‘Here’s where my 12-year-old son, Noah, should have stood this morning for his obligatory back-to-school picture.’: Bereaved mom says ‘it’s okay to acknowledge both the beauty and the ache’

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“Here’s where my 12-year-old son, Noah, should have stood this morning for his obligatory back-to-school picture. Today he should have started 7th grade. Instead he never will. Instead I have an aching heart, an empty porch, and one less ‘normal’ back-to-school picture.

Today I should have taken three back-to-school pictures, not just two.

To every grieving parent with an aching heart, and an empty porch…

To every parent with ONE LESS child…

To every parent who should have sent off ONE MORE to school…

To every parent aching today, and trying to act as normal as possible…

We see you. We feel you. And our hearts ache with yours.

Milestones like back-to-school can feel like a swift punch in the gut. Milestones like these require the art of holding infinite space for BOTH/AND. We need to give ourselves permission and space to honor *ALL* that is true for us today. Even if it feels like we’re the only ones feeling this way.

After I dropped off my other two boys at school today I realized I could take the third picture, even though it wasn’t how I wanted it to be. So, I came home and took this picture. Noah’s back-to-school picture. An empty porch, an empty space where he should be. I needed to give myself permission to honor him and hold space for what should have/could have been his first day of school, too. I needed to let myself feel the ache, feel the empty space the size and shape of him.

After I took the picture, I sobbed. I sobbed because I don’t want to be a grieving mom. A mom eternally missing one. A mom with a hole in her heart. A mom that feels so vastly unlike all the *other* school moms. I sobbed for all the what ifs. All the could have/should have beens. I sobbed for everything I’m missing, and everything I will miss. I sobbed for my precious firstborn son who never even got one first day of school. I sobbed for every first day of school Noah was robbed of experiencing— an entire childhood of First Days of School— gone. I sobbed for every milestone I’ve missed with him so far, and every milestone I will miss for the rest of my life. An entire lifetime of milestones.

This is grief. This is love. This is parenting after loss.

I’m both happy and excited for my (living) kids first day of school today AND I ache for my son, the one who isn’t here. It seems somehow impossible to be both aching and happy—sobbing yet smiling. And yet? That’s exactly what’s true for me today. And really, it’s fairly ‘normal’ in this new-anything-but-normal life as a grieving parent. Especially in the face of milestones like back-to-school. I’m trying my best to honor what is and allow myself to grieve what isn’t. To acknowledge who is present, and also who is missing. To allow my love for my children, both living and dead, to stretch in all directions. To allow my love to stretch far and wide enough to span the distance between heaven and earth. I stand with one foot in the life I have, and one foot in the life I had. I straddle time and space. It’s a hard place to be. I’m a #grieving #mom and (by all appearances) a ‘normal’ mom, all at the same time. It can be really complicated and messy and that’s okay. There is no handbook, no timeline, no manual for this. It’s okay not to be okay.

This pretty much sums up parenting after loss. These are beautiful, beautiful moments of celebration and joy— and yet, someone is ALWAYS missing.

It’s okay to acknowledge both the beauty and the ache.

If you have a grieving parent in your life, I encourage you to ACKNOWLEDGE who is missing, SAY their child’s name, and maybe even say something like…

‘I’m so sorry __________ (child’s name) isn’t here starting _______ (grade) like he (or she) should be. I know you miss them, and I miss them, too. I wish they were here with you like they should be.’

Acknowledgment goes a long, long way to help ease the burden of grief. Acknowledgment and validation are GIFTS to the grieving. You will literally make that grieving parent’s day/month/year.

If you’re a grieving parent— let us know who you’re remembering and missing today— and what grade they would be starting. We’d love to see their beautiful faces and #saytheirnames with you.

May our children always be remembered, and may their names always be spoken!”

Front porch with lime green door and porch swing where son who passed away would've stood
Angela Miller

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Angela Miller of A Bed For My HeartSubmit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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