By Joy Pitts, MS, LPC, MIOP
Edited and modified by: Morgen Pitts, BBA
In Memory of
Ashley Jo Pitts
1988 – 1989
After losing a child, it is difficult to comprehend how you can go on living when dying seems so much simpler then experiencing the pain. You feel empty, helpless, and lost without any signs of relief in the future. How can you go on? This is an account of how I was able to continue to breathe each day thereafter:
On the morning of April 3, 1989, I slept longer than usual. When I woke, I felt panicked. My 4 month old daughter, Ashley Jo rarely allowed me to sleep. We had taken her to the doctors on several occasions to inquire about her excessive crying. They said it was colic. This day was different she wasn’t crying. She didn’t wake up. On this morning she slept more peacefully than ever in the arms of God regardless of everyone’s desperate attempts to try to keep her here on earth with us. In the hospital, my husband held her and rocked her as she eternally slept and the nurses stood and cried with him.
On this morning, my life changed forever. I was completely devastated. I couldn’t breathe and I didn’t WANT to. I didn’t want to live. I wanted to die with my sweet baby girl. My thoughts were irrational in so many ways. I thought if I didn’t participate then it wouldn’t happen. I didn’t plan the funeral. My very supportive family and husband took over the planning. They encouraged (well pushed) me to go to the viewing. I remember my grandmother specifically saying “We HAVE to go! Now come on!” in a very stern voice. And I went unwillingly. The only memory I have of the viewing was a small child standing in front of me by the white casket that looked much like a bassinet. The child was pointing and questioning why there was a small hole in her head. (It was iv attempt made while they were trying to save her life). I didn’t want to be there. I just wanted to die.
Before the funeral, we sat at the house as people came and went (and came and went) showing their support, their sorrow, and bringing food. It felt as if I were at a movie and I was just watching it on a screen. I watched as my Aunt Sissy cleaned vigorously. Picking up and washing glasses that were half full. May people were scurrying around the house trying to do anything to relieve their own pain. I couldn’t feel and I couldn’t breathe. I was void of emotion. I didn’t know how to make this stop. They gave me medication to help keep me calm. It wasn’t enough.
My father and my husband carried me into the church to say goodbye to our firstborn. To this very day, I cannot remember a word the pastor said or who participated. As we drove to the cemetery, I remember looking back and seeing cars following for as far as I could see. I felt like this was it. I could NOT stop it from happening. I wouldn’t ever be able to hold her again. I wouldn’t ever be able to rock her again or watch her grow up. I couldn’t save her and truly all I wanted was to die with her. As I noticed the graveside service was coming to an end and there was nothing I could do, I lost it. My mind once again was irrational. I grabbed for the casket and people grabbed me to take me away. All these American rituals to help people grieve seemed to only intensify my pain. I DIDN’T want to live without my daughter. I was her mother and I was suppose to protect her. There was no pain like this.
Every day after was a struggle to continue to live. It was literally hard to breathe and my entire body ached. I reached out to people hoping someone would be able to numb the pain. No one knew what to say or how to make it better. They were as devastated as I was at that time. And yes, I became angry, very angry. After everything I had been through in my childhood, why would God take my first child. Did he just hate me? Was this a punishment for all the things I have done wrong. Was God punishing me for not being the Christian I should have been? And most of all I was also angry at myself. Why wasn’t I able to save her life?
I consistently had irrational rapid thoughts that consisted of many ‘what ifs’.
- What if I would have got up earlier?
- What if I had taken her to another doctor.
- What if I would have been a better person and God would not have felt the need to punish me.
- What if I had performed CPR instead of panicking.
These thoughts haunted me for a very long time and lead me to a deep depression with more suicidal thoughts.
So, I am sure you are wondering how do you keep living after this horrendous tragedy. And you are likely expecting some profound cure I have found through my education or experience to rid your own depression and anxiety or an answer to keep you alive. I don’t have a one and I don’t have a magic wand to take your pain away. Yet, I can share with you a few things that helped me make it through each of the hardest days:
- Although I was angry at God, I believed he had a plan beyond my understanding and I was right.
- My husband, family, and friends were my rock when I didn’t think I could make it through another day. On many occasions, they held me while I cried and they shared their memories and sadness which was very helpful. I needed to know she would always be remembered.
- We attended Compassion Friends support group for people who had lost children. It helped me to realize I was not the only one who was going through this indescribable pain.
- I went to see a pastor for counseling.
- Medications to reduce the depression and anxiety.
- I distracted myself and became obsessed with learning ways through my education to help others.
- I also educated myself on coping skills and grief, as well as SIDS. I wanted to know why this happened and ways to heal myself.
I learned to cope to make it through the day. There were times my mind was still irrational. I remember thinking the first time it snowed that my daughter was cold and we needed to go to the cemetery and cover her with a blanket. Irrational thoughts were prevalent throughout my grieving process and I learned we do not have to believe everything we think.
All of these coping skills did not remove the pain or the rapid irrational thoughts, but they allowed me to see a future. Unfortunately, the pain never subsides yet embracing the challenges of everyday life and seeking help from professionals, family, and friends you will move forward in life.
And yes, you can go on living after the loss of a child? The pain and irrational thoughts will continue, yet they become bearable and other blessings enter your life. I have since been blessed with two wonderful children, three grandchildren, and 30 years of marriage. I am thankful for the wonderful life God has given me and I am happy to be living it every day.