In rolls another September and with that comes the excitement, for most families, of their children heading back to school. And then there are those families who have to face another milestone without their beloved child. Back to School is one of the most difficult times of year for the families who have lost a child. As Back To School shopping commences in early August, backpacks are being displayed and purchased, and new shoes are the talk amongst pre-teens and teens, the reality begins to rip through the hearts of bereaved parents that they are facing another school year, another milestone without their child. One less backpack, one less pair of shoes, and one less set of clothes to purchase. Yes, they feel the excitement and look forward to another year with their other children but the absence of one child is so raw and painful that sometimes it is hard to see through the tears and heartache. And somehow, they manage to smile and embrace the new year for the sake of the other children.

As the day draws closer, outfits are picked out and pictures are posted. Pictures that clearly show one less child than what should be there. Pictures that display a missing piece of a parent’s heart. And then to see other families with all of their children, perfectly posed with perfect outfits, ready for the first day. While not one bereaved parent wishes this nightmare on their worst enemy, the pain of seeing these ‘perfect’ families is intense and heartbreaking. What the bereaved families wouldn’t give for one more picture, with all of their children dressed and ready for the first day of school. And yet, this will NEVER happen again. It is like a dagger to the heart year after year. And yet, they push forward.

My family is facing another back to school year without our precious son, Carter. This is the 7th Back to School that we are missing a piece of our heart. And this year seems harder than others. Why? We aren’t quite sure but we have some ideas. Carter would be entering his 8th grade year- his last year of middle school. What would he be like? What would he be into? Would he be playing football? Would he be busily finding Pokemons with his buddies? Would he be embracing life as a teenager? These are all questions that we ask ourselves daily. And this year, we send our daughter for her first day of middle school. A milestone that we never had with him. A milestone that cuts to the core. We always thought that he would be here to pave the way for her, to protect her. And yet here we are, sending her off without her brother. It is painful and unfair and yet we have no choice but to move forward, to smile, and to provide her a positive experience. We know she feels his absence, as well. That pain is one separate from our own. We feel pain for her, as we know that she misses him. We know that she, too, wonders what it would be like to have him here with her. And for her, we smile, remind her that God’s plan is much larger than our own and we hold back the tears and rely on our own faith to push all of us through. This life is painful and hard. It is a road no one should have to walk. Each step forward, each milestone passed is as painful as the day he took his last breath.

As we all busily prepare for the first day of school, please take a moment and say a prayer/send a positive thought to those families who are facing this day without a part of their soul. I know that I will awake with a smile on my face, prepare a good breakfast, and say a prayer for myself, my husband, my girls, and all of the other families that are facing this day, too. I will happily take pictures of Caroline, my nieces and cousins, and watch them off. And then I will go about my day with a smile that hides the pain.