When a husband loses his wife, they call him a widower. When a wife loses her husband, they call her a widow. And when somebody’s parents die, they call them an orphan. But there is no name for a parent, a grieving mother or a devastated father, who has lost their child. Because the pain behind the loss is so immeasurable and unbearable that it cannot be described in a single word. It just cannot be described.

—Bhavya Kaushik, The Other Side of the Bed

Each of the cards, notes, and e-mails that arrived following Joseph’s homegoing was cherished, but a few touched us deep down to where our souls bled. Many of those came from complete strangers, other parents walking this unwanted journey. I learned quickly that we had become a community in and of ourselves. They got it. They, too, had been stung by death, had buried a child. We are the club nobody wants to join, a club that prefers no new members.

There are no barriers in this club. Race, religion, education, and financial status do not matter. We’ve each experienced death; we’ve buried the most precious part of ourselves, and our hearts throb.

My new friends assured me it was indeed normal for me to weave in and out of the stages of grief, and that God could handle each emotion, no matter how ugly or irreverent. They assured me I wasn’t losing my mind. They hugged me no matter what I said or did not say.

Since Joseph’s death, Phil and I have met dozens of other parents who have buried children either from lingering illness or sudden death. Some have horrific stories: children who were murdered, children who committed suicide, circumstances that now involve costly lawsuits and families torn apart. Some have buried multiple children. But despite differing circumstances, there is a common thread that knits us together. We’ve each buried a child, and we each ache to the core of our existence. We feel as though a knife has been thrust into our gut that is permanently stuck.

A few parents were bitter, believing God did this to them. I found it best to spend little time with them while I was in the early stages of grief. I asked my new friends questions others could not answer. How do I survive his birthday? The anniversary of his death? Mother’s Day? What about his room and his possessions? How do I get people to understand that I still have three sons? Will I ever stop wanting to die?

Phil and I attended GriefShare and Compassionate. Although heart wrenching, it was cathartic meeting with others walking this unwanted journey. Each parent shared his or her story. We listened. We cried. We prayed for one another. Each of us was fragile and vulnerable, yet somehow strengthened by our connections to one another.

Shelley Ramsey

Shelley Ramsey lost her seventeen year old son in a single-vehicle car accident. She chronicles her deeply personal reflections and her arduous journey through grief in “Grief: A Mama’s Unwanted Journey.” Shelley and Phil have been married over thirty years and live in Virginia. In addition to Joseph, they are the adoring parents of adult sons, Curt and Wyatt.

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