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Celebrating My Son's First Day of Kindergarten, Grieving the One My Daughter Never Had

When I dropped my son off for his first day of Kindergarten this morning, I was overcome with tears. Not for him or for me, but for my daughter who died five years ago. Being a grieving mom is never easy. Being a grieving mom on the first day of school is brutal.

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Grief is a funny thing, too, that you can never fully prepare yourself for. Last night, up late with anticipation for what today would bring, I wrote a quick little ditty for my Facebook friends:

"'Twas the night before Kindergarten and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for us all. The backpack was packed with pencils and glue, in hopes that studies and fun would ensue.

The child was nestled all snug in his bed, while visions of recess danced in his head. And Mom out to Target and Dad at his laptop, we're all tuckered out from the long summer's play.

Now autumn! Now cocoa! Now report cards and homework! Apples and leaves and pumpkins and colds! Here's to warm cider and donuts, too! Let's dash away and play away and go back to school!"

I had no idea, writing those silly words, that nine hours later I would be a crying mess in the front seat of my car. In the moments I wrote those words, I was full of happiness and hope. My son was going to be able to do something his sister never did. There was gratitude, not sadness. Gratitude for a healthy child, a child who had aged into Kindergarten — a milestone his sister never reached.

When a child dies, a life unfinished is lost; their potential is always to remain unknown.

This morning, after my son was dropped off and settled in his new school and his new classroom, that was when the grief hit me. That is when the tears poured. When a child dies, a life unfinished is lost; their potential is always to remain unknown.

This time of year is always hard for a grieving parent. This age of social media we live in, with Facebook feeds full of happy photos of children returning to school and wearing backpacks bigger than themselves only underscores our loss.

It is hard, but it is also life. Children grow up. That is the natural order of things; that is supposed to happen.

And here is where I'm gonna get really real, folks. When those same photos come across my feeds, photos that I love to see with those happy, expectant faces, I always wince just a bit if the captions for those photos include things like, “STOP GROWING!” “I am so sad on Billy’s first day of school!” “They grow up too fast — I wish they would just stop!”

I never say it online, as I don’t mean to shame my friends and family, but if I could do so today, my message would be this: Celebrate your kiddos getting older. Revel in their growth and milestones. Focus on the growing up, rather than the speed in which it happens.

All of us moms know that childhood is a fleeting thing. Grieving moms know this even more acutely. It’s understandable to feel like you want to hold on to these brief, shining days of young childhood. Hell, I do it myself some days.

But here, today, as another school year sets in, I have a challenge for you. See your growing kids for the miracle they are. Guide them with joy into who they are becoming rather than trying to hold on to the child they were last month or last year. Know that because you are doing everything right, your kiddo is growing and developing and being challenged just as they should be.

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That, my dear moms, is this grieving mom’s challenge to you, as your children grow older:

Celebrate. Revel. Focus. See. Guide. Know.

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