Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 18, 2018

Surviving - part three

By Curt Swarm | Apr 05, 2017

This is the third of four installments of a short story, “Surviving,” written by Susie Clark. In the first two installments, Clark writes about the death of her and her husband's two children, Dan and Lisa, from Neimann Pick Disease. She also addresses “anticipatory grief” and grief relapse. -Curt Swarm


After our children were gone, my husband and I tried to find our new normal. We tried to step outside of the parent role we had been in for 23 years. We were caught in limbo. Even though we still felt like parents, were we? How could we fit in with our friends now that we weren't the same people we used to be? Our hearts were slowly healing, but that scar would always be there. The wound could forever be opened with a smell, a song, a comment. How could we survive life when we would always be different from everyone we knew? We enjoyed other people's children, but it was bittersweet because it just emphasized to us what we had lost and would never again have.

The professionals told us not to make any major life-changing decisions for at least a year. Howard threw himself into his work. I found a job at a horse therapy organization where our daughter had taken therapy. I spent my days around handicapped children riding specially trained horses to receive their physical and emotional therapy. Because, like my daughter, I loved horses, this was a life saving situation for me. I felt as if by helping handicapped children like mine, I was honoring their memory. It was a beautiful facility spread out on 10 acres. Horses are very accepting, loving animals. Brushing, walking, feeding, riding them gave me an outlet for my grief. The horses didn't care if I cried, they didn't judge me, and think, “Boy, she's not handling this well.” They just accepted me for who I was, no more, no less.

As an outlet for our loneliness, my husband and I bought two horses. We spent many hours riding the trails on the four hundred acres near our home. I had the horses tacked up ready to ride when my husband got home from work. I made sandwiches and packed water bottles, and we rode until it was almost dark. The only sounds were the leather of the saddles squeaking, the wildlife in the timber, and the horses' occasional snort. Being immersed in nature was very therapeutic. It was another way to absorb the fact that our lives had changed, but they weren't over.

Two years after our children died, we decided it was time to return to our roots in Iowa. We couldn't find a house for sale that we liked that had enough land for our horses, so we decided to build. We bought a few acres from my parents, and built a house on part of the farm where I grew up. This was another life-saving decision. Soon we were living back where I grew up and we both loved it. Howard found a wonderful job at a bank, and again, we were finding our new normal.

When we met new people, one of the first questions was, “Do you have children?” For us that was a tough question. If I said yes, but they died, it made the person who asked feel very uncomfortable. If I said, no, then I felt as if I had just discounted the lives and memories of my beloved children. There was no easy answer to this simple question.

So often I felt as if I was outside looking in, watching everyone go on about the business of their daily lives. I wanted so badly to have to think about my teenagers driving, dating, college, marriage, babies. I knew I'd never have those joys. It was hard not to lose patience when listening to some people complain about their kids. I wanted so badly to remind them that they are the most precious gift they'll ever have. In most every situation, I felt I didn't belong. I tried, but couldn't relate to my friends' conversations about their kids and grandkids.

(Believe it or not, next week's fourth and final installment of “Surviving” may be the most emotional.)


Have a good story? Call or text Swarm, in Mt. Pleasant, at 319-217-0526, email him at or find him on Facebook. Swarm’s stories are also read at 106.3 FM, in Farmington.

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