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Parenting Your Living Children After Loss

Parenting Your Living Children After Loss

When Hope passed away, our son Matthias was 20 months old.  He doesn’t remember when she died, or any of the all-encompassing grief that enveloped us over the next year.  He doesn’t know that he was the reason we woke up every morning, the only thing that could pull us out of bed.  He doesn’t know that he was the only bright spot of joy in our lives for so, so long.  When I think back on it, I’m so glad he was unaware of how much we were leaning on him.  It would have been quite overwhelming if he had known how much we looked to him for purpose and happiness.  Nonetheless, I’m so grateful that God allowed us to have Matthias with us as we walked the road of grief.  For those of you grieving without living children, I cannot imagine how hard it must be.  My heart truly breaks for you.

I was often worried about how our grief would affect Matthias and how it would change my parenting.  I knew that it would have an impact on his life, but I didn’t know if I was going to permanently scar him because of the depth of sorrow he saw in me.  I tried my best to put a brave face on for him, but there were many, many times that he saw me weeping.  When he would ask what was wrong, I would say that I just really missed his sister.  I would show him her book of pictures and try to help him understand why Mommy was sad.  Even at such a young age, he began to understand little pieces of what was going on.  At 2 years old, he was asking me questions about death and heaven and Jesus; he was processing all of these deep issues so much sooner than most children.  Sometimes it scared me, but most of the time, I was amazed at how the Gospel was penetrating his heart and mind at such a young age.  I beamed with pride when he would tell other kids about his baby sister in heaven and how he was going to go see her one day. 

He is now almost 5 years old, and he talks about Hope quite often.  He asks to see her book, but prefaces it with, “Mommy, please don’t cry this time”.  He loves to send her balloons by releasing them into the sky.  He knows about our other two losses too, and he will tell me, “We are going to have a big family in heaven!”  Matthias loves to celebrate Hope’s birthday each year, and he begs to go visit her grave whenever we are in Georgia (where she is buried).  It’s so wonderful to see him love his sister, even though he doesn’t remember much of my pregnancy or her death.  It warms my heart to know that she will always be a part of him. 

After Hope’s death, I became very protective of Matti.  I could enter a room and automatically assess the level of danger, seeing all the potential choking hazards, electrical plugs, potential falls, etc.  I had a very difficult time letting people babysit him, even my own family, because of how anxious I became.  I was constantly worried about him dying in a freak accident.  When you have had a child die, you become acutely aware of how easy it is to lose the ones you love.  One of my biggest triggers came when Matti had to have surgery to remove his adenoids.  For weeks, I felt like I had a huge pit in my stomach; I was positive that he would die from a reaction to the anesthesia.  Thankfully, everything went great with the surgery, but it was just another reminder that Hope’s death had profoundly affected who I was and how I parented. 

Now, three years later, I still struggle with anxiety on a daily basis, albeit not as intensely as before.  I have to pray constantly for God to speak truth to my heart and not let my mind spiral down in a pit of anxiety.  When my kids are sick, even just with a cold, I have to reign in my thoughts and fears.  It is a constant battle to trust God with their lives because it feels like He already broke my trust with Hope’s life.  But the truth is that God is trustworthy and that He is good.  Yes, tragedy could happen again, and that would be overwhelmingly awful; but if I allow myself to dwell on the possibility of tragedy, I will never enjoy the gifts God has given me.  I want to be present for my two boys, and I want to allow them the freedom to explore, to get hurt, to fail, and to grow.  One of the verses I cling to when the anxiety threatens to overtake me is Philippians 4: 6-8, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  This passage reminds me that God wants to give me peace, and He promises to do just that if I will leave my anxieties at His feet.

Lauren Young is a wife to Will and mom to two beautiful boys on earth (Matti and Sammy) and three precious babies in heaven (Hope, Jonah, and January).  She is a stay-at-home mom who enjoys writing, reading good books, cooking new recipes, and playing piano.  She lives in central Texas now but was born and raised in Georgia.  She and her husband are now in the adoption process and can't wait to see what God has in store for their family.  

Catherine Hartel

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