In February of this year, I rudely and prematurely became an empty nester. Since that time, some moments are as raw as when I first learned that Jake, my 16-year-old son, had died in a car crash.
Every day I move forward into uncharted territory, establishing a new normal with every painful step. Some days are filled with miraculous sparks of hope and joy, and then, unexpectedly, I’m hit with an emotional tsunami that momentarily paralyzes me. Then I get up again and keep moving forward.
Grief feels like a blanket; sometimes it’s comforting, and other times it feels oppressive and suffocating.
All I can do is breathe as I experience the spectrum of emotions that accompanies the sudden, tragic, and preventable loss of a beautiful child. It’s unimaginable, yet I have had to face this harsh reality head on. There’s no other choice than to walk through the fire.
The threshold of grief opens us up to the rest of our lives, to feel with more depth.
No one is spared suffering in this life, although many like to pretend they are. We don’t talk about this enough. We don’t talk about the tough stuff enough. I can’t NOT talk about it. Grief and healing happen within community. This is where we find strength, as grief pulls from reserves you never knew you had.
In my personal journey, I’ve witnessed the possibilities of love and of healthy, loving relationships. I’m now in one (and have been for nearly five years) and once you have that knowledge of what’s possible, especially with joy, you let more in.
The loss of a child hits the other end of the spectrum. The only thing that saves me from drowning every day is love.
A dear friend shared with me that in our culture, grief and death are often ignored, even though both are going to be our experience at some point, and many times over.
My friend Roger says, “Birth, death, grief, and love involve integrated steps in the dance of our journey. A life well-lived involves learning the steps of this dance rather than ignoring them.” He’s spot on.
Joy and grief can coexist. Every moment of every day I find joy in my life: with my work and writing, within my relationship with my partner, Adam, with my two adult children, Alex and Luke, and with my memories of my son, Jake.
Since Jake’s death, I’ve noticed hearts, whether hidden in landscapes or more obvious ones, and even sometimes in the clouds. I feel Jake is with me every day and these hearts are reminders that I am surrounded by love and joy.