When your child’s name is on a tombstone

-A A +A

Guest column by Tammy Nischan

By Tammy Nischan

Leaning against the doorframe of the school workroom, she shared her struggle.

She had snapped at her daughter all morning, because she was stressed.

“I can’t keep living like this,” she sighed.

As I looked into her aching eyes, I saw myself. I saw a woman trying to balance a career with motherhood. I saw a woman who longs to be the best she can be at work while longing to be the best she can be at home.

How does a woman balance life?

How does she juggle all the responsibilities in her little part of the world without letting the most precious parts of life drop to the ground and shatter?

I still struggle with these very questions, but a lot has changed since my second child’s name was etched into a tombstone.

When Adrienne died of SIDS in 1992, I wrestled with grief for many years. Somehow three more kids and the busyness of life pulled me back in to the hustle and bustle full force, and I soon found myself pushing forward like most everyone else around me.

Toward what, I’m not sure.

But I pushed forward.

When my son Nick became sick and we heard the words “brain tumor,” life stopped.


The years of surgeries, chemo and radiation became some of the happiest years in my memories of motherhood because our family purposely laughed together, played games together, went on trips together and embraced life together.

I never thought I would miss those days as they were happening, but I do.

When you find yourself fighting for someone’s life, you realize just how much life matters and just how precious every single minute really is.

So, when Nick lost his fight and we found ourselves choosing a second tombstone, I never wanted to return to a regular kind of life again where stress got the best of me or the pressures of this world could make me crack.

It’s been five years since we said goodbye to Nick.

Time has had a way of making foggy the joys of being Nick’s mom, but the other night I dreamed of him.

In my dream, I was in a school building wrapped in blankets, vulnerable and weak.

As I tried to make it to the car, my daughter Olivia’s little dog came running from underneath a school bus soaking wet from the rain.

“Dash! You’re going to get killed!” I screamed as I tried to catch him, still struggling to keep the blankets around me.

As I scooped up Dash, Nick was suddenly there beside me, smiling like he so often did.

I had a lot of things to carry to my car and he began picking things up and carrying them for me.

He rode home with me and I wish so much I could remember the car ride. I just remember that he said he didn’t feel good and he wanted to lay down.

When we got home, he snuggled into a blanket on the couch — the very couch in our home on which he passed away.

I remember going upstairs and crying as I prayed that God would heal him once again, because in my dream it was as if I knew he was getting sick.

My dream ended with me looking at Nick on the couch and knowing deep inside that he was happy and he was OK.

When I woke up, I felt as if God had taken me back in time for a very specific reason.

I felt as if God wanted me to remember my life with Nick in a very real and personal way, because I believe God still longs to use Nick to make this world a better place just like Nick helped me make it to the car in my dream.

So, as I talked to this teacher-friend who was aching with the stress of life, I didn’t tell her about my dream, but I did tell her this:

“If I could go back and change who I was when my kids were little, I would. Stress leads to regret. If you’re going to fail from time to time, don’t let it be with your family.”

We only have our children for a few years. Time passes way too quickly. How do we want them to remember us?

Money cannot buy peace. Money cannot buy more time. Money cannot buy happiness, joy or even contentment.

I say live with less and love more deeply.

Less really is more in this upside down world.

And when your child’s name is etched into a tombstone, you realize just how fragile and precious and short life really is.

Let go of stress today and choose love.

A Meade County High School graduate, Tammy Nischan teaches in the Carter County Schools and lives in Grayson. The mother of six, she is an author, including the book “Facing Dawn: A Morning Devotional for the Brokenhearted.” She can be reached at tammynischan@yahoo.com or followed at www.tammynischan.blogspot.com.