What I Learned About Losing a Step-Child

May 7, 2015

The title of this article by Paula Stephens “What I Wish More People Understood About Losing a Child” quickly caught my attention on my friend, Lisa Payne’s Facebook page the other day. With the article, Lisa posted “I haven’t lost a child. I know people who have…While I felt the article was well-written and insightful, I do not know if it accurately depicts the feelings of those who have suffered this type of loss…” in preparation for her Pastoral Care final.

Unfortunately, I know this type of loss…from a different angle. The perspective I am about to share with you is from a unique position – the step-parent.

My tendency is to begin with “My husband, Besh, lost his son in 2012 due to a motorbike accident” but what I’d really like to say, for the purpose of this article, is “I lost my 30-year-old step-son, Carl Beshara, in 2012.”

Since that awful day in September I have been on the wildest roller coaster ride of my life. I know I will never be able to completely get over the shock and Besh will never be the same again. The “new normal” as they call it…and that’s the closest description there is.

I wasn’t fond of the term “step-parent” from the minute I married into my two “kids”, Carl (21) and Tiffany (17) – flashbacks to Disney movies with evil step-mothers or something. I had always said I wanted kids who were already born, could take care of themselves and we could hang around, have a drink and a laugh. And that’s exactly what I got. These kids were already cool independent people who didn’t need a step-mother and I wasn’t looking to be a mother either so it was a perfect match!

So for almost 10 years, these 2 kids became a big part of my life equation without me even realizing what had developed along the way.

Then when we got the call late one Saturday night on Labour Day weekend, I automatically and instinctively went into support mode for Besh and Tiffany. I just needed to make sure they were okay. That was all I could concentrate on and that was my sole purpose through all this. It helped me survive the shock, I realize now.

As I said to Lisa on Facebook “The hardest part is to just be with someone while they’re falling apart without trying to make them better.”

I hadn’t noticed that in this process I had put my own feelings of loss on the back burner. This was the ‘for better or for worse’ situation at its finest. I needed to be strong. How could I be a wreck on a day where Besh was feeling good? I just couldn’t do it to him…or me. Those happy moments are so precious after a life shock that we have to let them happen as long as they can…before reality and sadness hits again.

That being said, I still had/have my moments of tears and Besh has said many times, “It’s okay for you to be sad too.” And I know it’s true but it’s still difficult sometimes. I have cried and do cry, but it would usually be while I was talking about Besh and Tiffany’s loss. Their loss makes me the saddest – even more than my own.

The awareness of my unique position came to me awhile after Carl passed away when my longtime friend, Carolyn, asked me one day how Besh was doing and out of my mouth fired “What about how I’m doing?” I shocked myself! Her eyes filled up with tears because she realized she hadn’t even asked about me all this time. We both cried and I talked about how hard it is to juggle all these things at once – being strong, holding the space, hoping with all my heart that Besh is going to survive this and practically praying for Tiffany to find her happiness and live a good life…and experiencing my personal loss.

Sometimes I felt guilty talking about my grief even when the time was right. I thought ‘How can you talk about your pain when it wasn’t even your son?’ It was a self-imposed comparative dialogue in my head that I just couldn’t shake.

2 ½ years later, having done a lot of inner work and accepting that Besh and Tiffany are okay and they will survive, I’m finding I can feel and talk about my own pain a little more, with less guilt and hesitation. I believe that if they can survive this then I certainly can too.

What I have also learned through this process is that the grief of a step-parent is under-acknowledged and has to wait its turn sometimes. It’s just the way it is and it makes sense.

So my advice for those of you who know a step-parent who has lost one of their kids – from time to time, ask them how they are doing and just let them cry and spill when they break down in front of you. Stay with them knowing there is nothing you can do to make them feel better but just asking them how they are doing acknowledges their loss too. And that helps to mend the wound.

kapb_headshot_-_rounded_cornersArtist Keli-Ann Pye-Beshara – Experience Newfoundland & life through my artist eyes. Born and raised here on this big rock in the Atlantic Ocean. After my Fine Arts degree and Interior Decorating, lived away for ages. In 2009 moved back with new appreciation for this place. Come hang out and explore with me. Sign up for your Piece of Pye newsletter & art prizes!

26 comments

  1. Wow…thank you for writing this. It really is a new perspective and made me emotional to read. So many times we don’t know how or what to say to our friends and family in these terrible times of loss. I truly appreciate having this new way of seeing it. So honest and real. Thank you.

