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Surviving the Loss of a Child

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Hear from a mom who truly relates with Jett Travolta's parents.

travolta family

The only people who can truly understand the pain that John Travolta and Kelly Preston feel right now are parents who've also lost children.

Gretchan Pyne can relate. The day she lost her beautiful Lulu had seemed perfect: a family day at the beach followed by ice cream at a local shop. But when Lulu stepped on the edge of an unanchored bicycle rack outside the ice cream shop, it turned out to be the end of her young life -- the rack tragically flipped and fell onto the 4-year-old girl.

In an instant, she was gone. Gretchan looks back at those dark days in 2001:

"It's the most painful thing you could ever go through -- but you just have to go through it. My mom and my grandmother told me, 'You put your boots on and you really go through it.'" While Gretchan was fortunate to have incredible support from family and friends, there were so many times it wasn't enough. "The simplest question 'How are you?' became difficult to answer. It's hard to talk about your true feelings without being a downer or negative. There was nothing anyone could say to make it better. If they didn't say anything [about the tragedy], it was like they didn't care. But nobody knew what to say. There's such a fear of death -- it's taboo to talk about."

Gretchan has since dedicated her life to keeping Lulu's spirit alive. "Lulu's death taught me to go beyond the pain. It opened me up to a place I'd never been before. I had never felt such complete love. When you go through something like that, people come as they are. The pretenses are gone. Lulu's spirit is completely alive and well -- she lives on. Her life, although short, had a purpose." Lulu also lives on in Gretchan's writing. Lulu's Rose Colored Glasses and Lulu Decorates Daddy are Gretchan's way of passing on Lulu's spirit through other children and their love of reading. 

Gretchan's advice for those who may know someone suffering the loss of a child? "Don't say, 'What can I do?' Pick up the phone. Don't ask if you can make a meal, just make it. And unless you have experienced the loss of a child yourself, don't tell them you know how they feel. Although you may have a dog or a grandmother who's passed on, you don't really know how they feel."

Family counselor, Rosanne Tobey LPC adds, "there's nothing you can say when someone is coping with the death of a child. It's what you do, not what you say, that's important. When a parent loses a child, they're incapacitated. They're truly exhausted from grieving. The best thing you can do is to be there. Let them talk about it as many times as they need to talk about. Let them ask why as often as they need until they don't want to ask why anymore. They need someone to hear these things."

And what happens when the services are over and life goes back to normal for everyone around them? "When everyone goes home, keep coming around. It's a very lonely time -- they're the only ones grieving with loss this deeply and they just need you to be present and let them go through it."

There are many resources available to grieving parents. Providing them with somewhere to turn can also be a tremendous help. Here are some to look into:

Compassionate Friends
The Grief Blog
Memory Of

The Death of a Child: Reflections for Grieving Parents

When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Healing a Parent's Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Child Dies
Gone But Not Lost: Grieving the Death of a Child

 For more grieving resources, click here.

next: Doctor Examines the Jett Travolta Case
12 comments so far | Post a comment now
katielady January 7, 2009, 4:57 AM

My heart really goes out to the Travolta family. I lost my son last year and my life just stopped. All I do now is just breathe. I have no other family and my son was married with no children and during and after the funeral I was treated so badly by his wife and her family. Wasn’t even asked to ride in the family car had to drive myself to cemetary. At least they do have a big circle of family and friends and the people at the church My heart grieves for all parents who loose children its almost to much to bear. My heart is filled with much sadness for them and especially the mothers that has had to bury their sons and daughters that has given their lives in the war. God Bless All of you…..

Deborah January 7, 2009, 6:39 AM

I lost my 6 year old son Nathan March 27, 2008. He was climbing a tree as most children do and there where power lines in the tree no one saw. In a matter of seconds my life was changed forever. My relationship with God is giving me strengthen but sometimes breathing is all I can do. Everyone is waiting for the old Deborah to come back, at this point I am not sure who she really was. Trying to find that new normal some days is very difficult.

