FINDING SUPPORT AS AN LGBTQ PARENT AFTER THE DEATH OF A CHILD
By Jodi Levesque
The death of a child.
If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine for a moment, holding your precious baby, your beloved child in your arms- but they aren’t making a sound. There is no breath. They aren’t opening their eyes. And there is nothing, nothing, nothing you can do to bring them back. Your own heart and soul are ripped from your body as you realize you will spend the rest of your existence here on earth while never seeing them alive again. Your heart is replaced by a black hole. Your arms ache to hold them. Your entire body and soul long for them, hurt for them..to be able to mother them. That instinct does not die with your precious little one.
Horrific, and impossible for you to think of, I’m sure. But this is the reality for thousands of bereaved parents all over the world, every day. At any age and for any reason, the death of a child is out of the “natural order” of things. A parent should never have to bury their child.
This is my reality. A reality that has forever changed who I am, even to my very core. I dreamed of being a mother from the time I was six years old. While other aspirations have held my fancy for periods of time in my life, being a mother is the only thing I have ALWAYS wanted to be. I set out as a single lesbian on my journey, and with frozen donor sperm and IUI, my dreams came true when I became pregnant. I don’t remember ever being happier and I was absolutely over the moon. Until the unthinkable occurred, and my beautiful baby girl was stillborn. I never heard her make a sound. She never took a breath. And at the time, holding her lifeless body in my arms, I wanted my life to end, too.
Where was I to go for help? For support? Who knew this inexplicable hell and survived it?? I searched and searched but found nothing in the LGBTQ community. I was reluctant to go outside of our community, because I knew I couldn’t risk being subject to homophobia or judgment on top of the pain. In such a raw, vulnerable time, I hadn’t the strength to field the usual ignorance and rude comments. Paramount to anything else, I knew I would not ever take the risk that my CHILD, her memory, would be subject to that homophobia. Not ever. I was lost.
Not long after my daughter Nia died, I met someone who walked through hell and made it. That woman was Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, founder of the MISS Foundation. She started the organization after the death of her baby girl, Cheyenne, to offer support to all parents who have experienced the death of a child. While I kept in touch with Joanne, It took me five long years to finally venture out to a MISS Foundation support group meeting, with Joanne facilitating. I was lucky. The parents there were open, loving, and kind-hearted people who truly did not care that I am a gay mother. Maybe some would have cared if we had met under different circumstances, but as it stood, we had one very important thing in common. A few have become my dear friends.
There, in the group, I was able to talk about my grief, and about my child. I was able to speak her name. I was able to cry with people who knew my pain, and shared the emotions I felt. They “get” me. And I knew as I sat with them each month that there were other LGBTQ parents like myself who were not getting the support they so desperately needed, that had not yet found a safe space to grieve like I had. I knew there were other LGBTQ people who shared the fears I had about coming out of the closet for the second time in life: as an LGBTQ bereaved parent.
With Joanne’s unending support, I was able to begin mentoring other LGBTQ bereaved parents through the MISS Foundation. It is the first time that any organization has dedicated specific support to our community. In this outreach experience, I have met many others like me. Many have horrible stories about coming out in support groups as LGBTQ bereaved parents. My heart breaks each time I hear them. It is my sincere hope that other LGBTQ parents whose child has died will not have to suffer in silence.
Today, more than seven years after Nia’s death, I know that I am a person who is more in tune and aware of everything around me. I pause a little longer. I notice when the “signs” come to me to let me know that my daughter is indeed still around me. I am more compassionate, giving, patient. I don’t take things for granted. I know now that nothing in life is assured. There are still days of utter darkness, but there are fewer of them. Sometimes I still cry. And I am brought to tears when I do things in her memory.
To honor my little girl, I continue to be the Miss Foundation Hope Mentor for LGBTQ bereaved parents. I am always so glad when someone finds us, but also so very sorry that they need us.
If you, or someone you know has experienced the death of their beloved child, please offer them your shoulder. Listen. Avoid platitudes, they hurt. Ask them about their child, because we love to talk about our children just like anyone else. Mentioning them doesn’t hurt us, it’s NOT mentioning them that hurts us. Speak their name. Ask the bereaved parent what they need. And if you can remember this article, please tell them about the MISS Foundation. Don’t stop calling. Don’t wait to be asked for help … just be there.
In honor of her daughter, Nia, Jodi Levesque has created the MISS Foundation’s first support chapter for Gay and Lesbian bereaved parents. The group meets once a month in the Phoenix, Arizona area. In addition, she is a mentor to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) bereaved parents across the country, offering peer support through the MISS Foundation’s Hope Mentor program. You can read more about Jodi’s work here.