I belong to two online Christian faith-based bereaved parents’ groups. One has more than 2000 members and one has nearly 8000. Those numbers are staggering to me. And, of course, there are many more grieving parents who aren’t comfortable sharing their vulnerability with strangers. My heart breaks for all of us. I wish no one should ever have to outlive his or her child. But, even though every story of a child’s death is painful to hear, there is help and healing in being able to share experiences with others walking the same path.
Losing a child is a grief unlike any other. So, in my writing, I pull anecdotally from other grieving parents’ experiences. But, I do not ever intend to imply I understand every experience of other parents. For example, my child did not die of an illness, she was an adult and not still living at home, she did not take her own life, etc. I can empathize with every grieving parent to a certain extent, but I cannot claim to know each parent’s specific pain.
One common concern often expressed by bereaved parents of adult children is how to cope when the spouse or significant other of their child “moves on.” If there are grandchildren, the connection with the son- or daughter-in-law usually remains. But, it is always hard to see your child’s partner start another relationship, perhaps marry, have children . . . There are so many “what ifs” and “could have beens” that just add to a parent’s grief.
My daughter died in a car accident at age 30 in April of 2017. I joined a faith-based online group for bereaved parents in December of that year. It quickly became a lifeline for me and also a place to share some of my writing that was therapeutic for me, but often too personal to post on my own Facebook page.
Here’s a post from March 2, 2018
If, like me, the child you lost was an adult and married, you’ve probably thought about what happens when the surviving spouse meets someone new. No two circumstances are exactly alike, but my daughter and her husband had only been married two months when she was killed in a car accident. They had no children. It’s been less than a year since we lost her, and my son-in-law is still mourning. But, I hope he will one day find someone else. Because a good marriage adds such dimension to life. I wrote this to share with him at some point. Not yet. But at some point:
One day you will take off your ring. Maybe you will wear it around your neck with Rachel’s. Maybe you will put them together in a box in a safe place. You will never forget her. You will always love her. And you will eventually be ready to let yourself love someone else. This someone will not replace Rachel nor will she compete with Rachel. You shouldn’t compare her to Rachel. If you love her it’s because she is a good and honorable person. If she loves you, she deserves all of you. And that includes your love for and memories of Rachel. If she understands that those are a part of what makes you the good man you are, then she is right for you. I will cry when you tell me about her. And I know it’s likely you will need to draw back from us and invest your heart into her family. We will mourn that loss. But it will be right.
I did eventually share the above letter with my son-in-law. His response was so touching. He told me Rachel’s family would always be his family. That he wanted us to be part of each other’s lives always. And if he ever met someone he felt he wanted to make a long-term commitment with, he would want us to meet her and he would ask for my blessing. Wow. That’s both heartwarming and a bit intimidating. I can’t honestly say I won’t compare her to Rachel. And, I know it will be awkward for her. I also grieve with (about?) his grief. Rachel has been in Heaven for five earthly years now, and her husband has not had another serious relationship yet. His own family members are all in other countries so he celebrates holidays and significant events with us as well as family birthdays and casual get-togethers. He truly is family.
I know his life would be enriched by a wife. I know it’s inevitable he will need to devote time to his new family. My mind comprehends this. But, I still feel like I should prepare for losing another piece of my daughter. I’m not ready for the world to keep moving on without her.