by Angela Miller
Signs of back to school are everywhere.
For some parents it might be a relief. Summer is over, and the school schedule is a welcome change.
For bereaved parents, signs of torture are everywhere. Over-sized backpacks, school supplies, car drop off and pick up lines. It’s a sucker punch to the gut. Everywhere you look there are painful reminders of what you’re missing. Reminders of what could have, should have been.
Reminders of what will never be.
It’s too much sometimes. By sometimes I mean almost always. But it’s especially much too much right now.
It’s hard to stay “positive” in the face of back to school. You grin and bear it, but people– don’t be fooled. Behind every smile there is a floodgate of tears threatening to tsunami you at any given moment.
Everything you wish would be is not. And the truth of that burns. It burns new holes in you. It burns holes in the old places that you thought you’d lovingly repaired.
It aches in places you didn’t know could ache. It screams a scream that reminds you of the wretched moment your life changed forever. Irreversibly.
This is the truth of being a bereaved parent. Milestones like this rip open your scabs all over again.
And you bleed.
. . .
Today should be my son’s first day of second grade. He would be eight.
Instead he is dead.
Instead, my Facebook feed is overflowing with the smiling, happy faces of my son’s friends: another year older. Another year. His friends who look nothing like my baby still looks in my mind. Over-sized backpacks, toothy grins. Some with over-sized backpacks sans smiles.
And for us? Over-sized sadness and an ache that never leaves.
. . .
I try to imagine what it would be like to have just one picture of my son starting school. Just one picture. A toothy grin, or a scowl. Blurry or in focus– I’d take it. I long for just one school picture. One picture that I’ll never get. Kindergarten, or preschool, one from first or second grade. Even if he never would’ve made it to second grade– I’d have taken that too. At least that would have given us six more blessed, sacred years with him. Six more years to watch him grow older.
Every time I see a new back-to-school picture I sob.
My friends don’t know this because they don’t ask. Six years out few remember anymore. My son’s name is a distant memory on most people’s lips. A distant thought in their minds. He’s been gone far too long to stay in the present. Especially in the frenzy of back to school. Life moves at warp speed. But for a bereaved parent time stands still.
We stand with one foot in the life we had and one foot in the life we have. With an aching heart often stuck in what could have, should have been. We straddle time and space.
It’s hard to live like that.
. . .
My son’s name is the song of my heart. The sound of my heartbeat. He is my raison d’être.
It hurts that people forget that today one second grade classroom is missing one very special little boy. One less second grader. It hurts that an entire school day will happen today without anyone realizing someone was missing. It hurts that the world goes on without skipping a beat. Without calling. Or sending a card. Or saying his name.
Today might be just a tad bit more bearable if one person would take the time to remember. Just a simple, Hey Angela, I wanted to let you know I remember. I remember and my heart aches with yours. I’m sorry your baby isn’t starting second grade today like he should be. I’m sorry you didn’t get to walk your three sons to school today. I’m so sorry.
A mother never forgets.
. . .
First time back-to-school moms tell me of their sadness. And I get it. Sending your child off to school is emotional. How is it possible they are already another year older?! They grow up so fast.
I have two other children of my own. I get it. I really do. But I want to scream to these parents– YOU ARE SO LUCKY!!!!! YOU ARE SO BLESSED TO SEND YOUR CHILD OFF TO SCHOOL. YOU ARE SO BLESSED TO WATCH YOUR CHILD GROW ANOTHER YEAR OLDER!!!!
You are so blessed to cry these sad back to school tears.
Some of us aren’t so lucky. Or blessed. Or whatever you want to call it. In fact, many of us aren’t. We feel the weight of it every day, and some days, like back-to-school day, it crushes us all over again.
. . .
Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not negating that the sadness of moms sending their kids to school is real. I know it’s real. Many of these moms are my dear friends, my sisters from another mother. And I listen to them with compassion, and I feel every bit of their sadness with them.
I just wish I could feel that kind of sadness too.
I wish I didn’t belong to the other moms’ club. The one no one wants to join. The one no one can ever leave.
I want to be sad in the same way the other moms are sad. I want to cry those moms’ tears. Not the forever-hole-in-my-heart-because-he’ll-never-go-to-school kind of tears.
Bereaved parents have been robbed of a lifetime of these precious milestones. Milestones that should be celebratory are instead like salt in an open wound.
A wound that never fully heals.
. . .
I would give both my arms and legs to get to experience the unique sadness of sending my son off to his first day of second grade. In fact, I would give my whole life to experience it for just one minute. Just one minute longer is always and forever the cry of a bereaved mama’s heart.
If only I could have walked him hand in hand to his teacher’s classroom today.
If only I could have been annoyed by the lengthy back-to-school shopping list.
If only I could have written this facebook post: Just dropped off my baby for his first day of second grade. Where did the time go?!!!
If only I could have read responses beneath his adorable picture: OMG, when did he get SO big?!! He is soooo adorable, Angela.
If only I could have hugged him at the end of his first day.
If only I could have tucked him in tonight and listened to the sweet song of him telling me all about his day.
If only I could have.
If only I could.
. . .
. . .
. . .
Note: If you have a grieving mom in your life remember that she is most likely choking down sobs in the quiet of her house. The silence of where her child’s voice should be is deafening. She likely sobs in the shower. In the car. Behind her computer screen. Behind her game face as she drops off her other child for his or her first day of school. Remember these back-to-school moms too. The bereaved kind. Remember the mother who has no living child to drop off at school at all. Please. Remember her. Show her you remember that her child should be starting school too. Show her in tangible ways that you care. Show her you love her. Show her you love her child. Show her you have not forgotten no matter how many years have passed.
And for the love of everyone, remember to say her child’s name over and over again. All day, every day. It is music to her ears. A priceless gift to her aching heart. She will never grow tired of hearing her child’s name.
Friends, remember that happy milestones are often filled with sorrow for many around you. Especially the milestones that people forget are hard for bereaved parents, like back to school. Look deeper and remember those who might need extra hugs, listening ears and a shoulder to cry on this time of year. You can be the difference between someone feeling utterly lost and alone, and someone feeling comforted and held.
ANGELA MILLER is an internationally known writer and speaker on grief and loss. She is the best-selling author of You Are the Mother of All Mothers, and the founder and executive director of the award-winning grief organization, A Bed For My Heart. After the death of her son, Angela founded A Bed For My Heart in 2013, and has given people around the world a compassionate and supportive community to express their grief and honor their children. Her article, “7 Things I’ve Learned Since the Loss of My Child,” has been shared over one million times. Angela’s website ABedForMyHeart.com has almost two million visitors per year, and has become a trusted resource for grieving families worldwide. She has been featured in People, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Blog Talk Radio, Love What Matters, Listen to Your Mother, and more. Angela’s writing has comforted millions of hurting hearts around the world. You Are the Mother of All Mothers is her first book, and is dedicated to grieving mothers everywhere.
Text and bottom images © Angela Miller A Bed For My Heart 2012-2020. All rights reserved.
Top image: Amy Crank