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  • Writer's pictureChristina Stiverson

The pain of losing a child - How I freed myself

“I can’t imagine anything worse than losing a child” people often say to me.


cancer patient and bereaved mother capturing life

Well, I can imagine two outcomes that would be worse.


1. If my oldest daughter Adelaide had never come into our lives for 3 years and 17 days, that would be worse.


2. Not truly living my life to the fullest after my child died of cancer in 2016, that would also be worse.



The awareness that your child has died never goes away, but grief can change. Mine did and I am eternally grateful. I now look forward to a journey of infinite gratitude for the gift I was given.


If we focus on what we have lost, we can never fully appreciate what we have.



***


December is a powerful month I hold near and dear to my heart. Adelaide was born on the 3rd and passed away on the 20th, three years later. The return of these dates each year used to compound my grief, but now they give me a time to celebrate.


In the past, I took medication for all 31 days of December. I barely functioned. My heart ache was so painful it felt like I was spiraling into the unending depths of a mountain crevasse. The anxiety leading up to the milestone dates felt worse than living through the actual days. I dreaded the holiday season.


My daytime hours were poisoned with perpetual headaches from my constant teeth grinding. A paralyzing sadness lay right below the surface of my emotional composure for which everyone would compliment me on.


This is the pain of losing a child.



So how did I free myself from this mental and physical pain?


At a workshop I attended in 2020, I was struck by the possibility of changing my mindset around the worst day of my life.

I decided to relive over and over the day my daughter died. I was relentless in my reflection. This determination to work through my grief is where my transformation began.


Here is what I now know: I thought the day my daughter died was the worst day of my life, but really, it is my most extraordinary and proudest moment to date.



How could anyone make sense of such a statement?


With nearly everything in my life prior to becoming a mother, I could visualize my achievement before it happened. Adelaide’s death was the first time I truly doubted myself on a whole new level. I had no visualization, no idea how I would live through this experience.


I unveiled courage I never knew I had because of my daughter.


When I heard the hospice team say so clearly to me, “Do you prefer to be home or in the hospital when she passes away?”, I froze. It was the same as when I experienced the shock of Adelaide’s cancer diagnosis. Time stood still for me, and my body felt completely numb.


I had never even thought of taking her home. We had been through so many tough calls in the hospital with chemotherapy, surgeries, code blues, and seizures. How would I, who was not a nurse, know what to do?


Given enough will, there is a way, and somehow, I found it.



***


I feel privileged to have had an amazing hospice team coach me along the way. They made what felt impossible, possible. I found within me the unwavering strength to help my dearest Adelaide pass away peacefully at home.


There was no doubt she was going to die. However, up until the moment her breath stopped, I still believed in miracles. The moment she closed her eyes for the last time was excruciatingly painful and truly beautiful all at the same time.


I told her I would be ok. I told her she would be free. I eased her physical pain with medication. I felt her soul transcend the room.


I take that proud moment of helping my daughter die peacefully at home (where I did what I didn’t think was possible) with me in my heart daily. I am deeply grateful for the 3 years and 17 days she was here with us and the lifetime of inspiration she will bring. I never think about the time I did not get with her.


I have created new meaning and purpose out of the day she died, and I have discovered a new vitality which took me years to recognize. I no longer feel the pain of losing a child.


I feel free from the burden of her death and can now soak up the glory of my daughter’s love each day.



***


I had heard that people hold on to pain until they find something they value more. I wholeheartedly agree. Now I value my daughter’s life, and my own, more than the agony of her death.


I value being the best mother I can be to my living children more than I value a life of devastation. I don’t believe Adelaide would want me to give up. She never did.


I now feel empowered by my journey and am truly present in my life. I embrace my unique experience.


My life would be entirely different without Adelaide. I don’t ever want to think of my life without her. I have crossed an emotional bridge of acceptance so death defying that I won’t ever go back.


My daughter died, and I will live... but not with the pain of losing a child.



Every day is not perfect. There are still times where I miss her beyond belief. But more than the grief, there is immense gratitude for her life that nobody can ever take from me.


Rather than feeling suffocated, I can now take a deep breath. I’m proud to say for the past two years, my Decembers have been free of medication and headaches. My body and soul feel truly alive.


For me, December has once again become the month where I embrace family for the holidays and set my intentions for the upcoming year.



***


I truly believe in the ancient proverb ‘It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.’ Five years after her death, these words now bring peace and a new essence to my life.


Can you value your child’s life more than the pain of his or her death? Only you can decide.


The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude. – Thornton Wilder

*Christina Stiverson is a certified grief coach, retired Air Force veteran, and President of Foundation for Addie’s Research. She finds immense joy in her life as a wife and mother to her three beautiful girls. E-mail Christina@graduategrief.com or read more.

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