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Lessons from losing a child

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  October 17, 2012 10:26 AM

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Today is my dead son's birthday.

He died a long time ago--sixteen years ago. He was born with a severe brain malformation that left him very disabled, with lots of seizures and other health problems. He died a few days after his first birthday.

I miss him, but not in the raw, longing way I used to. That passed years ago, as I came to peace with the fact that living was very hard for him and would only have gotten harder. He lived the lifetime he was meant to live. He is healed now in ways he could never be healed on earth.

claire and aidan 2.jpg

My grief now is different. It's in my marrow, in my bones, surfacing at sometimes unexpected moments, in ways that are often out of my control. There is a part of me that will always be gone--that's what happens when you lose a child. It has always seemed to me that my loss should be visible, like a scar across my face, because I am forever different. I am and always will be the mother of a child who died.

Even more than that, Aidan's death has left me with a deep, uncomfortable understanding of our vulnerability, of how all and everyone that we hold dear can be taken from us in an instant. Nothing is guaranteed; the world doesn't work that way. It never has.

Living with that knowledge fills me with panic on a regular basis--especially in the fall, the season of Aidan's birth and death. Flashes of something terrible happening to one of my other children, or my husband, grip me and nearly shatter me without warning. It is all I can do sometimes to pull myself together and keep moving forward.

But over the years, living with the knowledge of our vulnerability has also taught me to be deeply grateful for each and every day, for each and every moment with those I love. I am unaccountably blessed--by the privilege of being Aidan's mother, by my other five children, by my wonderful husband, my family, my friends, my colleagues and my patients. As much as I am panicked by the possibility of losing someone again, I am overwhelmed and humbled by what I've been given.

That is how I will honor my son today. As we do our remembrance at the cemetery, letting balloons go and watching them wind their way to Heaven, I will hold my loved ones close. And I will hold Aidan in my heart and thank him--for helping me understand that my life, and everything in it, is a gift.


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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