No mother should ever have to bury her child. But it happens all the time. And this week it was a family we know, making my heart heavier and taking me back just a bit to the familiar feelings of four years ago.

I’ve been there. We lost my 3-year-old son in 2016.

Disbelief was my first and lasting emotion. Sadness had not yet set in because I didn’t understand how it could actually happen.

Disbelief.

I mean, really. Seven days prior, we were at home taking pictures because it was a dress-up day at school. Then just one short week later, I was standing in a room full of caskets in the basement of the local funeral home, needing to choose the perfect one for my unbelievably perfect boy.

RELATED: To the Moms and Dads Who Suffer Loss: You Are Not Alone

Almost immediately, there are too many details and decisions facing you . . . church, funeral home, songs, scriptures, caskets, gravesites, program, flowers, what should he wear to be buried in, visitation and funeral or combined? Day of the funeral? And then a reception after? If yes, what will you serve? Who will come? How will you tell people? Do you want a gravesite ceremony? People from out of town . . . where will they stay?

And the persistent question that lingers: is this even real?

But it is.

The realness and finality begin to settle in once the busyness of that time slows down, and you find yourself in the middle of your empty quiet house wondering, WHAT NOW? What exactly am I supposed to do NOW? How am I supposed to carry on?

You didn’t ask for this new life. Nor do you deserve it or want it. But you’re stuck, and it’s devastating. And you can’t escape it.

I’ve been there. And the hard part is what’s next.

Having to live without your child is debilitating.

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

And as a special needs mom, you are faced with the reality that the entire purpose and outlook of your life (that you willingly accepted and wanted) is now drastically different. Your son will no longer physically need you for the rest of your life. Your job as lifelong caregiver has been eliminated.  

Days that were once happily filled to the brim with feedings and doctor appointments, therapy visits, stretches, exercises, school meetings, home-health visits, and medications . . . are now eerily slower.

What are you supposed to do now?

You will learn the pain of the loss doesn’t go away. It never will.

What will develop, over time, is the joy of having your child for the length of time you did.

The thankfulness you ever held him at all. The knowledge and experience you developed as a mom and an advocate. The memories that were made. The pride you have for him. And the strength you’ve now gained. You will find your path forward, as I did.

Most of you reading this probably don’t know what the extreme feeling of being lost and hopeless feels like. But if you do, then I feel you. I know what this feels like. But hopefully, you have found a place in life where this makes sense.

RELATED: Dear Friend, This is How You Can Support a Mother After Child Loss

If you happen to know someone who has lost a child, just know this . . . your friend still needs you. Their life will never be the same. Yes, they will eventually continue in their new life even though this doesn’t seem possible at first. Yes, they will eventually be able to smile again, somehow able to cover the immense sadness that will forever exist. Yes, they will be able to participate in the community and keep their family going even though their home will never be the same.

But, check in on them.

Ask how they are doing. Say their child’s name. Show them you remember he or she existed and will be remembered.

The world keeps moving. And bereaved mothers do, too.

So, to my friend . . . I know it seems very dark right now. But you will find some light again.  

Elizabeth Gerlach

Elizabeth Gerlach is a mom, marketer, fundraiser and new children’s book author. After her young triplet son Benjamin passed away just shy of his 4th birthday, she and her husband established the Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation to support the special needs community. She lives outside of Chicago and writes about family, giving back, and finding your way after loss.