I have to search for and reclaim my identity.
    That does not mean that I am abandoning Rhett.
    You must understand that I miss him and hurt the same as I did before this revelation.
    It just means that I am ready to re-find ME.

    And if you have sat with me during this “identity crysis”…thank you.
    You have helped me reach the point of wanting to find myself again.
    And I will need your help as I search for me.
    And if you have been “offended” or put out by my identity crisis, please forgive me and maybe have a little extra grace for those like me…because this side of the “child loss equation” has been so hard on Rhett’s mom
    …I mean me
    …I mean Lorna Hering.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this with me… so well illustrated… we are His beloved and awakening to that … is a fight amidst the heartbreak.

      We are not alone. Again thank you for writing this.

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