I know how difficult loosing a child is and now I say a prayer of hope and strength for every family that I hear about that has lost a child.

Barb January 7, 2009, 10:04 AM

My heart goes out to you ladies. Thank you for sharing your stories.

Judy Fisherj January 7, 2009, 11:10 PM

My world was transformed that day. Tammy was killed, 15 years old. I could not stop screaming, I just wanted her back.
I knew there had to be answers how could she be so alive and then no longer. Killed, gone, there had to be answers.
I began my search—I started studing about life aftter death.
I have written a book named “Heaven On Earth” by Judy Fisher, it is the story of my search for my daughter.
Please look at my website

bunny March 26, 2009, 12:29 PM

My heart goes out to all of you as well and as for katielady dont let his family treating you that way bring you down you lost a son they should have had little more respect 4 you you are not the one who killed him i have a mother inlaw who treats me really badly for no reason and my husband and i dont talk to her because of spreading evil lies about me even before she even met me she had only seen a pic of me when she 1st started rumors to all his family and their friends people only treat people that way because they already dont like you my suggestion to you is go out and find some friends or join an art class or scrapbooking class make a scrapbook of your wonderful son im sure he was o be missed so much so please take my advice you will not regret it i personally go to the gym and that takes off alot of stress and debora keep your chin up take up a class as well make that scrapbook i know your children will be looking down at you and will be happy to c you are happy

Cynthia March 26, 2009, 8:11 PM

I lost my son, Joshua, (19), on February 16, 2006.
Joshua was my firstborn, and the light of my life!
However, although it has been over 3 years, I still don’t know the truth about his death, because the police department did not investigate. (Joshua Robinson) Attached documents/petition.

Kathlee March 26, 2009, 10:51 PM

I lost my 13 year old son December 19, 2004. He was the youngest and I had him when I was 43. I call him my gift from God, and the 13 years we shared with him were filled with love and happiness. I put my faith in the hands of the Lord.

grieving mom March 26, 2009, 11:46 PM

I to share the pain that the Travolta’s are feeling. I lost my daughter she was 15. She commited suicide in my home 7/28/09.I found her.I always wonder what I could of done to prevent this. I miss her smile the goodnights and the goodmornings and the text she used to send me daily. She was my first born. I will never forget her. Only time will help me to deal with her death.

Sue March 27, 2009, 3:48 AM

May all the children rest with the angels……

Inez March 29, 2009, 2:24 PM

My daughter Kristina.. was a 23 and my only child. She was born with cerebral palsy, yet.. i know when she went to be with Jesus, no longer was she handicaped. How I deal with my loss, large because i have lost my husband, mother, father and brother and of course my precious little Kristina. Is Jesus..I know everyone has thier own way of coping and grieving. But, mines is knowing one day, I to will see them again.

debbie March 29, 2009, 7:04 PM

I lost a baby when she was 6 days old. The memorys and the hurting will never go away. But i feel she was brought into this world for a reason to be an angel and save a life. She had a tumor on her adreneal gland and caused many things to happen. The day she passed away my friend had a little boy with the same thing and the drs were able to help him since it was a the same hospital as my baby. He will be 23 years old in May. Sometimes we have to suffer to help another life go on. She will always be my guardian angel and someday i will see my baby again. Healing takes time and talking about it makes it so much easier to accept sometimes. To all the people who have lost a child i hope you will get through the grieving part and continue on with a life filled with the love and joy you remember having with your child. I never had that since she was not able to come home from the hospital after she was born.

Anne April 24, 2009, 6:19 PM

When our son died, I said it was like open heart surgery without an anesthetic. I can’t imagine anything more painful. The first year was a blur of depression. Work saved my life and my mind, but it still was hard. A couple of weeks after our boy died, a customer asked me, “Do you ever smile?” I ignored the question but thought, “I just buried my only son and you want me to smile?” The absolute only good thing to come from the experience is that over the years, I’ve been able to comfort and help some friends who’ve had similar tragedies. They are always happy to know that someone else survived the worst possible event anyone can imagine. I offered them hope…

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