One Essential Secret to Surviving Loss of Your Child

I’m playing catch up as I took last week off to travel to beautiful Sedona, Arizona with my mom and daughter, for the first Ellie’s Way Getaway.  It was an amazing week filled with adventure and discovery.

During our time together in Arizona, we were able to meet those online friends that have become family, those who have helped us and encouraged us through our grief.  The ones we can be authentic with and share our deepest pain. It was magical.

We held groups, enjoyed dinners, toured in jeeps and talked about our loved ones.  We also traveled to the chapel of the holy cross, which I must say is breathtaking.

chapel of the holy cross

United in Christ, we laughed, cried, and smiled as our hearts were filled with joy. Peace and healing overcame us, motivating us to reach out to others, letting them know they can survive devastating loss.

So what is Ellie’s Way anyway?  Some of you may be familiar with Ellie’s Way, and some not.  Ellie’s Way was founded by my friends Todd and Kristen Nigro, in memory of their sweet daughter Ellie. Recognizing a need in their community, they started Ellie’s Way-a faith based online support group for grief and loss of any kind. Ellie’s Way is a compassionate online group of grieving hearts connected in many ways.

I joined Ellie’s Way when it first started years ago and instantly felt an abundance of love and belonging.   In the main group you will find grieving parents, siblings, children, and many others who have lost a loved one, who remain thirsty for hope and acknowledgement.

Aside from the main group, there are smaller groups divided into categories of loss, such as suicide, child loss, parent loss, sudden loss, illness, etc., which provide a wonderful place to connect with others enduring similar types of loss. What an incredible movement God has made all because of this precious little girl named Ellie. As a result of her life, countless people are being comforted and given hope through life’s darkest times.

So, onto what I want to share with you today-the importance of connecting with others through your grief journey.  Here is an excerpt from my book releasing July 16, Barely Breathing: Ten Secrets to Surviving Loss of Your Child.

Connect with others.

“After we lose a child, we become weak, and connecting with others provides that kind of heart salve that mends the soul.   One key aspect to survival is to make connections with others who have lost a child, for they are the only ones who truly know this horrific journey. This is crucial and a must do.   Grief is incredibly lonely and isolating. As for any loss, connecting and meeting with those who have similar losses can be life-changing.   The difficulty lies in the fact that even your closest friends and family may not understand your grief.   You are different now and not the same person they know and love. 

Friends old and new may now see you as frightening and unapproachable, not understanding why you have changed so much.  Months and years can go by, and you’ll hear those subtle words and conversational undertones. “It’s time to move on, you should be over it by now”, among others.  They tire of hearing of your sadness.   You see, they yearn for their friend back.  The old, fun happy person, but it is one they will not find. It can be a dreadful realization to them. They don’t know what to do and neither do you. We soon realize that friendships are dynamic and ever changing, some become stronger and others drift away.

Online support is such a blessing; however, it’s also important to have those face to face connections with others as well.  Ironically, I had never heard of child loss support groups, oblivious of this sorrowful reality many others have endured.

At the time my daughter died, it was 2008. I wasn’t connected to others on Facebook or the internet. I didn’t have it available in my home, nor did I want to.  However, my childhood friend who had lost a son three years earlier coerced me into joining the social media giant in 2011 and what did I find?  A goldmine for online support groups for grief and child loss. There were so many it was overwhelming. However, I found them and joined some.

At first, reading heartbreaking stories of others who have felt this pain, suffered and endured the loss of their child, was devastating. I found that I wasn’t able to read them for very long, without becoming anxious, crying and encountering heavy bouts of insomnia. Over time I learned how to read stories of other parents’ loss’ in small segments, a few minutes here and there, enough to validate my feelings and be done for the day.

Online support is such a blessing; however, it’s also important to have those face to face connections with others as well.  At the time, I had never heard of child loss support groups, oblivious of this sorrowful reality many others have endured.

The chaplains who stood by our side, handed me a brochure from a child loss support group.  It had only been three weeks since Lydia died and my husband had to pretty much drag me kicking and screaming to my first group. I wasn’t one to reach out and was a complete introvert at the time, rarely moving from the brown couch that became my best friend. Nonetheless, we went to a Compassionate Friends meeting.  I had never heard of this organization, nor did I want to learn about it. The meeting was in large building attached to the fire department.  Opening the door, my hand trembled as it touched the handle.  With a quick glance of the room, it appeared to be enormous and filled with people.  My husband and I took our seats as the meeting was about to start. I was bitter, angry, and frustrated. It had only been three weeks. I could barely function or talk to people, let alone leave my house, and I was expected to sit through a meeting with strangers? Right!

