Today is the 13th anniversary of my beautiful baby boy Connor leaving earth and going back to heaven. On August 5th, 1997 he died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). I was explaining to someone yesterday that, while it gets easier, it changes you forever. His anniversary sometimes creeps up on me and then I wake up and realize why I’m feeling a bit strange. The weather today is exactly like it was the day he died. There are some minutes of that day that I can remember exactly and others that I think, out of self-preservation, my mind has chosen to forget.
Ironically I spoke with two sets of parents yesterday who also lost their children – both under very different circumstances. Yesterday on my radio show, Keeping It Together With Alison, The Safety Mom, my guest was Marc Klaas, the father of Polly Klaas. Polly was the young girl who was abducted from her own home in 1993 and brutally raped and murdered. I can’t even imagine the torment that man went through as he had to sit in the same court room with the monster that killed his child and refrain from lunging at him. Marc went on, however, to start KlaasKids http://www.klaaskids.org , an organization dedicated to keeping kids safe from abductions. He’s an amazing man and I was so honored to have him on my show.
Then, last night, we had some new friends over for dinner. I learned that their college-aged daughter died in a horrific car crash the same year I lost Connor. Our friends had four other children at the time and she explained to me how it affected each of them in different ways.
While all of our losses are different they are equally as painful. The grief of a parent is all-consuming. After Connor died I became very involved in the SIDS community and sat on the board of directors for First Candle – http://www.firstcandle.org . The group’s support was invaluable in helping me work through my grief. In those first few days, family and friends were constantly asking what they could do to help – I had no idea. They felt completely helpless and, to be honest, they were. But, over the years I’ve been able to help other parents and friends of grieving families with some ideas on what they can do and say when a child dies:
• Parents are in shock when their child’s death first occurs. A suggestion that they might not consider is saving a lock of their child’s hair. For some this provides enormous comfort.
• LISTEN! Many people avoid talking to the parents about the child because they feel it will make them more upset. Actually it’s just the opposite. Ask them to share special memories of their child and let them talk.
• In the first few days after the death there is tremendous commotion. But then, after a week or two, everyone goes back to their daily lives and the parents are left with the realization that they can never go back to “normal.” It’s then that parents will appreciate the phone calls and even a surprise dinner brought over. The quiet, simple gestures mean everything.
• A change of scenery helps. If they have other children, offer to babysit so that they can go out – even if it’s just a quick dinner or a movie. If they don’t consider getting a group of people together to chip in for theater tickets or some other event. They’ll just be going through the motions but it distracts their thoughts, even for just a brief time.
• Don’t forget birthdays and anniversaries. Even thirteen years later I so appreciate getting calls from family and friends just saying that they remembered the day and they were thinking of us. Some people think that by “reminding” the parents it makes them sad. Trust me, we never forget and the thought that other people also remember makes us happy.
I miss you Connor, love Mommy.
Alison Rhodes is the founder of Safety Mom Enterprises and Safety Mom Solutions, the premier baby proofing and child safety company in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. Alison is a family safety expert, TV personality and consultant.