Navigating New Grief: How Losing a Younger Loved One Hurts So Much More

Losing a loved one never feels good, but I’ve learned a terrible reality this week. When they are young, the level of grief that overcomes you is heavier and unfamiliar. Sadly, I lost my sixteen-year-old nephew to a sudden asthma attack, and I’ve been unable to shake this tightness in my chest.

Tears continue to well up throughout my day and often come streaming down my face unprovoked. As a mother, there is a paralyzing fear with the realization that it could have been your baby. You hear about it and know that kids die every day, but it hurts so much more when this reality strikes your family. Death doesn’t discriminate.

Another Level of Grief

I’m no stranger to grief. I lost my father to primary progressive aphasia (the condition Bruce Willis has) in 2020 and my mother to breast cancer in 2021. Before that, I had lost my grandparents. Nonetheless, losing your parents is another level of grief. It hurt, but they weren’t babies, and it wasn’t so sudden and unexpected. This level is an entirely different pain spectrum. It comes with a lot more confusion.

People Ask More Questions

People are curious and can’t help but ask for the details. Some have asked me if my nephew was on my side of the family or my husband’s. I wonder if that makes any difference. It doesn’t to me.

The truth is, I didn’t know my nephew as well as I wish I had. He is on my husband’s side, but it doesn’t take away from this hollowing feeling that consumes me every time I think of my sister-in-law losing her firstborn baby boy. My husband’s family immediately embraced me, told me they loved me, and accepted me as their own. I can feel their grief because I love them and accept they are my family too.

I don’t remember so many people bluntly asking me what happened or how it happened with my parents. However, a sixteen-year-old kid’s death corners you with questions. Nobody can wrap their minds around it, and I’m afraid I don’t have the answers.

Questioning God

I’m not saying that losing my parents didn’t leave me with questions for the Lord, but the answers were easier to digest. My parents had lived longer lives and were with their maker in a better place. While that is also true for my nephew, accepting that truth is not easy. There is an innocence to children, even teenagers, that makes it feel so much more unfair.

He had barely begun to live. It makes you angry. It’s not only a deep sadness that hits you with the news of losing a younger loved one; anger comes with it too. Understanding that God has a plan and a purpose doesn’t make it any easier.

Why is it easier to accept this truth when others lose loved ones but not when we lose them ourselves?

Filled With Regret

Do you know the cliche guilt of feeling like you should have spent more time with them? Should have told them you loved them more? Should have hugged them tighter the last time? I understand this on another level now.

My family had gathered two days before this for Grandma’s birthday, and my husband and I didn’t make it. It’s always a good time. Unfortunately, however, my husband had been rear-ended in a car accident and suffering from whiplash on the couch.

I worked extra hours on my own dime because I am a workaholic and didn’t want to let my writers or bosses down. In retrospect, we both wish we would have pushed through and gone. Time is precious, and tomorrow is never guaranteed. I’ve heard it. I knew it. And now I’m experiencing it with a pit in my stomach full of regret. You can’t get it back.

Final Thoughts

I don’t know if this story will reach anyone who may take solace in hearing it or if anyone needs to know they are not alone in this realization. However, I needed to share it, if only to get it off my chest. Life is unfair. Enjoy every opportunity you have to see and love your loved ones. Hug them tightly and pray for them.

Time is fleeting until it stands still. Don’t get stuck in your anger. You must forgive for your own health and spiritual sanity. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt or that you’re not allowed to grieve. God bless you for entertaining my thoughts today.

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Elizabeth Ervin is the owner of Sober Healing. She is a freelance writer passionate about opioid recovery and has celebrated breaking free since 09-27-2013. She advocates for mental health awareness and encourages others to embrace healing, recovery, and Jesus.