Reluctantly, I went and hated every minute of it, never wanting to go back.  During this first meeting, I sat with my head hung low crying incessantly hoping no one would look at me. Overcome with disbelief and shock, it felt like I was living in someone else’s life, not my own.  Who wanted to hear about all the depressing stories of grief, seeing firsthand the pain and agony so many are suffering from? Not me.  I couldn’t even handle my own.

Men and women both young and old went around the table introducing themselves, sharing stories of their children. Staring at the floor, unable to look up, the tears flowed again as I silently wept. 

Was I really in a support group for parents who had lost children? Seriously? I didn’t belong there, and I wasn’t about to speak in front of anyone. Suddenly, all eyes were upon me.  Sobbing, shaking, and trying to catch my breath, I muttered, “My name is Daphne and my daughter Lydia brought me here.” I thought to myself, how did I get here? This wasn’t possible. Was I dreaming again? Someone please wake me from this nightmare!  I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

But I went back.  Weeks later, something drew me to them. Was it the inviting hugs and genuine concern of those seasoned in grief and further down this agonizing path? I wasn’t one to ever talk, as I barely muttered my name the first meeting amidst all the tears.

Yet before I knew it, I felt a strange connection.  I could relate and soon felt a craving to be near these people, to be able to share my daughter and my journey while joining with others who get it.  Our eyes met, our souls connected. A time of quiet solace and reflection. Parents that understand, those that have walked the path.  Strangely, at the time there wasn’t anything else that brought me comfort.

Here were all these people… old, young, married, single who had walked my path and they were still here. Some barely holding it together, while others paved the way with strength and hope.  This was a group who GOT IT.  They knew what it was like to have a birthday or anniversary come around and have no one mention your child’s name. They knew the anguish of sitting alone in the dark, crying hysterically until you have nothing left and nearly unconscious on the floor. They grasped the feeling of life has being stripped away, leaving you without a reason to live. They understood the loneliness and pain of a quiet house, no smiles, arguments or giggles. They especially knew how deep our love was for our child.

It was a place where you needn’t speak a word yet have an immediate connection with other parents the moment your eyes make contact.  Oddly, it brings comfort to your heart to be surrounded by other parents who know the extreme depths of your pain.  They understand.  They have walked in the same shoes. They know what it’s like to hear those words, “your child has died.”    In all honesty, seeing some of these people five, ten, twenty years out kind of frightened me.  It also brought me an odd sense of comfort. If they could do it, maybe I could too.  

Unexpectedly, upon leaving the meeting I found myself entering a world of people who didn’t get it. Through no fault of their own, they simply hadn’t been there.  I’m sorry but there’s no way to “get it” or to fully understand unless you’ve been there.

When you’re feeling disconnected, surrounded by others who just can’t understand, even though it can be difficult, make the effort to reach out to others who have been there. Trust me. It will bring you comfort in knowing and believing that you can do this, to see that others have gone before you and survived.  You will encounter those who are just a few days or weeks into their grief, and others who are decades out. Each offering their own encouragement and wisdom…”

No matter how far along you are in your loss, here are are some compassionate support group resources you should connect with.

Ellie’s Way- Faith based online support group for all types of loss. Find them on Facebook.

While We’re Waiting-  While We’re Waiting offers an online faith based support group for parents who have lost children, retreats for parent, as well as local support groups.

The Compassionate Friends-    The Compassionate Friends offers local support groups for parents whose children have died. They also have a Facebook group for encouraging support.

Grieving Parents Support Network-   The Grieving Parents Support (GPS) Network’s intention is to facilitate bereaved parents to support and uplift other bereaved parents.

A Bed for My Heart- community making compassionate grief support the norm.

Bereaved Parents of the USA- – Helping grieving parents and families rebuild their lives following the death of a child.

Grief Diaries- Grief Diaries is a worldwide village full of compassion, comfort and hope.

Grief Share- GriefShare is a friendly, caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences. You don’t have to go through the grieving process alone.

The Grief Toolbox-  The Grief Toolbox offers tools for finding hope along this journey.

Grieving Mothers/Grieving Dads- Supporting Grieving Parents in the loss of a child. Transforming pain and grief into hope. Based upon a book by a grieving father, he shares his journey offering hope and encouragement to other grieving fathers. “ I want bereaved fathers to understand is that I know it’s hard, I know it hurts, I know it’s scary — but you can get through this. You can survive.”

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