No parent wants to imagine their child dying. To think that your little bundle of joy would pass away before they could live a full life is unfathomable. But when a parent does lose a child, it can feel like a shock to the system, and recovering is a life-long process we need to talk about.
In 2018 Catastrophe actor Rob Delaney revealed that his 2-year-old son Henry died after a long battle with brain cancer. This week, speaking at a fundraiser for families with seriously ill children, Delaney spoke candidly about how hard the last 14 months have been, the Evening Standard reports.
“I’m a mess. My child died 14 months ago and I’m basically a bag of wet rubbish. I need a lot of help. It has been very hard. It comes in waves. I’ve learned to not control how the waves come. Right now I’m sad a lot,” he said, explaining that he shares this openly in the hopes that “if a bereaved parent or bereaved sibling reads this, I want them to know that it’s okay that they feel terrible, sad, confused and so brutally humbled.”
In a previous Facebook post about Henry’s death, the 42-year-old comedian shared that Henry had been diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after his first birthday, and had undergone surgery to remove the tumor, as well as additional treatment. But the cancer returned and he passed away shortly after.
As a way to cope with his loss, Delaney wrote that he focuses his energy on his family—his two other sons and his wife, Leah. He said in his post, “I am astonished by the love-in-action displayed by Henry’s mom and his brothers. They are why I will endeavor to not go mad with grief. I don’t want to miss out on their beautiful lives. I’m greedy for more experiences with them.”
Delaney’s message about grieving is so important, especially for other bereaved parents. In that one statement, Delaney highlights one big, undeniable truth: How a parent decides to mourn the loss of their child is a deeply personal choice.
“Mourning is the outward or public expression of grief, a means of sharing grief with people who also are grieving or who want to support you,” writes oncologist Dr. Edward Creagan for the Mayo Clinic. “Religious rituals, cultural traditions and personal beliefs often shape how we mourn.
“Whatever form it takes, mourning is a critical process that can help you lessen the intensity of grief and help you adapt to your loss.“
For Sandy Peckinpah, a certified grief recovery specialist, mourning the loss of her 16-year-old son meant turning to a journal. In an essay for HuffPost, Peckinpah writes that after her son’s death from misdiagnosed bacterial meningitis, she felt as though her pain was “visible to others, and I would forever be wearing grief as a mask and a tagline… ‘I’m Sandy Peckinpah and I’ve lost a child.'”
“Then a friend gave me a journal and said, ‘Write. Just write,'” Peckinpah continues. On the first page, she could only write one sentence: “My son died and my life will never be the same.”
“The next day, I wrote a paragraph, and each day after that I found words came more easily. My journal became my safe haven to empty the well of my sorrow, pouring tears of ink onto paper. And for a little while, I could let my emotions rest,” shares Peckinpah.
Whether it’s pouring yourself into your family or into a journal, there’s one thing for sure: Grief is not a one-way street. Grief is a twisting, never-ending highway with exits and on-ramps and merging lanes and service roads.
Over time, your feelings of grief will subside or, at least, “feel less constant as if it’s moved into the background of your emotions,” Creagan writes. “But long after a death,” he continues, “you may also find yourself caught off guard by a moment of profound grief, for example, on the anniversary of the death, during holidays or on your loved one’s birthday.”
In other words: You never know when the pain of your loss will hit you—or when you’re even ready to move on.
And that’s okay, bereaved parents. It’s okay if you don’t go “mad with grief”—and it’s okay if you do. It’s okay if you break down in your kitchen—and if you laugh at your friend’s bad dad joke. Grief is not uniform.
But just remember: You don’t have to walk this journey alone.
[A version of this post was first published February 12, 2018. It has been updated.]