How does a parent survive the death of a child?

Their deaths were tragic.

Senseless even.

And I think we’d all agree that they left this world far too soon.

It’s been a sad few weeks in the metro Atlanta area. Our hearts are heavy with the news of several children's deaths.

Dinah Paige Whited, "Baby Dinah," 5 months old, was taken off life support at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston on Aug. 8, three months after she was hospitalized with injuries she suffered when her father allegedly beat her.

Twins Ariel Roxanne North and Alaynah Maryanne North, 15 months old, died Aug. 4 after being left in a hot car in Carrollton.

Keaira Palmer, 15 years old, was killed during an apparent shootout outside a convenience store in DeKalb County.

And Natalie Henderson and Carter Davis, both 17 years old, were found dead on Aug. 1 behind a Roswell shopping center.

Death is hard to accept at any age. You don’t have to have children to understand this kind of pain. But there’s something about the death of a child. It strikes me as one of the biggest blows imaginable.

I haven’t experienced the death of a child personally. If you’re like me, you don’t want to think about it.

Coping with death is one thing, but coping with child death, that’s another level of grief. I recently read a story by a grieving mother who described it as “the loneliest, most desolate journey a person can take and the only people who can come close to appreciating it are those who share the experience.”

It feels out of order. It’s not supposed to happen this way in life. It makes some question their faith and spiritual beliefs. As a Christian, I find myself asking, "Why?"

When I read how grieving mother Breal Ellis heard about the death of her twins, my heart ached for her. A family member told the AJC that Ellis got a phone call saying her babies were dead.

A phone call! A phone call?

At first I thought, couldn’t someone have told her in person? Then I thought, did it matter how she heard? Her children were gone.

Honestly, I’m not sure if or how I could ever move on from losing a child. Recovery would seem impossible. The thought of my home going silent so suddenly — nothing would be the same. I wouldn’t even be able to purchase a carton of milk without remembering that she’d prefer blue Gatorade.

On top of the instant shock and sadness, the recent deaths also brought a lot of anger. Anger toward whoever was responsible for such senselessness. What were they thinking? No, they weren’t thinking. There’s no excuse. Forgiveness would also seem impossible.

These deaths were tragic and violent. But the grief from losing a child is not any easier if the death isn't violent.

A few years ago, my brother and his wife lost a child in miscarriage. They wanted to plan a funeral for the fetus. They had other children, but they were in as much pain as if they’d lost this child later in life. Honestly I have to admit that at first I thought it was odd. I was ignorant to the fact that this was a normal and common response. I now understand that my brother and his wife wanted the funeral as a way to honor their child’s memory.

Miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS, kidnapped children, murder victims, car accident, disease other health ailments. The list could go on.

Here at the AJC, my friend and colleague Mark Medici has felt this profound void and loss in his family.

His family’s process of anguish and extreme pain began with a diagnosis. I thought twice before asking him about it. The first time he shared it with me, I had to hide my tears and resist the urge to reach out and hug him. I didn’t want to be disrespectful. I didn’t want to open the wound. But I knew his words could help other grieving mothers and fathers.

Olivia Medici was 6 when she died from complications from mucopolysaccharidosis, a very rare genetic disorder known as MPS Type III.

Mark shared some of the tough moments he and his wife, Annalee, have had. One of them comes from what sounds like a simple question: “Do you have any kids?”

The very nature of the question is always hard to answer, Mark said. Not because he struggles to talk about Olivia, but because there is so much context to answering the question.

“In more contextual and deeper conversations, it is very easy for me to talk about Olivia. ... She made a lot of people smile, and watching people recall their memories of Olivia is very satisfying.”

Mark and his family honor Olivia in numerous ways. He and his wife feel a responsibility to be good stewards, to educate and support other families who are afflicted by the same disease.

Keeping Olivia’s memory front and center is also important for their other two children, a brother who never had a chance to meet his sister and an older sister who was 4 when she experienced the devastating loss, Mark said.

There isn’t a day that goes by when he doesn’t long to see Olivia again. She stays on his mind as much as his other two children. So I asked him what advice he had for grieving parents.

He had a list, but one really stood out to me as inspiring.

“In my simple mind, you have three choices when you get knocked down,” he said. “You can stay down; you can stand up and stay in neutral; or you can get up and walk forward.

“My condolences go out to any parent who has ever lost a child. The heartbreak stays with you forever, but you have it in you to use that heartbreak to memorialize and celebrate your son or daughter in the most positive way.”

My hope is that, through people like Mark, other grieving parents are able to breathe again, look at photos of their children again, call out their deceased child’s name again.

Grieving parents gradually put their lives back together, but they never truly “get over it,” and no one should expect them to.

They may never feel that they have the same lives they had before. Death is often harder when it seems everyone has forgotten and moved on. The pain from death can be as fresh years later as it is when you first get the news.

Complete recovery is a myth.

An article on offers these five things grieving parents wish more people understood about losing a child:

  • Remember their children.
  • Accept that you can't "fix" them. Don't tell them it's time to get back to life or that it's been long enough or that time heals all wounds.
  • Know there are at least two days a year they need a time out (birthdays and the anniversary of the child's passing).
  • Realize they may struggle every day with happiness.
  • Accept the fact that their loss might make you uncomfortable.

If you’ve lost a child, you have my sympathy and the sympathy of thousands of others like Mark and Annalee who have their own story.

That’s my story, and I pray that you can make it, if only one day at a time.