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Parenting after the Loss of a Child: Life through a Shattered Lens

Posted by LJ McNickles

My story is wrought with lonely pieces; shards of glass that wound deep within.  A life changed forever, in the blink of an eye.  I realize that many parents live this same life, constantly hurting and always wondering what they could have done differently.  Our reality is unique, abruptly altered by the tragedy of extreme circumstances.  What once worked to rear our children, to love or to discipline our children, is now, for a time, inexplicably useless.  Just as our world has been turned upside down, our children’s lives are twisted and formed into unknown entities that no one understands easily how to navigate.  And it feels as though no one, absolutely no one, can comprehend how difficult life truly becomes.

While every day is filled with uncertainties, no one can ever be prepared for the heartbreak prompted by the unexpected death of a child.  When a child dies, the whole world screeches to a halt.  Though everyone will tell you, especially for the “sake of the remaining children” to just keep moving forward; life will get easier as time passes- the lack of truth and understanding in that statement is enormous.  With four remaining children after the death of my two daughters in a house fire in March 2011, I had to learn just how to be a mother again.  My boys struggle daily with who they are, within themselves, as well as within our family.  Each child’s place in the family structure changed dramatically. I became a mother of three boys and a girl.  The balance I had known for all the years past was abruptly dislocated, leaving us all in a constant state of turmoil-ridden transition. Being a single parent — the sole parental strength — during this time was quite possibly the most demanding position I have ever had to survive.  And some days, that was all I did, survive… barely.

Supporting my older two sons, who at the time were 15 and 9, through times of anger and sadness, all the while fighting back massive feelings of torment, grief, and guilt of my own became a test of who I was.  My life had always been about being the very best parent I could be.  I would, to a fault, care for the children’s needs, helping them in whatever way possible.  After losing my two young daughters, many times, I overlooked about my own needs, moving forward in pain and the fatigue of depression, hoping to make it just one more day.  Everything about who I have ever been was up for question in my mind. Did I do enough?  Did I love enough?  Did I teach enough? Even though the fire chief himself was astounded by the order and love that was seen within my home in the days following the fire, I could not help but to wonder if I was competent enough, or if all I had ever worked so hard to be, was simply a joke.

I have labored vigorously in the last two years to recover from every parent’s worst nightmare.  I have returned to many of the “no nonsense” structures of discipline I used to employ.  Much like James Lehman’s words reminds me of how to keep going, how to love with all I have, and still find sanity through the structure that fits our family, who I am has given me the truth to live by, the strength to hold on, and the wisdom to take better care of myself, and my children with all the zeal and creativity I once believed I held within.


About LJ McNickles

With a background in child development, much independent study in the psychology field, and life experience as a mother of eight children, two of whom “left us much too early,” L J finds she has a strong desire to reach out to other parents. She says, “I want to build parents’ confidence in the facts, that #1, you are not alone; and #2 while we all struggle from time to time, you CAN do this job of parenting with love, respect, and a foundation that will last a lifetime.”

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