We all knew when we became parents that parenthood came with few instructions and lots of dangers amid the many joys and pleasures of the job. You bereaved parents have met the worst of those dangers, not voluntarily and still without instructions. Here are some of the land mines that are on the road through the valley of death’s shadow:
- How many children do I have?
- How can I be loyal to his/her memory and still invest in life going forward?
- Love remains, but what do I do with this love since they are not here?
- My mate isn’t meeting my needs as I had expected.
- And more questions.
I want to deal with others of these questions in later writings. (Am I becoming like the tv programs that try to entice you to come back another time by dangling such morsels for you, just before they sign off?) Today, let’s talk about what to do with the love that remains for the child.
You loved that child, no matter how many days you were given to watch him grow and to grow with him. Most of you would have given up anything – including your own life – to give him a better chance at survival and life. You wanted the best of everything for your child. That’s what love is: wanting the best and sacrificing to get closer to that goal for the one who is loved. Parents have said the love hasn’t died, just the one who is loved. Here are some choices I have witnessed parents make because they loved their child:
- changed careers to more reflect shared interests between parent and child.
- invested time and resources in a cause that the child believed in.
- established something in the child’s name – a building, a foundation, a scholarship, a garden
- added learning about grief to the experience of grief, to be a better comforter to other bereaved parents or people with other losses.
- took up a career in the medical field to help other children survive certain diseases.
I’ve had discussions with parents about how they tend and nurture the grave. It’s because they would be taking care of the child, so now they are taking care of one thing that represents that child – the grave. They may plant flowers. They may clip the grass with hand clippers or even scissors. They may take seasonal decorations and place them on the grave even though the cemetery “cleans” them up periodically. They may wash the stone! They may leave their own trinkets on the stone, as other visitors also do. One dad left pieces of hard candy on the stone, because he always has his pockets full for little children in his life. Next time he visits the grave, he notices how those candies have been traded for trinkets left by others who quietly visited the child’s grave. These parents, universally, say they know the child is not there, just the body, but the grave is still some kind of tangible connection to him.
So, the love remains. This is one element of your grief for which you have choice over what you do. You can choose to spend the love constructively in your family and community. Or not. There is danger in not deliberately directing your love constructively. Undirected, the left over feelings, that used to be active love, could lead to some destructive behaviors – anger, substance abuse, break down, destruction of property. Please make decisions and choices towards positive things you want to have associated with your loved one. Let the love that remains be expressed in ways consistent with Paul’s description of love:
“[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I Corinthians 13:5-7