When your child dies, like my daughter Colette did, your world gets broken into two—the before and the after. The after is a learning process and the following are some of my most important lessons.

A piece of you dies with your child.

On May 31, 2018, when Colette died at nine days old, a piece of me also went. Gone was the innocent Michelle who did not know the reality of babies dying. This was the piece that ached to hold my child, that longed to be wherever my daughter was.  Everything I imagined motherhood to be was turned upside down, forcing me to create and survive in a new unimaginable reality.

People will surprise you.

People will say things they believe help but often hurt, like “well, at least you weren’t that far along,” or “at least you know you can get pregnant.” One of my favorites was “well, you can always have another.“  If my grandfather died, would you tell me you can always have another grandfather?           

But, what really surprised me was how many people hid or ignored that my daughter died, or who just wanted to move on, to get to more comfortable topics. There were several people I considered to be close friends who did not show up, and the loss of those friendships are just some of my secondary losses.

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Yet, at the same time, you will find new friends and renew friendships. Some will come out of the woodwork and become very supportive, close friends. You will meet other loss parents. My whole friend group dramatically changed, some stayed, some left, some became closer, and new ones joined. I am so glad to have met incredible loss parents who have become my very closest friends.

You will torture yourself with what-ifs.

What if I had made another decision? What if I had eaten differently? Stressed less?

It is really easy to torture yourself about all the things that could have gone differently.

But, whatever decisions you made were based on the information you knew at that time, and you made the best decision you could.  Stop and give yourself grace.

You will wish you had died with your child.

To clarify, I am not now and I have never contemplated taking my own life, and if you or someone you know is reading this and has those thoughts, please immediately stop reading and seek help. Call the Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255 or visit their website. The world is so much better with you in it, and if you are feeling like it is not, then please seek help.

OK, so what do I mean? Remember earlier when I said that a piece of me died when Colette died? I have often felt envious of that piece because she is with Colette. The pain of living without your child is unlike any other pain, and it is OK to think that it would be easier if you had died with your child. However, I assure you, it would not have been and the pain you would have left behind would have been immeasurable for your loved ones. 

In believing this and even saying it aloud, you are protecting yourself from grief and pain, and thinking of a world without the pain is only natural. 

But, if you do worry that you could go through with taking your own life, then seek help immediately. 

RELATED: Grief is a Constant Companion for the Mother Who’s Lost a Child

Regardless, if you have endured this type of loss, seek help. You can work through this, you can survive it even when it does not feel like you can. There are incredible professionals who specialize in trauma, grief, and loss who will help you work through your feelings.

You will learn to laugh again, to have joy, to live in the in-between of grief and pain and of joy and laughter.

This brings me to the part that is so complicated. Some loss parents report putting their hands over their mouth when they laugh for the first time. But, here’s the thing, even without your child, YOU are here and alivewasting that time is a tragedy. Life will move on, but in a new normal that you create, with your child alive in your heart, amidst the natural joys of life—other children, weddings, birthdays, date nights, silly days, funny movies, and so on. You will develop a world that allows you to grieve and also allows you to enjoy the good.

This world can exist as it does for me and my loss parent friends. It’s definitely not ideal, but it is something you can survive, not alone, but together.

Originally published on the author’s blog

Michelle Valiukenas

Michelle Valiukenas is the proud mom of her angel Sweet Pea, who she lost due to miscarriage, her angel daughter Colette Louise, and her only living child, her rainbow baby Elliott Miguel. Michelle is the executive director of The Colette Louise Tisdahl Foundation, which financially assists families dealing with high-risk and complicated pregnancies, NICU stays, and loss. Michelle also participates and advocates on issues of maternal health, maternal mortality, infant health and safety, and pregnancy complications. Michelle lives in Glenview, Illinois with her son Elliott, husband Mark, and dog Nemo.