Opinion | Living With the Loss of a Child: ‘I Feel Your Pain, Sarah Wildman’

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To the Editor:

Re “My Daughter’s Future Was Taken From Her, and From Us,” by Sarah Wildman (Opinion, May 21):

My heart aches for the writer of this essay, and as someone who has also lost a child, I can assure you that there is no greater pain.

My daughter, Luna, was 1 month old when she died last year as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident. It doesn’t matter if your child is 35 years old or 1 month old: Losing them shreds the entire fabric of your reality. The devastating loss and emptiness you are left holding becomes the new foundation that you unwillingly and without choice must rebuild your life upon.

Grief doesn’t get easier; it just gets different.

Jeffrey Passow

To the Editor:

Sarah Wildman’s wrenching essay about life after the death of her adolescent daughter Orli gives language to the raw agony of one’s child dying. As a fellow journeyer on this road, I (Elena Lister) see the enormous value of her gift at writing.

I, too, found that I needed to direct my pain to bring some good to this world, to help our daughter Liza’s death have meaning. And I was fortunate to find a colleague (Michael Schwartzman) who could bear witness and be unflinching yet openhearted about his experiences. As the co-author of our book, he joined me in bringing forward how essential it is that we all become able to talk with children about illness, death and loss.

Both of us find that those who do choose to talk with their children with honesty, compassion and freedom from judgment reinforce memories, create enduring bonds and build resilience. Most significantly, as Ms. Wildman so beautifully articulates, when the intense feelings are faced together, the way through is found in connection. The antidote to loss is togetherness.

To Ms. Wildman, we say, “Please know that Orli lives on with all of us, as we learn from her and you.”

Elena Lister
Michael Schwartzman
New York
The writers, a psychiatrist and a psychologist, respectively, are co-authors of “Giving Hope: Conversations With Children About Illness, Death and Loss.”

To the Editor:

Kudos and sympathy to Sarah Wildman for expressing the unimaginable: grief for a dead child. I am also a member of the Club That No One Wishes to Join. I too recall mornings waking and questioning if reality would realign.

Time heals all wounds, so says conventional wisdom. But those of us who have lost a child know that such platitudes aren’t worth the thread used to embroider them on a pillow. C.S. Lewis got it right when he described heavy grief as an amputation.

To Sarah I send this message from 12 years out of such grief: Your wound will never fully heal but your pain will soften. You will learn to live with this amputation and recognize it as a stump you proudly hobble through life with for the love that it represents — a love that never dies.

And strangely enough, you will come to realize that along with this everlasting sorrow a small gift has been given to you. It is a gift that you would give back 100 times over to have your child again, but that is not your choice. The gift is empathy, greater than you ever thought you might possess. The ability to sit with others at their darkest hour and not look away, not need to fix things. To show up because you have been the Other.

Rose Kent
Wilmington, N.C.

To the Editor:

I lost my son less than two years ago. I remember in psychology class studying the stages of grief, but I differ in my journey.

Being on or near open water has always been important to me, and grief reminds me of that. There are a few rare days when there isn’t a ripple on the water, all peaceful and calm. The more typical day has small waves that come and go and remind me of my loss (like seeing a determined biker, hearing a deep laugh or reading a telling essay).

Then there are stormy days when the waves crash down and sweep me off my feet, and I wonder how I can manage. I feel your pain, Sarah Wildman.

Jean Lewis
Setauket, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Last fall, I empathized with Sarah Wildman as a mother wanting life to be normal again as she walked with her daughter Orli through her cancer diagnosis and treatments.

Little did I know then that my own 36-year-old daughter, healthy and active, full of life, a wife and mother to a baby daughter, had only a few months to live. Her warm light was taken by a series of basilar strokes in a few short days of disbelief.

Today, I’m grieving along with Sarah in the realm of mothers who have lost their child. Each morning I wake up hoping I’ve accidentally sidestepped into an alternate universe, and if I can just take two steps to the right I’ll be back in the correct universe where my daughter is still healthy with so much life before her.

I’m anticipating reading Sarah’s continued work on the pathways she, as a grieving mother, is navigating through the deep furrows of grief and reaching higher plains. I need to hear her wisdom and perspective.

Lori Smith
Southlake, Texas

For the Young, a Time to Risk, to Play, to Imagine

To the Editor:

Re “Sure, You Achieved, but What Did You Accomplish?,” by Adam Gopnik (Opinion guest essay, May 18):

In a culture where even the youngest among us are bombarded with the value of pursuing résumé-driven goals, no wonder feelings of success are linked to competitive, achievement-oriented choices.

Mr. Gopnik’s essay beautifully describes what is sadly becoming a lost art: setting personally imposed challenges and enjoying the process, regardless of the outcome.

Maybe it’s because I raised a child with a disability (or because I too am a mediocre recreational musician) that I was so moved by Mr. Gopnik’s words.

Parents like me learn very early on to find joy, meaning and encouragement from seeing their child methodically approach, fail yet persevere at tasks. We know that the activity itself — and any progress made in undertaking that challenge — is a very big deal, because it is likely to further motivate and inspire.

Feelings of accomplishment allow for the rare foray into our purest self, without the white noise of societal expectation or judgment, and as such they are truly priceless.

Jane Garfield Frank

To the Editor:

Adam Gopnik’s essay speaks to me. When I was a child growing up in Kansas, school was easy and I had no homework. When I was 8, I asked my mother what to do one afternoon. She said, “If I tell you, you won’t figure it out for yourself.”

So I did. The time to play and use my own imagination has been a gift ever since.

As a therapist I see many children whose eyes are heavy with fatigue. They all list homework as the thing they wish they never had. That’s what I wish for them too — along with the time to think for themselves instead.

Ellen B. Luborsky
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

A Woman’s Anger

To the Editor:

Re “On TV, They Are All the Rage,” by Maya Phillips (Critic’s Notebook, Arts, May 24):

When I was young, I had dreams in which I’d try to scream, hands clenched, mouth and face upturned, neck veins bulging, tossing my head side to side trying to make a sound come out, so someone could hear me. But in these dreams, I could never get out a peep.

Years later I realized that these dream episodes reflected my anger and sense that I had no voice in my life at that time.

Each of us is born with anger as one of the emotions that comes with the package of being human. Hallelujah for acknowledging its existence and our expression of it, regardless of gender.

Jill Miller Zimon
Pepper Pike, Ohio

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