You never know, until faced with the unimaginable, how you will respond. It’s impossible to truly prepare for the unknown. Unimaginable loss is the ultimate test of resiliency. Your values, beliefs, level of integrity, and moral compass will influence how you react.
When I discovered that my son Jake died in a car accident, I didn’t struggle with acceptance. I was shocked, angry at the choices which led to it, and profoundly sad, but I wasn’t in denial. This tragic news felt eviscerating — which is a horribly accurate term, quite literally meaning “gutted”. The label of being a mom who’s lost a beautiful child feels uncomfortable and stabbing to my soul. Parents who’ve lost a child know one another on the deepest, most painful, and intimate level. We can see it in one another’s eyes and feel it with our hearts.
There’s nothing like the loss of a child to slap you in the face with life’s impermanence.
In theory, humans become more compassionate through experience. Viewing life through my new perspective lens makes all other things relative. Yet there are people who’ve experienced far worse than me who are thriving. These are the people I immediately turned to. These are the examples I want to emulate. I want to know how they survived and thrived after loss. What saved them from drowning in sorrow and despair? I have worked too fucking hard to overcome PTSD from an emotionally abusive marriage to a sociopathic narcissist to allow myself to be taken down by grief and I wanted to know which steps to take to alleviate the heaviness. I had the resiliency and the stamina to get through PTSD, and now I had to once again dig deep into my reserves to cope — this time, with Jake’s death.
Resources for dealing with sudden loss are available, and fortunately multiplying. A few decades ago, there were scant options. There should be a warning label on the 5 Stages of Grief book: THIS BOOK IS FOR THE DYING — NOT THE BEREAVED. It’s impossible for me to share how personally offended and how much I intensely dislike the 5 stages. I think they are pure bullshit, regardless of how well-intended they were meant to be. Claire Bidwell Smith wrote ANXIETY: THE MISSING STAGE OF GRIEF. Now she’s on to something…
The book that really spoke to me after Jake died was RESILIENT GRIEVING by Dr. Lucy Hone. Dr. Hone lost a child in a car crash. I could instantly relate to her experience and with her commitment to moving through her grief and leveraging it to help others.
The first time I entered my therapist Sherry O’Brian’s office, she handed me a book she’d written, PEAKS AND VALLEYS: INTEGRATIVE APPROACHES FOR RECOVERING FROM LOSS. I had no idea she was an author of a book on grief and knew I was in the right place. Sherry created her own Grief Cycle, which she shares in her book. In the Grief Cycle, “recovery” is in the middle of the circle and there are four words all connected by arrows (in the flow of an outer loop of the “recovery” bubble), which are: shock, protest, disorganization, and reorganization. This diagram makes a ton of sense and I highly recommend her book. I have also interviewed her on my podcast, Record Scratch with Kara.
Another person I turned to, Intuitive healer Melanie Ericksen, helps her clients turn their wounds into wisdom. We all have the potential and the ability to do this. Melanie is among many healers who have been guests on my podcast.
Several people have expressed their shock at my lack of struggle with acceptance of Jake’s death. I was surprised they were surprised. My son is dead, what choice do I have but to accept it? One of my main mantras and guiding principles of my life has been to do my best to not be upset by things outside of my control. Now when I added this to my value system, I thought it applied to things like traffic jams, airline delays, and Board rooms of individuals whose actions or decisions I do not agree with (which precipitates me strategizing how to work around them). Never did I consider the possibility of this applying to the loss of a child.
So what does that look like? How did I apply this to Jake’s death? First, I looked for gratitude in the situation. My last interaction with Jake was six hours earlier, hugging him and telling him I loved him. His last words to me were, “I love you, too.” How can I not be grateful to have an exchange of love with my son hours before he died? Second, I’m grateful to have a massive amount of amazing friends. I hear frequently, “You know everybody!” Well…I don’t know everyone, but I hope I’ve been sincerely kind to enough people that they feel this way.
In my heart, which was ripped apart, I knew there was nothing I could have done differently. I am grateful to have peace with myself and my actions as Jake’s mom. Jake was loved so completely, and I am definitely grateful for this. Yet, in spite of the gratitude, when something tragic happens in our lives, it’s common to develop control issues and anxiety. This is where therapy enters in.
When tragedy strikes, there are resources out there. Friends and strangers you encounter will offer support, many times right at the moment you need it the most — and if you need help, reach out to someone. No one should suffer alone. As individualized and unique as every loss is, we all will (if we haven’t already) experience loss. I’m using my platform to share resources and stories of hope and resilience in hopes of helping others not to feel alone. No one is spared this experience, it’s not if, it’s when.
I had a few t-shirts made after Jake died. One of them states, “Long live the Oxford comma” and another with “acceptance” across the front.