Momservation: The best way to help a parent grieving over the loss of a child is to remind them their child will never be forgotten.
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When the sympathy cards trickle to a stop. When the warm dinners are no longer waiting on the porch. When life has swept everyone else back into the comfort of daily routines where does that leave her?
Alone in a cemetery trying to cover up a fresh patch of dirt with flowers. Trying to find the courage to put her son’s name on a tombstone. Numb and hollow and still bewilderly asking the unmarked plot, “Why are you here?”
Erin’s raw pain breaks my heart. As I try to get her out of the house whose emptiness haunts her—the ghost of Colin smiling from every family portrait, too heartbreaking to leave up, too painful to take down— we try every machine and class in the gym to try to beat back her living nightmare for at least an hour with merciful exhaustion.
Sometimes we talk about Colin and the orange butterflies that began appearing in her yard the day after he died and continue to mysteriously flit around her family. The last picture of Colin the day before he suddenly died from an aortic aneurism is of him as an orange and black butterfly at the San Francisco Zoo. Is it their middle son reaching out sending a heavenly sign? We think so.
Sometimes we talk about what’s going on in a world that stubbornly insists on going on despite the Muilenburg family no longer knowing how to find their way in it.
And sometimes Erin shares what it looks like to live the devastation of losing a child. Each time she tells me of some new hurdle in the grieving process, one no one could foresee because no one will let their brain even for moment travel down that horrific road, I am amazed and proud that Erin is beside me on that elliptical machine trying to find a way to survive the unimaginable.
“I have to do something, Kelli,” she says. Alluding to giving in and sinking to the bottom of her ocean of grief she stated, “The alternative is too bleak a place to reside.”
Knowing how I’ve tried to be a floatie for Erin in her ocean of grief, many people have asked, “What can we do to help?”
After one particularly hard day of dealing with the reality of having to design a tombstone for your child, I came up with an answer that I think would be an excellent floatie in Erin’s ocean of grief:
Let’s bring flowers, orange butterflies, Star Wars, Legos, a piece of chocolate, or a favorite poem or inspirational quote to the Fair Oaks Cemetery (7780 Olive St, Fair Oaks 95628).
Each week Erin goes to replace 3 vases of flowers that she uses to try to cover the brown scar in the beautiful cemetery that now represents her baby. It disturbs her that Colin’s grave is unmarked except for a temporary marker, yet she cannot bring herself to design and pay for a symbol that her child is dead. She is also so afraid her wonderful, vibrant Colin will be forgotten.
But what if she were to go to that cemetery and see that someone was there besides her? A physical symbol left that Colin will never be forgotten. So simple a gesture to keep her from drowning.
I know because I went with her to the cemetery, to the fresh plot under the shade of a giant tree right near the front gate on Olive Street (on the road that has the main office).
I went back later to add an orange and black glass butterfly stake for Erin and Colin and so visitors could find it. I also left inspirational stones. The gesture, when it was discovered, was overwhelming to Erin—but in a good way for once in these last two excruciating months.
My local friends, let’s not just count our blessings. Let’s make them count. In the name of happy, healthy, safe children let’s remind Erin and her family that Colin will never be forgotten. Even the smallest sign that someone besides her was at the last place she wants to be will let her catch her breath from the pain long enough for a glimmer of hope for better days ahead.