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[What to say when a friend loses a child is such a mystery. I was the mom at her daughter’s casket in the fall of 2008. So when a friend of mine lost her young son to a progressive fatal disease, I wrote her a letter somewhat like this. When my daughter died, I craved a letter like this.]

Oh my friend. My heart breaks that you find yourself here, where I have walked and wept. Every hour I lift you and your family in prayer, pleading with God to pour out grace and strength and rest over you.

I was so encouraged by the outpouring of support for you and your family at your child’s visitation and funeral. I well remember how exhausting that was, but how much the presence of friends both old and new holds you up in those initial days after. I pray that you drew strength from that love poured from so many who love you and loved your child.

Please consider me a willing listening ear to hear whatever you need to say, or to just sit in silence when the words won’t come. I’ve walked this dark road and would be pleased to walk it again with you, if that would help.

Even now, 21 months later, some of life’s moments still seem surreal. It’s like I step out of life and look at it in disbelief. Can this really be the life I’m living?

The day Ellie died I felt myself split in two. I remember riding in the ambulance with her and yet looking at the scene and thinking, “Is this really IT? Look at the way they are working on her. I think she is gone. Is this really happening? Is this really the way it’s going to end?”

And that numb detached feeling persisted through the funeral planning, the visitation, and the services. Whenever I’d step back into my life, I was saturated with sadness. I remember thinking that I had to figure out how to stop crying because it hurt too bad. My sinuses and eyes were swollen, throbbing, aching. Grief is a physical pain. So I would step back out when it got to be too much.

Ever so slowly, the crying slowed, though it will never stop completely.

Ever so slowly, I could move through a day a little more.

Grief is exhausting. I had no idea. I needed help with food preparation, clean-up, housework, laundry… for weeks. Every task took everything I had. Things I had done before without a thought took every ounce of concentration so that I didn’t leave water running or the stove on or milk on the counter.

At the same time, all those days I couldn’t figure out what was taking so much time and effort. Without Ellie and her needs, the days gaped empty. Again, another surreal element of that time. Those days finding your way through is so awkward. You feel the yawning emptiness in your family: Folding laundry and folding your child’s things for the last time, and then having one less pile of clothes. Their empty bed. Their silent equipment. I constantly looked for what I was forgetting, constantly counted heads because I wasn’t confident I could keep track of everyone anymore.

It took at least a month for my energy to return.

If I may offer a bit of advice? Many will say, “If there’s anything I can do…” Take them up on it. Mention the lawn that needs to be mowed, the dirty dishes, the vacuuming, the leaf-raking, the snow-shoveling, watching the kids so you can sleep, writing thank-you notes (I personally think that a grieving parent should never be expected to send thank-you notes.), doing laundry. It will give you rest and they will love to be of some small help to you.

And in the midst of crying your own tears and asking your own questions, your other children have fears and questions. They are worried for their parents. They make valiant efforts to understand death and funerals and where their brother or sister is versus where their body is.

I write in hope that knowing others have walked through this gives you hope. I hope that you can feel my arm around you as I weep with you.

Love and prayers,