  2. What a wonderful article about a perspective that is more common than ever but never discussed. I too have stepkids who came to live with us when they were teenagers. I was as worried and afraid when one of my stepkids went through a health crisis, as I was when my daughter did, which was compounded by my concern for my partner. The relationship of step-parent can be complex and fraught with missteps on others’ toes and figuring out where you ‘fit’. It would be much easier if we all just understood that these are merely loving relationships, without need for labels or hierarchy. I am sorry for the loss you ALL underwent, and am inspired by how you all came through it together. Thanks for this.

  3. Beautifully, wholeheartedly and lovingly written, darling.
    So? Very sincerely, how are you doing, KA? Can’t wait to hug you again in two weeks. <3

  4. Pi –

    This is beautifully written and a really important story to share. Thank you so much for articulating your journey and your healing. You have well described the challenge and blessing of being a step-parent in any circumstance, let alone in such an emotional time. You, once again, inspire me. xo

    K

  5. Keli-Ann,
    This article had me in tears. I “lost” m step-daughters when my ex-boyfriend and I broke up. I know it doesn’t compare to what you and Besh have gone through, but I feel your pain. My cousin who lives in California quoted Marianne Williamson to help me through: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” My heart goes out to you and Besh, and I hope we’ll get a chance to chat a little on May 21 in Ottawa. XOXO
    P.S. I love my card prints of your art! You are an amazing artist!

  6. Keli-Ann,

    While I have not experienced personally, the loss that you address in this article. It does take me back to a time when I was living in Nova Scotia. At my job, I had a regular customer who became pregnant. Every week we’s have a little discussion about her pregnancy, how excited she and her significant other were at the prospect of becoming parents. Her delivery date arrived and I hadn’t seen her in a couple of weeks. When she arrived in front of me again, I asked how she was. She told me her baby had died during delivery. It took my breath away. I took a pause and asked her, what she had. She smiled and said it was a little girl. She told me how much she weighed and how long she’d been in labour, and how beautiful she was. Then she told me that they had to choose a name right away, because the minister had stopped by to christen her before they took her away. She showed me a picture and that little girl looked gorgeous~a little angel. I commented on how pretty she was, I helped my customer and then…she looked me in the eye and told me “thank you, for asking about my baby, no one else has”. These are the tender issues that surround life and death! Do you ask or not? Compassion, can be expressed in many different ways. I am emotionally moved by the picture that accompanies this article. You my darling have represented yourself in the background, when actually~ I believe you may have been the grounding post, front and centre. I love you!

  7. I told my son about your article, then I read him my comment. He said “the grounding post, is usually mom”. So there you are “mom”!

  8. Thank you for sharing that KA. I can now see where you are coming from. I too was a step mother and never really felt sure about where I fit in the whole picture. That can be difficult in joyous times such as birthdays and Christmas and I can’t begin to imagine how much more complicated it can be at a time of tragedy. I feel for you and I Love You! xo

  9. Keli-Ann life can be so hard. I can never compare anything I have gone through in my life with that of losing a child. Losing a child has to be the hardest thing to endure for the parent or step-parent! Thank you for sharing such a personal and emotionally raw event. Yours and Beshes story will surely be of benefit to others. I wish you both peace and contentment as you continue to walk the journey of life. God bless!

  10. The funny thing about grief is that it has the patience of Job. It will wait until one is ready to deal with it. I am glad to see this article – not the reason for the article, but the fact you are writing about your pain. It is good, it is healing. The more you can talk about it, the better. Unfortunately, those left behind usually have to be the one to let others know it’s okay to talk about how you are feeling and it’s okay to say the person’s name who has passed. Your grief is not less because you are a step parent, it is different. And for every individual, grief is different. Please know that I am here for you to talk to anytime and that I have always carried you and Besh in the same place – my heart. Much healing Love to you both.

  11. Brave and beautiful, like you. This was so tough. I remember when dad died and thinking about Krista and Robin. Having been in our family for more than a decade, the loss was tough for them too, but similar to this, they took a back burner to caring for their spouses and children who lost their dad and pop. We all still miss him and I hope they were able to find peace as you did with Carl. Miss you!! xx

  12. Hi Keli-Ann,
    I can’t even begin to imagine the emotions and changes that come about when you suffer the loss of a stepson, but your beautifully written article gives me a sweet and loving insite into how you were affected by this devastating loss. With all your own feelings of loss and confusion you were still able to handle it with grace, compassion and thoughtfulness. You are a strong person and that is an asset that many do not have. Brent and his family are blessed to have you.

