Cindy Haines, Chief Medical Officer of HealthDay and Managing Editor of Physician’s Briefing recently remarked that “Grief is an inevitable component of life lived fully. It is a rare soul, indeed, who passes through unscathed. But losing a child ranks at the top of the hardest to bear.”
I have thought about this so often: What I would do if one of my kids died before me? I can’t begin to appreciate the pain, the heartache, a bereaved mother or father must feel, and the reserve of strength and determination that is needed to forge ahead.
I know that many of my readers have mourned the loss of their children. Several have asked me to write on this topic. However, as I am a mental-health blogger with two healthy children, I thought it best to get some help from a woman I do know that has lived through this and emerged on the other side successfully.
I sat her down for coffee the other morning and interrogated her.
Dot Frantum — known as Miss Dot to my kids and the other hundreds of kids wearing a St. Mary’s school uniform — is somewhat of a celebrity on Duke of Gloucester Street. She’s the infamous crossing guard that most moms are afraid of. Admittedly, until we chatted over coffee, I was among them. No one would suspect, I don’t think, that she had to bury her 18-year-old son a few days after April 21, 1984, when he died in a tragic car accident after being medevaced to shock trauma.
“How did you get over it?” I asked her.
“You don’t. You never get over it,” she said. “But life does get better. Slowly. Gradually.”
At the time of the accident, Dot was running a daycare center out of her home. To insure she didn’t have enough time to think about the death, she took in (and I’m not lying when I say this) six six-week-year-old babies. “That way,” she explained, “my mind would be totally preoccupied.” That it was! As well as her arms and her legs.
“The first year is always the hardest,” she repeated a few times throughout the interview, “but it does get better.”
For Dot it got better after she knew Scott wasn’t in pain and that Dot’s mom, who died two weeks after Scott, was taking good care of him. Since the day he died, she had wanted a sign, something to confirm that he was okay and that she could let go. One night she dreamed that she, Scott, and Dot’s mom were in a room.
Scott said to her, “It’s okay, Mom. It doesn’t hurt. I’m all right.”
She knew, upon waking up, that it really was okay, and that her son was united with her mother. She could let go.
Today Dot helps any St. Mary’s mom — or any parent she learns of — that has lost a child. She also has a renewed sense of purpose in keeping all the children safe who cross the highly trafficked Duke of Gloucester Street to get to school. She goes beyond her call of duty as she makes them laugh and asks them for their stories. “I love my work,” she told me. “I like to be there for the kids.”
“What do you say to the person who has lost a child?” I asked her.
“That you can think about your son or daughter as much as you want to; that you can cry as much as you want to; that you can do whatever you need to do to get yourself through it… Especially that first year, when you can’t understand why they are not with you; and that it really, truly does get better.”