“If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark”.
St. John of the Cross
(Matt) We think about you all daily and are honored and humbled, and helped to share a bit with you. As you know, our journey is not over, it never is, and I hope our connection is never fully severed. When our daily tears ebb, we are, continually, so thankful and grateful for the fullness of Ben “Cole’s” life to the very end. It was amazing, and I’m overwhelmed to tears again when I meditate on it.
When I opened up the quarterly Circle of Life Community Hospice Newsletter and read the piece in it titled, “7 Things I’ve Learned Since the Loss of My Child” by Angela Miller, I felt like I could write the words I was reading. Today, it has been, exactly 4 months and 4 days since “Cole” transitioned Heaven and as I’ve had time to reflect and gather my thoughts, these words seem a good way to share with you the ways we are feeling. (I added my brief commentary in parenthesis) and if you know anyone who these words might inspire or help, please pass them on.
7 things I’ve Learned Since the Loss of My Child
by Angela Miller
Child loss is a loss like no other. One often misunderstood by many. (Our experience is not necessarily that it is misunderstood, just thankfully not understood for most). If you love a bereaved parent or know someone who does, remember that even his or her “good” days are harder than you could ever imagine.
Compassion and love, not advice, are needed.
If you’d like an inside look into why the loss of a child is a grief that lasts a lifetime, here is what I’ve learned in my seven years of trekking through the unimaginable:
1) Love never dies. There will never come a day, hour, minute or second that I stop loving or thinking about my son. Just as parents of living children unconditionally love their children always and forever, so do bereaved parents.I want to say and hear his name just the same as non-bereaved parents to. I want to speak about my deceased child as normally and naturally as you speak of your living ones.
I love my child just as much as you love yours – the only difference is mine lives in heaven and talking about him is unfortunately quite taboo in our culture. (We have not experienced this so far.) I hope to change that.
Our culture isn’t so great about hearing about children gone too soon, but that doesn’t stop me from saying my son’s name and sharing his love and light everywhere I go. Just because it might make you uncomfortable, doesn’t make him matter any less. My son’s life was cut irreversibly short, but his love lives on forever. And ever.
2) Bereaved parents share an unspeakable bond. In my seven years navigating the world as a bereaved parent, I am continually struck by the power of the bond between bereaved parents. Strangers become kindreds in mere seconds – a look, a glance, a knowing of the heart connects us, even if we’ve never met before. No matter our circumstances, who we are, or how different we are, there is no greater bond than the connection between parents who understand the agony of enduring the death of a child. It’s a pain we suffer for a lifetime, and unfortunately only those who have walked the path of child loss understand the depth and breadth of both the pain and the love we carry.
3) I will grieve for a lifetime. Period. The end. There is no “moving on” or “getting over it.” There is no bow, no fix, no solution to my heartache. There is no end to the ways I will grieve and for how long I will grieve. There is no glue for my broken heart, no elixir for my pain, no going back in time. For as long as I breathe, I will grieve and ache and love my son with all my heart and soul.
There will never come a time where I won’t think about who my son would be, what he would look like, and how he would be woven perfectly into the tapestry of my family.
I wish people could understand that grief lasts forever because love lasts forever; that the loss of a child is not one finite event, it is a continuous loss that unfolds minute by minute over the course of a lifetime. (We think people understand this.)
Every missed birthday, holiday, milestone – should – be back – to – school years and graduations; weddings that will never be; grandchildren that should have been but will never be born – an entire generation of people are irrevocably altered forever.
This is why grief lasts forever. The ripple effect lasts forever. The bleeding never stops.
4) It’s a club I can never leave, but it is filled with the most shining souls I’ve ever known. This unfortunate club called child loss is a club I never wanted to join, and one I can never leave, yet is filled with some of the best people I’ve ever known. And yet we all wish we could jump ship – that we could have met another way – any other way but this.
Alas, these shining souls are the most beautiful, compassionate, grounded, loving, movers, shakers, and healers I have ever had the honor of knowing. They are life-changers, game-changers, relentless survivors and thrivers. Warrior moms and dads who redefine the word brave.
Everyday parents move mountains in honor of their children gone too soon. They start movements, change laws, and spearhead crusades of tireless activism. Why? In the hope that even just one parent could be spared from joining the club. If you’ve ever wondered who some the greatest world changers are, hang out with a few bereaved parents and watch how they live, see what they do in a day, a week, a lifetime. Watch how they alchemize their grief into a force to be reckoned with, watch how they turn tragedy into transformation, loss into legacy. (We hope so.)