  13. Such an amazing and insightful article! I hope it helped your healing as I’m sure it will help many others.

  14. Thank you for writing this, KA. I have experienced the loss of my only child, my daughter Niki. I raised her as a single parent and after tumultuous teenage years we were finally coming to an understanding of expectations. She was in her first year of university – happy, dating, having all the dreams like every young person when diagnosed with terminal untreatable cancer. 18 months later, in August 2002 just shy of her 21st birthday, she left this world for the next. I “died” with her. Dispite days of laying in bed and willing myself not to breathe, my body breathed anyway…fighting my mind’s desire to end my heartache. It is the single most profound loss a human can endure…losing Niki shattered by spirit and changed my very soul. In time, I have been able to live my changed life. Changed because we are not meant to outlive our offspring. Time will heal the wound somewhat, but the huge scar that is left behind is a daily reminder of her loss of her future. Time has allowed me to again be happy – to live for her because she cannot. I stick my tongue out to try tasting snowflakes for her; I let the rain fall on my upturned face because she can no longer feel the wetness; I laugh because she loved to laugh and when the wind blows in my face (everyday almost here in Newfoundland!) I love it – reminds me that I am alive and, once upon a time, I had this little baby girl, she was so cute and happy…and I smile, for Niki.

  15. It’s 3 am and this is something I really needed to see… Just under 2 months ago We lost my step-son and I have been dealing with how I feel alone for all the reasons you stated here. It is so hard to be the strong one and surpress your feeling when all you want to do is break down and just have someone reassure you that you too will be fine. Faking a smile when you want to cry just so his dad doesn’t breakdown on his good days… And hiding in the bathroom at 3am to cry!!! Thank you for this article to let us know we are not alone!

  16. I have been searching for several weeks for some information on this hoping I would find the answers to help me. I amy not have found any answers, but at least I am not alone. I lost my stepson tragically in October. He was my husband’s only child. His son was part of our family’s life for just over 15 years (since he was 3 years old). My daughter’s thought of him as nothing less than their little brother. He actually lived with us for the last 13 months of his life. Since losing him, I have had to deal with most people casting me aside because I was only a “stepmother”. His mom, who used to be very friendly, now makes me feel like I am an intruder. She wants everything of his that is in our home and has chosen to leave me out of all communication. Everyone I run into asks me how his Dad is. It’s as though I cannot possibly feel or struggle as badly. I have kept all of my feelings bottled inside for a couple of months now in fear of what I am feeling is considered selfish. I have focused on making sure my husband and daughters are fine and now they seem to be doing a bit better, I have crumbled. I am trying desperately to find some kind of happiness but for now, it seems to be forced smiles and a hollow heart.

  17. I lost my stepson three months ago, he was only 28. He had been my stepson since he was 8. I’ve since split up with his father but he still used to stay with me and his brothers, not his Dad. I always saw him as one of my own. The hurt and pain I am going through of losing him is not the same as what his poor mum is going through losing her only child. My pain consists of feeling so hopeless and unable to help his pain and suffering towards the end of his fight. Having to explain to my sons that they were going to lose their older brother. Watching my (young) adult sons carry their brother into his funeral. Then trying to help them with their loss both physical and mental needs whilst trying to stay strong. I also have feelings of guilt that I have three sons when my stepsons mum now has none and I worry a lot if something will happen to them. Thankfully I have a good relationship with his Mum and will always stay close to her, I made a promise to my stepson to ensure me and his brothers stay in touch and look out for her which I intend to fulfil. My Mum tells me I need to try and park my grief and start to try move on. To be quite honest I feel as though any moment now I may crack but I just can’t.
    Thank you for writing this, we as step-parents do sometimes get forgotten but also feel guilty to grief because we are not their biological parents.

    1. Hi Sue – so sorry to hear about your son. Sounds like you are one of those special stepmoms and that is exactly what your family needs. Sending you much love ❤️

  18. OMG…I so relate! It’s been 7 years since my 16 yr old step-son passed. You were writing my story! Is there anyway i can email you? I have felt so alone. NO ONE gets how this has affected me…or asks. If we could connect that would be amazing. Thank you 😊

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