Can a Parent Ever Find Peace When a Child Dies?
By Caroline Flohr
I was a woman like many others; focused on my five children and family, living a quiet life on Bainbridge Island in the state of Washington. And then, in August 2004, our lives changed. That night, eight teenagers piled into an SUV and took a midnight joy ride. My 16-year-old twin daughter, Sarah, was killed.
The thought of losing a child — if “losing” is the correct verb — had never crossed my mind. Tragedies, as such, were something that happened to someone else, something you read about in the paper or heard from a neighbor. Nothing could have prepared me for the deep pain…but nothing could have prepared me for the peace that now permeates my mind and heart.
The shock sets in; everything moves in slow motion as if time comes to a halt, and time has halted.
An acquaintance delivers a candle on day six with a card inscribed, “Place this candle in your kitchen. Each night while you prepare the family meal know that the shimmering of the candlelight reflects the child who now lives within you.” A lovely thought. Eight years later, I still light a candle on my kitchen windowsill.
The days turn to weeks. Friends surround you, keeping you busy, your mind occupied. Absorb their kindness. Accept their help. Eliminate expectations. Learn to be gentle with yourself. Give yourself space. Make room for quiet. Always remember that grief is personal, as is death. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve.
Seek out therapy. You may be ready. Share your story and connect with others. Surround yourself with those who will listen, not necessarily those who will offer advice. For it is when others listen that we can sort out our thoughts and settle our mind.
Your inner strength seeks you out, sometimes sooner in the process, sometimes later. That strength moves you forward–tiny steps in this process.
Let the memories fill your mind. Let yourself laugh again. Smile. Sing out when a favorite song you shared plays on the radio. Let your heart awaken to the joys memories bring.
Pay attention to the synchronicity and patterns in your life. Pay attention to your intuition. And pray. It doesn’t matter what you believe. Just ask, notice, and respond. Faith, hope and love all intersect. Maybe things will begin to make a little sense, just maybe.
Look to your children who live. Note their resilience and strength during this epic period of trauma. Let their sense of life and hope inspire you.
When the pain returns, and it will, allow yourself to go to the depths of that pain. Cry. I promise, you will be okay when you resurface.
And as you move towards years four and five, you will learn that yes, life has been a living nightmare, and it is okay to admit that. Realize that as the years pass, you will learn to weave your loss into your daily life. Accepting the loss of a loved one is to release, but not erase. To hold. But not to hold the pain.
As year five turns towards eight, my hope is that you can slowly wrap yourself around the idea that you can celebrate life and celebrate death. Death and gratitude can go hand in hand. Just possibly, it is those who have passed before us who are our greatest teachers. Remember always that you never walk alone because the life of someone who passes lives on in the love you shared.
Caroline is the author of Heaven’s Child. From the knock on the door to the realization that death and gratitude can walk hand in hand, the reader walks beside Caroline in this most raw and real story. Today she lives full-time with her family on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, watching the ferries pass to and from downtown Seattle. She claims inspiration from combing the beach for sea glass and treasures, running the island’s trails with her yellow lab, tending her perennial garden, skiing in the Cascade Mountains, reading good literature, traveling, biking, hiking, playing tennis, and writing.