What I want you to know about internet trolls and balancing grief, guilt and grace when a child dies

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Geraldine.


When our son died, there were so many big emotions to go through - grief, anger, sadness, loss, helplessness, hopelessness. And on top of that - the guilt. Oh my dear Lord, the guilt. The guilt that sits heavy on my shoulders even today, the guilt that still colours every parenting action I take. "What if I hadn't..." "If only I had..." "Why didn't I just..." Every single day. Still. Eight years later. And I imagine it will be there forever, cozied right up in my heart next to both sadness and profound gratefulness that he was part of our lives even for such a short time. I'm not asking you to absolve me and shower me with affirmations, this is my reality, these are my demons to wrestle with, I'm not asking you for forgiveness, just to listen. And maybe learn. 

Once the funeral was over, the house no longer full of visitors, and the constant stream of casserole deliveries dwindled to a trickle; once my husband had gone back to work, the children back to school, and my family all boarded their planes eastward, I was left alone to get on with things. Life, routine, errands, school, grocery shopping, returning library books. But here's the thing. On top of all those other emotions, a new one reared its ugly head. Fear. Of going out into the community - the school, the library, the grocery store. Fear of the stares, the whispers, the questions. Fear of YOU. Fear of what you were thinking about me and saying about me behind my back. Because I know you had all those same doubts I did. "What if she hadn't..." "If only she had..." "Why didn't she just...". And I lived in fear that you would have the balls to walk up to me and lay all that blame right at my feet in the middle of the produce aisle or the juniour fiction section. You didn't. You kept whatever you had to say to yourself, or in close enough circles that it never got back to me. Thank God. Because I couldn't deal with your blame on top of what I was putting on myself. My shoulders couldn't have handled that extra burden. It would have broken me.

But I still knew you were out there and I was afraid of you. It took me a long time to come to terms with that fear and let it go, to move on and not worry about you and what you thought. These days I don't think about you much at all. I'm too busy worrying about me, and trying to extend a little of the grace I give so freely to others, to my own self.

If there's anything I'm grateful for in that whole awful time it's that while our son's death was the most heart breaking, tragic thing my husband and I ever had to experience, while our girls were devastated and confused; in the days of 24 hour news cycle, blog posts and social-freaking-media, a little baby boy dying from SIDS caused not a blip in the radar. It was sad, certainly, but not newsworthy. Thank God. This meant we were largely in control of our family's story. We chose who we shared with, and and exactly how much we were comfortable sharing. I know there were rumors and likely speculation behind the privacy of closed doors, and there was judgement. I know that. But I didn't have to log on to Facebook, Twitter, or a national news site and see stories about our family. I didn't have to see the vitriol and hatred people feel free to unleash from behind the anonymity of their keyboards. I didn't have to see thousands of people who didn't know anything more than a ten second sound bite about our family, lay all their hate, judgement, blame and shame squarely at my virtual feet. Thank. God.

I can't pretend to know what it's like to lose your child to a wild alligator as they splash close to your feet on a family vacation, or to turn away for a second and find your child has fallen into the gorilla enclosure, but I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what it's like to hold that guilt on your heart. I know the weight of responsibility, the weight of "why didn't I...". I know that you can spew all the blame and scorn you want onto those parents via the Internet, and it won't come close to being as heavy as the blame they hold on their own hearts. But I know every little comment, every snide remark, every single "well what did she expect..." adds another little stone, another little weight onto that grieving parent's already unbearably heavy heart. I also know that every little gesture of kindness, support or compassion, lifts just the tiniest bit of the burden. Just the smallest comment or gesture of grace can ease the heavy, heavy load that a grieving parent is carrying.

I hope, I pray, that you never have to experience anything like the grief our family, and many others have suffered. I hope that you never have to face the day that choosing one more layer for your infant on a frigid winter's day results in his suffocation. I hope when your toddler darts out of reach in a parking lot, the oncoming car has time to slam on the breaks, I hope that when your pre schooler finds the back gate unlocked, you catch her before she wanders off into the wilderness. I hope and pray your parenting decisions end, at absolute worst, with "I can't imagine what would have happened if...". But should the unthinkable happen to you too, I hope and pray you are granted grace and compassion by the Internet warriors. I hope the masses don't decide to add to your grief by piling their scorn and shame upon you. And I hope and pray that if they do, you are strong enough to not believe them. To know you did the best you could for child in that moment. That you are a good parent, that you are human and not infallible, but that doesn't mean you have to carry that blame on your shoulders, your heart. I'll be there to say all that and more on every post where I find someone cutting you down in your darkest hours, because I'll know how you feel, and because I'm still working on that grace for myself.



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