Parenting a dead child

On Wednesday I went to see Mabel. It was July 15, exactly seventeen months after she died. In the first year after her death I would visit her grave every week- almost always on the weekend, bearing flowers as a gift. Some days, especially early on I would spend a fair amount of time there. I started reading her a book. I’d sit and journal when the weather was nice. I’d always say the same things “I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here” and sing the lines of the wook well known in our community “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Going once a week was both a comfort and a stress. I had to see my baby-gave me a sense of purpose especially on those long empty weekends, let me feel like I was mothering her in a way. Though I’d sometimes feel stress if I had a full weekend and had to figure out time to visit and time to pick up flowers. Mostly though, it was a comforting routine.

I told myself that once her first birthday came around, I’d give myself a break- go when felt like it. I’m a creature of habit, though, with high expectations of myself so I also silently promised I’d go at least once a month. I’d go on the 15th bearing my usual flowers. And I do. The script is still same. The same emotions bubble up, a bit fuzzier around the edges, but still there.

I have mixed feelings on my routine. I love going and if it’s been a while I start to feel a gnawing- some anxiety even- an emptiness I have to fill with a visit. I seem overall satisfied with the once a month schedule. But at the same time I feel guilty. I should want to go more. I shouldn’t have to have a schedule, a day to remind me to visit. Honestly, I think about visiting a lot. The cemetery is five minutes from my house- a quick detour on the way home from work or errands. Yet, I don’t visit as often as I think of visiting. In the past few months my life got very busy and full- at times very stressful. An extra visit to the cemetery felt like one more thing to add on to a packed schedule. And I didn’t want to rush the visits- I wanted to give her time, be genuine with her.

At times I feel like a bad mom. I mentally gave myself permission to not visit weekly to help me with stress, but in some ways it also gave me stress. I know that the number of visits doesn’t not validate my mom status or quantify my love and grief for her- but its complicated. It’s hard parenting a dead child and still remain in the world of the living.

How often do you “visit” your child? Has that changed over time?

5 thoughts on “Parenting a dead child

  1. Strange, I had a similar struggle just recently, and I googled “visiting your child’s grave”, and landed right back here! Yesterday I went to visit Sinza. Its similar with me, her cemetery is 5 minutes from my home, and 1.5 years since she died, I do not visit as often as I did in the 1st year. Its a mixture of things:
    1) its a govt cemetery where mostly “unclaimed bodies” from public hospitals are buried, and so there is competition for space for paying customers like myself that had “claimed bodies” but no alternative places to bury our loved ones (long story but Sinza wasn’t welcome to either my side nor her father’s side of family cemeteries). The cemetery keeper hopes that after a while, our circumstances have changed, and we are now able to relocate the graves, and create space for “newer paying customers”, so he hassles and threatens me every time I run into him, with stories of how the land has been sold off, how all bodies are to be relocated, etc etc. I just leave the place with raised anxiety levels. Also on a few occasions I have run into mass burials and sometimes exhumations going on..and..oh my…
    2) This may even be shameful to say but sometimes I feel so angry with her..for giving me no reciprocating signs of love, or appreciation, for all the love I pour out onto her, I scrub and wash her grave, I sew plastic flowers and stick them on the tiles, I sing to her, I tell her stories..and what does she do in even send me a butterfly to comfort me..which makes me angry, then guilty, then ashamed then sad for being such a bad mother…and the cycle repeats…

    I am really struggling with the grave visits thing… thanks for creating a space where we can talk about such struggles..

  2. We spread their ashes into the ocean, and I’m sad to say we have never been back. I really wanted to, at least one last time before we moved out of the country, but it didn’t happen. Maybe I should have pushed harder.
    On the other hand, we have been to the ocean, and indeed one reason for spreading their ashes was that we knew we’d be moving sooner rather than later. And fortunately we ended up near an ocean again.
    Thanks for sharing. This is such a tough topic, with few people to understand and discuss.

  3. Since Sacha is buried thousands of miles from where I live, I’ve only visited once. But I have set up a little area at home with his picture and various little items, and I try to keep fresh flowers there. I look at his picture every day, and buy flowers every 1-2 weeks depending how long they last. There’s a tree dedicated to him at my hospital – although the plaque still hasn’t been placed yet! – and I go there when I feel drawn to it, probably once every 1-2 weeks. Sometimes I’ll even visit a cemetery around where I live. Last month I visited the small chapel in the children’s hospital, where I spent time lying on a bench while Sacha was in the NICU. So I don’t have much of a routine – aside from the fresh flowers at home – but I still feel the need to do one thing or another on several days of the month, and I try to give myself permission to follow that need.

  4. We cremated our son, and I wear some of his ashes in a necklace. We both do, so that way he’s here with us all the time. In the early days of loss I would crawl into bed with the box containing his hat, and hand/foot prints, and once we got his ashes then it was a cold urn. I would think, “how crazy am I that I’m cuddling a box!” but it’s all I have. And now being in the process of moving his urn is tucked away and on occasion when I do see it I feel guilt that he’s packed away like some knick knack. Oh well, soon we’ll all be at our new home and he’ll be back out where we can see him everyday.

  5. You should not feel like a bad mom. I think it’s wonderful that going to visit is a way for you to connect with Mabel. I lost my son Benjamin 2 and 1/2 years ago. I have been to his grave maybe 7 times in those two years. I guess for me (which this may be the exact opposite for you.) he is not there. I like to go and leave flowers but I feel like it always leaves me feeling worse, instead of better. So instead I go whenever the thought hits me. Mostly what I do to honor him though is I sometimes talk to him at night and every year around his birthday our little family plans something fun to do to celebrate his life, even though he was born sleeping. To me I try to think of something I would have liked to do with him on that day and try to have the most fun doing it. This whole experience is hard and I hope that you find some peace while honoring your sweet Mabel.

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