POV: As news of the death of ‘Shanaya The First’ broke on 16th of May 2019, it turned out to be one of the most tumultuous days of my life personally. I lost a part of my own reality, I stumbled across the room when I heard that our cancer warrior was no more, a part of me died too. In her passing, I lost a champion friend that bonded with through social media.
Whenever I needed a pick-me-up, I would browse her cheerful gaze on her Facebook page, checking up on how she was coping. It was her pure innocence and ‘shakti’ from within that made me get up and get going for another day. Personally, I could feel that ‘Shanaya The First’ was an old soul who has come upon this world – not just this once – but many times before as an avatar of hope for humanity. Battling a rare form of cancer known as Ewing’s-Sarcoma, through her own testament showed me true faith and belief that I can also beat the dreaded disease.
Her time was limited with her family but that didn’t stop her from inspiring millions of people, she inspired every single person that had come in contact with her. As Shanaya succumbed to her illness on May 16, the news broke and in turn, I broke into a million pieces as well.
I have a big mouth especially when I have my soapbox moment with God but on this day I thanked the omnipotent one for giving us the opportunity to learn and draw strength from ‘Shanaya the First’.
Thousands of messages are flowing through social media for the Govender family as they prepare for Shanaya’s last rites dubbed ‘A Celebration of her life’. The loss of a child is one that cannot be compared to any other; it’s also one that is sometimes misunderstood. The ‘good days’ that we saw Shanaya express on her Facebook page made us smile, she spurred us on. But for her to have that moment we call the ‘good days’ amongst the hard ones was actually painfully intense for her. Compassion and love, not advice, are needed.
If you’d like an inside look into why the loss of a child is a grief that lasts a lifetime, here is what I’ve learned in the loss of my own child. This is something that I do not speak of but Shanaya is laughing over me right now as she spends time with my boy in the Elysian fields. One of my biggest support bases comes from another continent from a fellow author and one who also lost her son.
Here are some valuable lessons that I grasped from her as I dealt with loss that took me literally years to get over.
Love lives here & never dies
There will never come a day, hour, minute or second I stop loving or thinking about my son. Just as parents of living children unconditionally love their children always and forever, so do bereaved parents. I want to say and hear his name just the same as non-bereaved parents do. I want to speak about my deceased child as normally and naturally as you speak of your living ones.
I love my child just as much as you love yours– the only difference is mine lives in heaven and talking about him is unfortunately quite taboo in our culture. I hope to change that. Our culture isn’t so great about hearing about children gone too soon, but that doesn’t stop me from saying my son’s name and sharing his love and light everywhere I go. Just because it might make you uncomfortable, doesn’t make him matter any less. My son’s life was cut irreversibly short, but his love lives on forever and ever.
Bereaved parents share an unspeakable bond.
In my years navigating the world as a bereaved parent, I am continually struck by the power of the bond between bereaved parents.
Strangers become kindred folk in mere seconds– a look, a glance, a knowing of the heart connects us, even if we’ve never met before. No matter our circumstances, who we are, or how different we are, there is no greater bond than the connection between parents who understand the agony of enduring the death of a child. It’s a pain we suffer for a lifetime, and unfortunately only those who have walked the path of child loss understand the depth and breadth of both the pain and the love we carry.
I will grieve for a lifetime.
Period. The end. There is no “moving on,” or “getting over it.” There is no bow, no fix, and no solution to heartache. There is no end to the ways I will grieve and for how long I will grieve. There is no glue for my broken heart, no elixir for my pain, no going back in time. For as long as I breathe, I will grieve and ache and love my son with all my heart and soul. There will never come a time where I won’t think about who my son would be, what he would look like, and how he would be woven perfectly into the tapestry of my family. I wish people could understand that grief lasts forever because love lasts forever; that the loss of a child is not one finite event, it is a continuous loss that unfolds minute by minute over the course of a lifetime. Every missed birthday, holiday, milestone; weddings that will never be; grandchildren that should have been but will never be born– an entire generation of people are irrevocably altered forever. This is why grief lasts forever. The ripple effect lasts forever. The bleeding never stops. It’s a club I can never leave, but is filled with the most shining souls I’ve ever known.
This crappy club called child loss is a club I never wanted to join, and one I can never leave, yet is filled with some of the best people I’ve ever known.
And yet we all wish we could jump ship– which we could have met another way–any other way but this. Alas, these shining souls are the most beautiful, compassionate, grounded, loving, movers, shakers and healers I have ever had the honor of knowing. They are life-changers, game-changers, relentless survivors and thrivers. Warrior moms and dads who redefine the word brave. Every day loss parents move mountains in honor of their children gone too soon. They start movements, change laws, and spearhead crusades of tireless activism. Why? In the hope that even just one parent could be spared from joining the club. If you’ve ever wondered who some of the greatest world changers are, hang out with a few bereaved parents and watch how they live, see what they do in a day, a week, a lifetime.
Watch how they alchemize their grief into a force to be reckoned with, watch how they turn tragedy into transformation, loss into legacy. Love is the most powerful force on earth, and the love between a bereaved parent and his/her child is a life force to behold. Get to know a bereaved parent. You’ll be thankful you did.
The empty chair/room/space never becomes less empty.
Empty chair, empty room, and empty space in every family picture. Empty, vacant, forever gone for this lifetime. Empty spaces that should be full, everywhere we go. There is and will always be a missing space in our lives, our families, a forever-hole-in-our-hearts. Time does not make the space less empty. Neither does platitudes, clichés or well wishes for us to “move on,” or “stop dwelling,” from well-intentioned friends or family. Nothing does. No matter how you look at it, empty is still empty. Missing is still missing. Gone is still gone. The problem is nothing can fill it. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after heartbreaking year the empty space remains. The empty space of our missing child(ren) lasts a lifetime. And so we rightfully miss them forever. Help us by holding the space of that truth for us.
No matter how long it’s been, holidays never become easier without my son.
Never, ever. Have you ever wondered why every holiday season is like torture for a bereaved parent? Even if it’s been 5, 10, or 25 years later? It’s because they really, truly are. Imagine if you had to live every holiday without one or more of your precious children. Imagine how that might feel for you. It would be easier to lose an arm, a leg or two– anything— than to live without your flesh and blood, without the beat of your heart. Almost anything would be easier than living without one of more of your precious children. That is why holidays are always and forever hard for bereaved parents. Don’t wonder why or even try to understand. Know you don’t have to understand in order to be a supportive presence. Consider supporting and loving some bereaved parents. It will be the best gift you could ever give them.
Because I know deep sorrow, I also know unspeakable joy.
Though I will grieve the death of my son forever and then some, it does not mean my life is lacking happiness and joy. Quite the contrary, in fact, though it took awhile to get there. It is not either/or, it’s both/and. My life is richer now. I love from a deeper place. I love deeper still. Because I grieve I also know a joy like no other. The joy I experience now is far deeper and more intense than the joy I experienced before my loss. Such is the alchemy of grief. Because I’ve clawed my way from the depth of unimaginable pain, suffering and sorrow, again and again– when the joy comes, however and whenever it does– it is a joy that reverberates through every pore of my skin and every bone in my body. I feel all of it, deeply: the love, the grief, the joy, and the pain. I embrace and thank every morsel of it. My life now is more rich and vibrant and full, not despite my loss, but because of it. In grief there are gifts, sometimes many. These gifts don’t in any way make it all “worth” it, but I am grateful beyond words for each and every gift that comes my way. I bow my head to each one and say thank you, thank you, and thank you.
Because there is nothing– and I mean absolutely nothing– I take for granted. Living life in this way gives me greater joy than I’ve ever known possible.