There's no replacing mommy. It is one of those truisms that resonate when your mother is no longer available for hugs, a plate of chocolate chip cookies or the reliable oohs and aahs you come to expect when you come home with a math score or conquest at the soccer field. That comfort is always the underpinning of our beings. Which is why my heart aches for Natasha Richardson's two young sons, Daniel and Micheal.
Only 12 and 13, I think to myself. Immediately I called my brother because he was 14 when my father died and we always reminisce and sigh over a news story of someone losing a parent. We also acknowledge how now someone else has joined our club, a club that no one ever wants to belong to but one that changes you forever. Losing a parent makes you an adult overnight, someone who realizes how fleeting and random life can be. Thirty years later, those lessons still inspire and cripple.
I am sure that Prince William and Prince Harry are thinking of Micheal and Daniel today. They know, yes they know, what this means. Just recently, Prince William shared how his mother's death when he was 15 still impacts him. Writing in a British daily, Daily Mail, he wrote that never being able to say the word "Mummy" again in your life sounds like a small thing but for him like many others, it's a life-altering experience evoking only memories.
Prince William went on say that "initially there is a sense of profound shock and disbelief that this could ever happen to you. Real grief often does not hit home until much later. For many it is a grief never entirely lost.... Life is altered as you know it, and not a day goes past without you thinking about the one you have lost."
He added, "I know that over time it is possible to learn to live with what has happened and with the passing of years, to retain or rediscover cherished memories."
Princess Diana died 12 years ago.
My eyes fill with tears when I read in a news report what he wrote because it is true that a day doesn't go by that you don't think of your parent, especially if you cared for them. He is respectful of his stepmother Camilla but his love and loyalty will always be for his mother.
As a result of a parent's death, there will be a gaping hole forever in your heart. What you then must do is build and fortify that muscle around that hole by focusing on what you still have, what you can have and how that person is still with you as a result of the interests they inspired, the words they say that you find yourself repeating and the ways your character has been formed by them.
Prince William is only speaking out now since becoming the royal patron of the Child Bereavement Charity. This is not surprising. Most of us who felt so helpless over the death of a parent now want to find a way to be helpful.
It is not only Prince William who can relate but many of those children whose parents died on 9/11. They too unwittingly joined this club.
In a previous piece on the Huffington Post, I wrote how it's a myth that time heals all wounds. Any anniversary of a loved one's death becomes a crowbar in the calendar that reopens those wounds again. You find ways to honor your parent privately and too often silently.
What can friends and family do for Micheal and Daniel?
If you knew the person who has died, write a note and mention a trait about them that you remember fondly. It can be anything from "I just thought about Susan and how she always made strawberry birthday cakes for everyone" to recalling how Paul was so cautious that he would drive 40 mph in a 55 mph highway. This brings laughs instead of tears.
If they wished they had said something to their mother, write a letter of all the things you wished you would have said. Writing it feels like you said it and can liberate you in surprising and helpful ways.
I would also advise them to keep a journal of all their feelings and moments that they remember with their mother. Anecdotes can start to fade in the memory but once written, they are constant reminders that can be revived when needed.
I'm also glad that Micheal and Daniel have each other. They will become each other's historians and their bond will be deeper and closer.
Hopefully someone will also remind them in time that so much focus has centered on the pain of loss that little has been written about the growth that comes from it. In my book, Don't Let Death Ruin Your Life, a study revealed that those who have early losses are three times as likely to be achievers. Scratch the surface of most charities or social movements and you'll discover that they were started by someone who wanted to right a wrong and turned their sense of feeling powerless into wanting to empower. Loss also compels us to throw a lariat of love around our family and friends and appreciate more fully the precious times spent together. Those of us who have suffered losses know that the present is indeed a present. Life is to be savored.
In thinking about Daniel and Micheal -- and yes, being a product of someone who had loss in their life, I am someone who needs to find the silver lining -- I also thought to myself how at least their life will always have the presence of their mother in it. They are not so young that they didn't know their mother. A year in a child's life is really like seven years. A lot of memories can be accumulated. Liam Neeson is of an age that Natasha will always be the love of his life. She will be the love of all their lives.
I wonder what they will remember most about her? This morning, my 11 year-old son Parker asked for my special pancakes I make usually on weekends. He tumbled out of bed and said he just had the desire for them and would I mind whipping them up. On any other day I may have resisted arguing that there's too little time while I juggle getting ready for work and quickly putting a load of laundry in before we leave the house. But not today. Thanks to Natasha I am reminded how these little moments are so precious and it may be the pancakes he remembers fondly. I made them with pleasure.
Maybe in tribute to her we can think about what our kids will remember about us and how we should do them more while we are blessed enough to be alive to enjoy the time we have with them.