Family Matters

Family Matters

Raising Cadence: A mother and daughter journey through grief

By Sylvia Johnson

July/August 2009

When my 3-year-old daughter, Jillian, died of neuroblastoma, I did everything in my power to work through my tremendous grief. I went to therapy sessions, attended support groups, did meditation and yoga, read, wrote, cried, and screamed. As a psychologist, I knew there was no way around the grief, only through it, but I secretly thought I could wade through it faster than most. I'd met people whose child had died as many as 10 years earlier who seemed to be stuck in time, as though their child had just passed away. I vowed not to become one of those people.

My intention to heal deepened when my husband, Tom, and I decided to have another child. I'd witnessed parents' reactions to their surviving children. The siblings who remained never seemed to live up to the reputation of the one who'd died; there was a vacancy in their parents that couldn't be filled by the living. Some enshrined their dead child's possessions and couldn't think of anything else, while others avoided the mere mention of the child. Even though I'd been thrust into the Dead Child Club, I wasn't signing up for the Living Dead Society.

We discovered I was pregnant on the first anniversary of Jillian's death. Our second daughter, Cadence, brought us back into a land of hope and joy. Despite my efforts, I recognized early on that there was a space in my heart, bound and sealed, reserved for Jillian. The hole was most obvious around holidays and anniversaries—her birthday, the day she…

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