I moved from a large city to a small rural college town 4 years ago.  I have kept busy with grandchildren and building a house. I stay in touch with old friends, now scattered all over the country. I am fortunate to feel close to both of my children.  Finally, I get to run into people I know at the grocery store. Life is good.

I am typically labeled the “achiever” in my family of origin. I am the only one to have graduated high school, much less achieved a graduate degree.  I have enjoyed a financially comfortable adulthood in spite of a few serious medical challenges.

With all this, what do I know about loss? I have fond memories of a childhood marked by financial hardship, domestic violence and alcoholic parents. Days spent at the local public pool, converting a chicken coop to serve as a club house, crawdad fishing in nearby ponds and creeks and bike riding stand out brightly and wonderful. It never occurred to me that I would grow up to find myself abandoned by my family.  My three younger sisters all succumbed to various debilitating addictions: gambling, alcohol or cocaine which quickly supplanted family ties with the pursuit of their drug of choice. As much as I loved my sisters, it didn’t take long to realize they stayed in touch only to put the touch on me for money. From their perspective, I was rolling in it.

My life got filled with my marriage, my career, my children, my friendships and my service to the community. The void left by the absence of my sisters was never filled, however, and every holiday, birthday and celebration was tinged with sadness for this missing piece.

Bottom line? Grief for the loss of what might have been. Grief for the inability to spare those I loved the pain of the paths before them. Grief that never fully went away. Now that all three have died there is also grief for the reconciliations that were not to be.

What does this have to do with you? You find yourself loving children who have experienced this kind of loss.  Not the loss of death but the loss of what could have been, what should have been and what it means about the future. This loss has nothing to do with you but it is always there. Always there tugging away. Always complicating every trip to the amusement park. Always poisoning the pride possible in each achievement. Always questioning the ability and even the right to move on without those they once loved so dearly. Always struggling with where their loyalties lie, to know whom they owe what. So much of this goes on inside wordlessly, privately; sometimes even without knowledge of what the obstacle really is.

The 7-year-old processes all of this in her 7-year-old way; the 10-year-old goes through it again and the 15-year-old has an even different way of thinking about these experiences. Please don’t be surprised when stuff you heard 3 years ago rears its head again and again demanding your understanding and patience. Don’t be afraid to give voice to this, to find a way to integrate it into your child’s narrative. Help him or her find a place for this part of their story; it isn’t their whole story, just a big messy part of it that deserves respect and attention.

Thanks for listening. Take care of yourself.

Cathy