By: Jennifer Haake
Parenting is tricky. You question yourself and every single decision you make. You worry. You worry about everything. Are they happy? Are they emotionally cared for? Am I giving them everything they need to become successful adults? The list is endless.
As a bereaved parent with surviving children, the self-doubt and worry are exacerbated.
Charlie was baby C of a triplet pregnancy. For 34 weeks I kept him fed, safe, and surrounded by love. Then the unimaginable happened. From the moment I saw their beautiful faces and dark hair; I was changed. The way I became a parent has shaped who I am and how I parent. From the day the three of them were born I refused to allow the NICU staff to call his sisters twins. They aren’t. I asked they refer to them as “the girls.” I began fiercely protecting his memory from that moment without realizing it. I struggle at times when people ask me if my girls are twins. I really do, but in the end, I always say “No, they are surviving triplets.” More times than not, I am met with a look of confusion as the person works out what I just said. Then the realization of what I said dawns on them. The next face is one of perhaps pity.
I’m sure that, prior to losing Charlie, I would have made that same face. How would I know any different if such a thing had never happened to me?
And then comes the awkward pause. It is palpable. Since I am pretty well versed at this dance now, I continue on with conversation and steer people down another path.
In a way, that person has learned a lesson. One that we have all heard a million times. Things are not always what they seem, and you may not always like the answer. As our daughters have gotten older, they correct people also. For them, it is as natural as breathing. Watching them tell people about their brother is amazing. It is normal for them and unlike with adults, children accept this as fact and move on. We have never shied away from the fact that they have a brother.
I often question if that was the wrong or the right decision. I only know it was the best decision for our family at that time, and I don’t want to retract that choice. He is my son. He will be my only son.
I want everyone to know who he is and what he means to us. We include him in everything our family does in one way or the other. A sock monkey in a family photo. A birthday party at the cemetery. He is always included. Our friends include him in their beach vacations. We have images of his name written in the sand from all over the world.
The part of parenting that I struggle with the most is the worry.
It is constant. I have heard this from so many other bereaved parents as well. The fear of losing another child is crippling at times. I certainly worry. A perfect example is when our youngest daughter was in the NICU. I cannot tell you how many times I had to convince myself she wasn’t going to die. One morning in particular stands out. I walked in the NICU and she was in a swing. The nurse had given her a multivitamin that stained her lips a dark color. I lost my mind. I was convinced she had died. The nurse tried to reassure me. She pointed at the monitor showing me she was okay. But my brain would have no part of it. I scared the other parents with my complete panic outburst. Eventually, the rational part of my brain kicked in and I sat holding her. Sobbing. Shaking. Praying that she was okay. She is an adorable 4-year-old now, but when I recall that moment my chest tightens, my breathing quickens, and I tear up. That desperately helpless feeling hasn’t gone away. Most of the time I manage it better.
But I worry. I worry about everything, but my girls don’t know that I worry. Because that wouldn’t be fair to them.
I let them fall and scrape their knees. Or walk down to the neighbor’s house to play. I let them be children, get dirty, and jump in the deep end of the pool. I don’t want them to remember the mom who was always scared. I want them to remember the mom who let them be fearless. To the outsider I probably look like the mom who isn’t concerned, the complete opposite being true. To manage my worry, I do yoga (where I always cry…always), I paint, I listen to music, or I talk with other bereaved moms. While I am often successful in managing the worry, it is a struggle. But to be fair, being a bereaved parent is a struggle. It gets better with time. Maybe not better in the traditional sense, but we find better ways to cope.
Losing Charlie has certainly shaped the type of parent I am.
I can say with 100% accuracy that I would have been the overbearing mom who focused on the small stuff instead of the big picture. Losing Charlie made me a much more patient mom. I try not to sweat the small stuff. I try to live in the moment and absorb every giggle, every small moment; because to them the small moments are often big. I’m not always successful, but I am mindful of it. Life isn’t always fair. Many times, we are handed the unimaginable. I certainly was. What I do with it is up to me. So, I volunteer with Share, and I am a parent companion. My husband is on the Board of Directors for Share, and our girls are old enough to help at Share events as well. If you attended the walk this year, chances are one of my girls gave you a red pinwheel.
My job as Charlie’s mom is to give him the life he wasn’t given.
I honor him every way I can. By sharing our stories, we are educating others how to help families who suffer a loss. One day, they may be in a situation where something I said or did will help them support another family.
Derek and Jennifer Haake are proud parents of three daughters and one son. They have been happily married for almost 15 years. You can often find them and their daughters rooting for the Cardinals and the Blues. They both want nothing more than to share their story and help others. Derek, serves on the Board of Directors of Share, while Jennifer volunteers and is a parent companion for Share.