“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” ~Rumi
Our son Nathan was nine years old when a car hit him. He had massive head injuries as a result of his accident. Doctors told us that he was brain dead and encouraged us to turn off his life support and donate his organs. Two days later we did just that and sadly said our last goodbye.
How do you begin this journey? Who prepares you for this sudden change? How do you wake up the next morning knowing your child won’t be in your life anymore?
At first we went on autopilot to survive because trying to absorb such an enormous shock was not an option. Nothing seemed real.
Of course, we knew the truth deep down, but we had another daughter to care for, and in the beginning everyone was running around trying to make us feel better, so our grief went on hold.
After the funeral and meals stopped coming around, we still wanted to avoid the grief, but somehow it started to face us.
My husband and I both wanted answers to the many questions we had about Nathan’s death.
We started to doubt what we had learned at the hospital and our own decision to turn off his life support. We began to come out of our shock and started piecing together exactly how this happened.
Our anger at the driver started to come out as well; we wanted her to be punished like we were. We asked if she could be charged and held accountable for her actions.
With all this emotion and energy flying around, we weren’t sure who we were anymore, and we were channelling our energy in all the wrong directions.
I started to play the “what if” game in my thoughts each day. Once you let it in, it can consume you. I was not so much exhausted with the process of grief, but more about how busy my mind had become with everything but that.
I would lie awake at night going over and over how, why, or what if. I became obsessed, convinced that if I worked out how, I could change that day or blame someone else, I could somehow bring him back.
At times my husband would withdraw from talking about Nathan’s death. I wanted to talk about him everyday, but he would often come home from work not wanting to talk at all.
This is often why couples find it so difficult when they realize they grieve differently—sometimes completely opposite to each other.
Grieving differently can bring a wedge between you both. If you don’t understand how you can work together through this grief, it can leave you feeling disconnected.
Please know that there is no “right” way to grieve. The way you feel at the time is the right way for you. When you begin to understand and be patient with those close to you who do grieve differently, it is then you can find a balance together. Give your loved one time to adjust to his or her grief.
In the early stages of grief, you often feel like no one really understands your loss, although people would tell me they did.
People mean well, they feel so awful that this has happened to you, and their greatest fear is that it will happen to them.
Your friends and sometimes your family believe you don’t want to talk about your lost loved one again, as this will cause you to cry and be sad. Often others feel uncomfortable around you when you talk about your loved one’s death and they see how painful this is for you.
The fact is, you never want to stop talking about that person simply because your greatest fear is accepting that they are never coming home.
So days turn into months, and the pain increases instead of decreasing. The emotions that come through you are sometimes like riding a rollercoaster.
I remember planning for Nathan’s first anniversary. I believed that if I prepared for it, I would cope on the day and wouldn’t collapse in a heap. What I found is that it is never actually on the day of a special occasion that you fall apart but often when you least expect it.
After a few months, I began to read as much as I could on grief and losing a child, and I was so glad I did. My sister gave me a book called When the Bough Breaks by Judith R. Bernstein. This was the beginning of my journey into healing.
It gave me so much hope, because for the first time I realized that, even though I was in all this emotional pain, I was not alone. I started to see that all the feelings that my husband and I shared were completely normal, and that walking through this pain, I could slowly come out of it and begin to heal.
The next gift I received was a suggestion from a friend to take a yoga class. As my mind was constantly haunted by the “what ifs” and my emotional turmoil, I decided to try it.
At first, yoga helped by slowing my worrisome thoughts. When I began to connect to my breath, to breathe more deeply and gently, I was able to feel I had more control over my emotions.
Each yoga pose helps you release stress and opens your mind and body to receive love and healing.
I then went to see a wonderful healer who showed me that when I became still and spent time in meditation, it allowed my emotions to flow; I allowed them to surface instead of resisting them or suppressing them.
I learned to sit in the pain, accepting it without judgement.
In understanding that I only had to face one day at a time, I began to cope.
In teaching me to surrender to these emotions and loss, my healer also taught me affirmations to say, and to write down what I wanted in my life. She was the first person to show me I was in control of creating the life I wished for, even if it meant not having my son with me.
I started to feel empowered with new thoughts. I started to see that I could be in charge of how I reacted to each situation. I asked myself each day, “Can I start the day positively? Can I start the day in hope?”
During this time of healing, I realized I needed to forgive the driver for Nathan’s death. Forgiveness is so important in letting go and moving forward. I also needed to forgive myself of all the guilt that I was holding for him.
I felt responsible for every story in my head and for all the times I didn’t tell him I loved him or hug him, for it is never enough when they are gone.
In forgiving, I freed my own life of anger and hurt, and in doing so allowed, love, peace, and hope to enter my heart.
If you’re dealing with the loss of someone you love, practice your stillness each day, become aware of your thoughts coming in and out. Allow yourself to be sad but more importantly, allow yourself to be happy. It is the gift you can give back to your loved one who is gone and to those still with you.
Photo by shanon wise