Andrew was 21. We had 21 amazing years with him. Julius was only two and a half. Lisa was thirty four. But their losses are equally hard on us.
We had Andrew for only twenty-one years. Or should we say we had him for a full twenty one years? We got to watch him grow up, to learn to walk and talk and go to school. We were able to be there with him to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah and to stand with him for his high school ice hockey senior night. We watched him graduate high school and get into his first choice college. We even got to help him select his major and make it three-quarters of the way there. We feel so blessed for the time we had him.
Buy what did we miss? There are so many things. We missed to chance to see him graduate from college. We missed him starting his first job and hearing about his first day at work. We miss joining him as he started a family, and having children of his own to raise. And most of all we missed him growing in a fine father and family man. And we missed so much more. But we did get to see so much.
Mark and Elaine had their wonderful daughter, Lisa, for thirty four years. They got to experience many of the childhood and teenage events we had with Andrew, plus more. They were there to celebrate their daughter’s graduation from law school. They saw Lisa grow into a successful attorney over the years, buy her own apartment in Manhattan, fill it with beautiful art, and make partner at her firm. These are things we will never see.
But does that make it harder or easier on them losing her? Are they more blessed than we were with the time we had Andrew? They got to see so much more than we did. They got to have their daughter for another twelve or so more years than we had our son. They experienced so much more. So maybe it is harder – they became so much more attached over those years and grew to know her so much more. Or was it not so devastating? She had lived a lot longer, she experienced more, and she left them with so many more memories.
And then there is Julian. He passed at only two and a half years old of a brain hemorrhage. His parents were only able to shower him with love and affection for thirty-two months. Were they better off than us? Their time together was so much shorter. But they never got to hear Julian speak his first sentences or watch him learn to run and play. They never saw him make friends or have his first day in school. He never told them that he loved them – like Andrew told us so often. That must hurt them so much never to have heard these words. They nurtured him for two and a half years, only to have him taken away suddenly and with no warning.
And now they live with watching other children, Julian’s friends and relatives, grow up all around them. They know in their minds that Julian would have started school this year – and they missed dropping him off his first day. His friends are now speaking and talking in sentences and asking questions. They are running around and playing and growing, something that they will never experience with their son.
Is it harder on the grieving parent who only had their child a short time and never got to experience these milestones of their children’s lives? They put so much time, patience and love into the earlier years and to have nothing to show for it all of a sudden. Now they have to live their entire lives asking themselves what would it have been like if our beloved child was still here. Or is it easier on them because they never had the years to get attached to their child and to develop that relationship that takes years and years?
How about the child that passed at fifty of cancer? He leaves behind a loving wife and three young children. How hard it is on his parents? They had him for so many years, he has left behind a legacy of grandchildren that will continue to grow and love. Although he is not with us anymore, his family is, and that means so much.
Now for the reality? There really is no difference. No one suffers less, no one suffers more. How long we had our child makes no difference at all. The parent who lost their daughter after a year suffers just as much as the one who’s love was for twenty-one years, or fifty years. The fact is, losing a child is a devastating loss. There are no words that can be spoken to a parent who lost a child to give them comfort. The loss is so devastating, so indescribable, that there is not even a term to describe a parent who has lost a child – for any reason, at any age. It is something that just puts a parent into a place that can not even be described.
Why did I write this then? Why, if it is so hypothetical, so speculative, to compare the losses? Because it is something that we talk about in our bereavement groups. It is something that other parents talk to us about, both bereaved and those lucky enough not to be. It is something that should be talked about and needs to be talked about.
There is a saying that we hear a lot in our new circles – it almost sums it up.
When you lose a parent, you lose your past.
When you lose a spouse, you lose your present.
But, when you lose a child, you lose your future.
I hope you understand this.