I struggled greatly with writing this post. Not just with the actual content itself, or with telling a story befitting my courageous friend and her tiny angel, but in asking for insight into a topic that, as a culture, we typically shy away from because it is so painful. I don’t think people truly understand how much is lost when a baby dies. And I know I absolutely do not. But if you ask any parent who has experienced something as horrific as the loss of a child, they will tell you that not even one day goes by that they don’t think of them; what they would look like, what they would be doing, what they would be getting into. It isn’t a scenario that you get over. Ever. And it’s important to remember that they didn’t just lose the two years that their child lived. They lost the next five years, ten years, their first day of school, homecoming dances, prom dresses and graduation caps...
My knowledge as a single mother covers a lot of ground and a lot of life experiences. But this area, comforting a grieving mother who had just lost her only child, falls so far from home base that I came up completely empty handed. What do you say when words just aren’t enough? How do you promise that life will get easier and that things will get better when you know damn well that they won’t? My close friend lost her two-year-old son to a terrible tragedy a couple years ago and I wished I had known better what to do, what to say. Instead, I did the only thing I could think of, and that was to cry with her.
Some say that the strongest people in the world are single mothers (there’s a reason they call them superheroes in disguise). Others say that a grieving mother who wakes up every morning and keeps going is the strongest type. But what about the single mothers who have lost a child? The ones who wake up to an empty house, a quiet house, with no one to understand or share in their pain? I wanted to know how anyone could survive this and continue to function, because I certainly don’t think I would be able to. And rather than judging her journey, I wanted to understand, if only for a fraction of a second, what it was like to walk in her shoes. Perhaps then, and only then, would I ever be able to offer any words of comfort to someone going through a tragedy like this.
These are my dear friend’s honest answers to surviving life after losing her son. Meet Ashley, and her sweet angel, Tyrese.
Tyrese was a bubbly two-year-old; quirky, energetic and constantly on the move. His mom gushes when she talks about him. “I used to think that I was just that mom that thought their child had the most amazing personality… but we heard it from everyone! His daycare provider, other parents, complete strangers…”
I smile when I hear how Ashley describes her little boy Tyrese (Ty, as he was known to those close to him). Bubbly and outgoing, light-hearted, always smiling…if you know his mommy, then you know that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “I would catch him singing all the time. He would lay down and put his ears under the water and just sing to himself and laugh at how funny he sounded.”
Asking for just one favorite memory is far too difficult, as any mommy knows, but a few moments that do stand out were the nights they would lay in bed together, watching movies and eating popcorn. "He would look at me with those giant brown eyes and say ‘more please…love you momma.” Just thinking about his loving and affectionate ways sends Ashley’s mind jogging down memory lane. “What I loved most about being Ty’s mom was the love he made me feel…when your baby spreads their arms and does a full-on sprint to you with a giant smile on their face…you know you’re doing something right.”
I have often stated how hard being a single mom is. There are no breaks, no time-outs, no help when your toddler is running one way and your shopping cart is rolling another. And when Ashley and I used to chat about mommy hood, we would often laugh and relate to one another. She said that, for her, what was hardest was knowing that everything was always on her shoulders. Asking for help was tough, and never wanting to burden others just ended up making her feel very alone. I think this is so common amongst single moms (at least, it was with me). We are superheroes and we can do it all alone. But we oftentimes forgot how brave it is to ask for help and how important it is to accept help when it is offered.
Self-compassion is the act of not judging yourself, or allowing others to judge you. It means not blaming yourself, but learning to accept your faults and your mistakes; learning to love yourself. Self-compassion is a life lesson that most of us have yet to conquer (me included). After Ty passed away, Ashley relied on strength from family and friends to keep her going, but at times, even that didn’t feel like enough. “I kept thinking that I would wake up from this nightmare with his pudgy little foot in my face and we would go about our daily routine. I still have moments where I don’t feel like it has actually happened.”
I feel like we often hear people say cliché things like “time heals all wounds” or “…it will get easier in time.” And while I think for certain situations, like sixteen-year-old heartbreak, this may hold true, I don’t think that the loss of a child is ever something that gets easier, you just learn how to live with the pain. You learn how to survive. Ashley specifically commented on this, saying “People always tell me, ‘it will get easier’… it hasn’t. Or they will say, ‘I know what you’re going through’…they don’t.”
Surviving isn’t easy. Losing a child is a long and emotional process. “The only thing I can think of that would make this easier would be if my heart stopped beating too.” Out of nowhere, for no reason, the tears can come. A sad song on the radio, a ray of sunshine coming through the clouds, a picture, a thought, a memory, sheer and utter silence; anything can trigger a breakdown and a heartache “..so painful that it literally hurts my entire body.”
For Ashley, making it through each day has been a learning and a growing process. A process that likely has no end. People say to take it day by day, but she has found it easier to take it minute by minute, hour by hour. “All I can do is push forward. I pray I live a life that will get me to heaven so I can see Tyrese again one day.”
Ashley is a survivor. She has been through the unimaginable; a journey most of us will never have to endure. She is an inspiration on what the human mind, body, and soul are capable of. Through her journey she proves that a mother’s love never dies, that grief is not a sign of weakness, but is the ultimate price paid for love. She proves what it is to be courageous and to continue fighting. And she proves that this isn’t the end of her story. Her story is far from over.
So, what is the answer to the question, what do you say when words are not enough? I don't think there is an answer. I think the only thing you can do is to turn your head upwards and to pray. You find a way to walk by faith and not by sight. When life brings you to your knees, you are in the perfect position to pray. And much like a child to their mother, you ask God for guidance and for strength. To pray is to let go and to let God take over.
Jesus said 'Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' Ty leaves behind a legacy that has forever changed people's hearts and lives. He has marked this world with his tiny footprints. His story is one to be told and shared. His life is one to be celebrated and remembered.
Until the day comes when Ashley is reunited with her angel, she wants people to remember Ty as a loving and charismatic little boy with a giant smile that would spread across his entire face.
Shortly after Tyrese was taken off life support, his organs were donated so that another child could receive the gift of life. A one-year-old girl received his kidneys and Ty’s memory lives on through her and through all who had the opportunity to share their life with him.