Can We Enjoy Life After the Death of a
Child? Learning About Grief and Life
By Patti Tillotson, Ph.D.
Five years have passed since the death of my 17 year old
daughter Stephanie. I am just now beginning to realize
that life can hold new meaning and great hope. In fact,
my future feels bright and joyful for the first time
since Stephanie's death. With five years of reflection
and grief behind me, I want to share my secrets for
evolving to this new life of joy in hopes that you may
find a golden nugget of wisdom to help you through the
Secret #1: Step into Your Pain
You will experience complete and utter darkness for
months after your child's death. It's OK. I can't
remember a single thing I did for the first 6 months
after my daughter's death. I got up, ate, cried, slept
and tried to maintain a daily routine. That's all I
remember. At times I was terrified of the pain and
sorrow. I tried to put sad thoughts out of my mind. But,
sadness often overwhelmed me and I ended up experiencing
the pain no matter how hard I tried. On good days, I
didn't want to think about Stephanie because I knew how
deeply the pain could carve itself in my heart. I
learned that the more I cried and the more I felt pain,
the faster I got to the other side of it. So I started a
daily mantra: Step into your fear, Step into your pain.
I continue to use this even today.
Secret #2: Find Ways to Connect With Your Granite
The day of Stephanie's funeral I found a dime on the
walkway heading up to our house. After that, I started
seeing dimes on the ground everywhere. One winter
morning I went for coffee at the local coffeehouse. Snow
covered the ground. When I came out of the coffeehouse I
looked down and there on the ground was a dime in the
only patch of parking lot asphalt that was not covered
with snow. It was unbelievable!
While I continue to find dimes, I've found other ways to
connect as well. Sometimes I think of Stephanie before I
go to sleep at night. Often when I do this, I will dream
of her. I also stay connected by emailing her friends.
We celebrate her birthday by going out to dinner every
year. It's a great way to remember the good times and
know that your child had value to others besides
Secret #3: Never Let Others Tell You What's Best
Over the years I had many friends try and tell me how I
should grieve. They would say well-intentioned things
like, "You need to get out more. Be with people." I knew
they had my best interest at heart. But I was not ready
to get out more or to be with people so I graciously
declined invitations. Only you know what's best for your
grief. Know one else, not even your spouse, can tell you
what's best. You have to dig down, reflect and decide
for yourself what's best for your grief. I do this even
now five years later.
Secret #4: Plan a New Future
When you are ready (and remember it's taken me five
years), plan a new future for yourself. Do you like the
outdoors? Do you like photography? Do you want to move
to Alaska? Choose a future that concentrates on
activities you love. You may feel guilty at first.
That's OK. Let it be. Eventually you will begin to see
that life can have new meaning, new joy, new hope, new
love. Remember, just like you wanted the best for your
child, your child wants the best for you. He or she
wants you to live a joy-filled life so go ahead and live
it in their honor! It will make you feel great!
Patti Tillotson is a survivor! A survivor of her teenage
daughter's death by suicide. A survivor of breast cancer
and a survivor of her own lifelong depression. She is a
Ph.D. scientist by training and is currently dedicated
to preventing suicide in teens. To raise money, she's
established a non-profit organization called
StepsForSteph in honor of her daughter Stephanie. Visit
her at http://StepsForSteph.com to learn more.