Parenting is my greatest joy, but it is also the most difficult and exhausting job I have ever taken on. Parenting after a loss, adds another dimension to it. The truth is, no one is quite prepared for parenthood until you become a parent. You can read countless books, even have the pediatrician’s personal phone number on speed dial, but it will never equip you for parenthood. There’s something inside you, something you never even knew existed until you hold your child for the first time, that will help be the best parent for your child. That parent intuition is real and is your best tool in this journey. Parenting is best navigated as you experience it. And parenting after a loss is no different.
So how’s it going for me? Well, some days it’s easier than others. To me, the greatest challenges I have faced so far are trying to preserve Graham’s memory, being honest with my children about my own feelings, and not feeling guilty when I embrace the joy of our lives. When you lose someone you love, you never want their memory to fade. You are grateful when people still say their name, or share stories about your loved one, and it’s no different as a parent. I love when Carter asks about Graham. Or when we ask Carter about his family members and ask him to name them, he’ll start with Franco, Charlie bear, Dada, Mama, and shout “and Graham!” at the end with a big smile. I love that he knows who Graham is and how important he is to our family. I hope this continues beyond the toddler stage and is a part of him forever. We have yet to face any difficult questions from Carter about Graham, but we are prepared for them. We won’t always have the answers and sometimes we might not say the right thing, but my hope is that we raise our children to know and love their big brother even though they never even met him.
Another challenge I face is being honest with my children about my emotions. I never want to lie to my kids and say I’m happy all the time, when in reality, that’s impossible and not true. But I also don’t know how to explain to a 3 year old that sometimes I am sad and I miss Graham a lot. In fact, I don’t know if I share that with anyone, so it feels even more difficult to explain to a 3 year old these feelings. I want to be open and transparent with my children, but it’s not always easy.
Last, I often find myself feeling guilty when I am happy. After losing Graham, my heart was broken and it felt like it would never heal. But slowly, those pieces started to come together. There will always be a huge piece missing and in Heaven with Graham, but Carter and Charlie have brought me more joy than I could ever have imagined. When I see them playing together, I truly melt. I hate to sound cheesy, but I am overflowing with joy and I feel guilty for that. How can I be this happy when Graham isn’t there too? And then, I do a quick pivot from that high of happiness, to sadness that Graham is missing out on these moments. I know that life continues to move on when you lose a loved one. And I know Graham wants us to be happy and live our life to the fullest. And really, how can I be sad that he’s missing out, when Graham is in Paradise with our Lord? But I still can’t help feeling conflicted.
I’m still in the thick of things and don’t have much advice except this – be kind to yourself. There is no guidebook as you navigate these waters. Do your best. Some days you will feel as if you have everything together and are crushing this whole parenting journey. Other days are a struggle as you experience unknown challenges. All you can do is hold your head high, and know your angel is always cheering you on.