The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why we should talk about our children who have passed

(Photo by Cindy Singleton/iStock)

It was dark, cold day in October. At least that’s how it felt from my son’s dimly lit hospital room. In my mind, I imagine it raining outside, the fog lining the windows and obscuring our view of college dorm rooms, sidewalks, the arboretum across the street. I don’t remember many of the details of the day. I just remember holding my son’s hand, weeping as I set by his hospital crib, watching the clock, praying and hoping for answers, and sitting with his doctors as we discussed the end of Charlie’s life. His lungs were tired, and he was ready to go.

I’ve laid awake replaying those conversations, and replaying what happened only hours after, when a hand knocked loudly on our door in the parents’ sleep room, and a nurse’s voice told me to come quickly. I ran to his side only in time to be seated in a rubbery hospital recliner and have my son disconnected from his oxygen support and placed in my arms. His heart gave out. He was done, and my wish was to hold him when it was time.

Before the death of my son, I didn’t want to think about death. I didn’t want to talk about it. As a mom, talking to other parents who had a child that died made me nervous, as if I could “catch” the bug, and something tragic would happen to my child.

I am not that person anymore. I have changed, and I have seen things from shoes that I never wanted to be in. No one wants to be in the shoes of the parent whose child died.

Standing on this side, I can’t think of anything more important than to talk about them. To say their names.


To talk about his favorite things. To talk about his personality. To smile and laugh and remember and never let his memory die. To talk about the impact he left, and how the echo of his life is still resounding in the hearts and lives he touched.

His legacy is just beginning, and if I have anything to do with it, it will only grow from here.

There is something so important and so healing for myself and other parents who have lost children to be able to share that child’s story. To be able to laugh at funny memories. To be able to mourn with another. To be able to celebrate and remember and value a little life that has gone too soon.

A few months ago, I met another mother much older than myself. Her son was born still years ago. I asked her his name, and found out days later that it was the first time in 35 years that anyone had asked her that question.

This is not okay.

We need to talk about these children. We need to brave the pain and talk about them for the sake of the parents and for the sake of that child’s memory.

This is not the natural order and we know that. Parents should not have to live on as their children die. Parents should not plan funerals or buy tiny urns or headstones for their child. Parents should not. But of all the should-nots, there is one thing that is a must-do: talking about that child.

For those who have no option but to walk through the pain, I want to give you freedom today. Freedom to talk. Freedom to share. Freedom to laugh and cry and remember and mourn and love that child openly, even in death.

You have freedom to say their name, even if you never had a chance to say it to them while there was breath in their lungs.

Say their name.

Tell their story. Cry. Laugh. Celebrate. Hope.

Let’s move past the stigma. Though in the past it may have been taboo to talk about a child who died, let’s move on. Let’s move on for the children who deserve to be remembered. And let’s move on for the parents who deserve a chance to tell their story.

For those who can be a friend and a listening ear, please do that today. Mention that child’s name. Send a note and let that parent know you are remembering. Sit down for coffee and relive special memories with them. We are all in this together. Brave the pain together. Remember together. Celebrate together.

Let’s do this together.

Lexi Behrndt is a communications director, a writer, and a mom to two sweet boys– Lincoln, here with her, and Charlie, who passed away in October 2014. You can read more of Lexi’s writing at or follow her on Facebook. [This post originally appeared on]

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