Love is the most powerful force on earth, and the love between a bereaved parent and his/her child is a life force to behold. Get to know a bereaved parent. You’ll be thankful you did.
5) The empty chair/room/space never becomes less empty. Empty chair, empty room, empty space in every family picture. Empty, vacant, forever gone for this lifetime. Empty spaces that should be full, everywhere we go.
There is and will always be a missing space in our lives, our families, a forever-hole-in-our-hearts. Time does not make the space less empty. Neither to platitudes, clichés or well-wishes for us to “move on”, of “stop dwelling,” from well-intentioned friends or family. Nothing does.
No matter how you look at it, empty is till empty. Missing is still missing. Gone is still gone. The problem is nothing can fill it. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after heartbreaking year the empty space remains.
The empty space of our missing child(ren) lasts a lifetime. And so we rightfully miss them forever. Help us by holding the space of that truth for us.
6) No matter how long it’s been holidays never become easier without my son. Never, ever. Have you ever wondered why every holiday season is like torture for a bereaved parent? Even if It’s been 5, 10, or 25 years later? It’s because they really, truly are.
Imagine if you had to live every holiday without one or more of your precious children. Imagine how that might feel for you. It would be easier to lose an arm, a leg or two – anything – than to live without your flesh and blood, with the beat of your heart. Almost anything would be easier than living without one or more of your precious children. That is why holidays are always and forever hard for bereaved parents.
Don’t wonder why or even try to understand. (I appreciate and look forward to talking to those that wonder or want to understand!) Know you don’t have to understand in order to be a supportive presence. Consider supporting and loving some bereaved parents this holiday season. It will be the best gift you could ever give them.
7) Because I know deep sorrow, I also know unspeakable joy. Though I will grieve the death of my son forever and then some, it does not mean my life is lacking happiness and joy. Quite the contrary, in fact, though it took a while to get there. It is not either/or, it’s both/and.
My life is richer now. I live from a deeper place. I love deeper still. Because I grieve, I also know a joy like no other. The joy I experience now is far deeper and more intense than the joy I experienced before my loss. Such is the alchemy of grief.
Because I’ve clawed my way from the depth of unimaginable pain, suffering and sorrow, again and again – when the joy comes, however and whenever it does – it is a joy that reverberates through every pore of my skin and every bone in my body. I feel all of it, deeply—the love, the grief, the joy, the pain. I embrace and thank every morsel of it.
My life is richer and more vibrant and fuller, not despite my loss but because of it. In grief there are gifts, sometimes many. These gifts don’t in any way make in all “worth” it, but I am grateful beyond words for each and every gift that comes my way. I bow my head to each one and say thank you, thank you, thank you. Because there is nothing – and mean absolutely nothing – I take for granted. Living life in this way gives me greater joy than I’ve ever known possible.
I have my son to thank for that. Being his mom is the best gift I’ve ever been given. (Heck yeah!) Even death can’t take that away.
Speaking of death, I came across this quote the other day: “You don’t know who you truly are until you know God, and you don’t know how to truly live until you have settled the question as to how to die.” Often times Cole would ask his close people, “Are you prepared to die?” or “Are you afraid to die?” or, “Do you know what happens when you die?” and “Did you know you really don’t die?”. I agree with Cole, that we should all take an honest, solid look at these questions for ourselves. Cole asked and wrestled with these questions for 29 months. He persisted in seeking truth in this regard and he found it.
With integrity and insurmountable challenges all around him, he left behind a legacy of sacred hardiness, strong faith, and perseverance. These things are not learned and earned on “easy street”, they come with much disappointment, suffering, and tears. We can remember him and his faithfulness and recollect how and the ways he faced death with fortitude, and dignity, faith, and anticipation. The way Cole transitioned brings Glory to God.
(Katie) For an everyday update, Matt, Luke and I are doing well. We’ve been able to spend some good chunks of time together in Montana, Utah, and the Black Rock Playa with good friends and most recently in Southern California with Lora’s family for Thanksgiving. Luke is skateboarding and riding a moto and ready for an awesome ski season. We take life one day at a time and are experiencing lots of joy together, which is wonderful. And we miss Ben. And we’re catching up with friends and family. And we miss Cole. And we’re joyful. And so, it goes.
Angela Miller notes that grief has many gifts. Not gifts she would have ever chosen, but gifts she is grateful for, nevertheless. You are our gifts! Your love and good wishes, prayers, notes, meals, grocery runs, posts and cards, texts, gifts, gift cards, hugs, and hope for us make our lives fuller, richer, and more vibrant. Thank you!