Every bereavement is a difficult process, but the death of a child can be the heaviest loss to bear. It is often said that there is no worse situation for parents to be faced than the death of their child. Karen Roberts lost her son Ollie in 2014. He died from a brain tumour at just nine years of age. Karen spoke to the Art of Dying Well about how this loss has impacted her life and the life of her family.
“The emotional side of it is horrendous, because it is disabling. It is absolutely disabling.”
Karen shared with us that the hardest part of living with this loss is the emotional effects that are often uncontrollable. “The worst thing about the emotional side is that you can’t escape it, there’s no escape and there’s no upside to losing a child. You cannot polish this.”
After Ollie’s death, Karen said that time with her family became difficult, as she was always keenly aware of the absence of her son, which is harder at different times.
“On a really bad day, and I had one recently, and it’s generally on a weekend, because weekends are family days generally for everyone. But my family has changed forever.”
“Those are the times when you really struggle emotionally. And people say Christmas, Easter… but actually, it’s just an ongoing struggle because there’s always one child missing. We’re always one child missing.”
However, Karen told us that her grieving goes beyond family gatherings and in fact permeates all of life.
“It’s just everywhere, and everywhere you go and everything that you do… is an overwhelming sadness that Ollie’s not there to share it with you. So even the happy times, and really lovely times with the boys and the family now, it’s always bittersweet. So, the sweetness is it’s lovely being together, it’s lovely enjoying stuff as a family still. But it’s always tinged with that sadness that Ollie’s not there.”
Karen does not believe that she will ever be able to fully recover from losing Ollie. Reflecting on the phrase ‘time heals’ she said this.
“I don’t think that will ever be any different. I think people who say ‘time heals’ no, time will take off the sharp edges. Time will never heal this. Time cannot heal this.”
Karen has however found some peace in accepting the way in which the life of her family has changed by accepting that the emotional turmoil that comes with losing a child is completely normal.
“But there again, there’s some comfort, emotionally, in knowing that this is actually how it is. God forbid, but if this was one of my best friends I’d say to her, ‘well how did you think it was gonna be?’ You know? You’ve lost something which is so precious it’s irreplaceable. How did you think you were going to be? What you feel is normal.”
The Art of Dying Well project is very grateful to Karen and her family for sharing with us on this difficult topic. We hope it will be of comfort to others.