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On the Loss of a Child

I have been asked to write an article for Hospice Yukon to be included their Spring Newsletter.   The theme is ‘Child Loss’…ugh.

I never thought I would ever be in the position to write something on this topic from personal experience.   I am certainly no expert and I sure don’t want to become a poster girl for parents who have lost their kids.   Still, its interesting how the  assignment has put me on the flip side of grief for the first time in a long while.  Since last summer I have been absorbing all the love, care and attention from others and now I have been asked to provide some.  It feels like swimming upstream.  Yes, more water analogies.  I have no idea where they come from.

I have had to carefully weigh the words I would like to share with someone who has been forced to endure one of life’s most excruciating possibilities.   These are fragile people.  Not an easy job.   It has helped me to realize how challenging it has been for all of our loved ones to support us through our loss.  This is hell for everyone.    Here is what I came up with…

Child Loss – Yukon Hospice Spring Newsletter 2016

If you are reading this it’s very likely that something terrible has happened.  Something you never imagined when you envisioned your life’s path.  Something you could never have prepared for.  Chances are you are reeling.  Reeling with shock, guilt, confusion, anger and a deep immeasurable sadness that never seems to leave you.  It is there when you wake up each morning, carried with you all day long and still there when you finally rest your exhausted body each night. 

Your beautiful child has gone.  This was not supposed to happen. This was not supposed to happen to you, it was not supposed to happen to me and it certainly was not supposed to happen to our children. 

Our son Holden passed away suddenly in July 2015.  It was an accidental alcohol and drug overdose that took his gorgeous soul from us.  He was just 21. 

It has been 8 months since that devastating day and the sadness has never left.  Not once.  In its unpredictability, my sadness has evolved, surged and loosened its grip a little at times but never disappeared.  That has been the only predictable part of my sadness; it never leaves.

I have come to equate the size of the love I feel for my son with the physical size of the sadness I am now experiencing.  How can the sadness ever end when my love is infinite? 

This idea is exactly why I’m slowly learning to give myself permission to feel lighter on those rare occasions when the heavy darkness dissipates of it’s own accord.  As it does, from time to time, for no particular reason.  A wise friend who lost her partner offered this little nugget one afternoon over tea and I have found it to be very helpful and completely true. “The sadness will always return.”

If your heart should unclench ever so slightly one day, let it happen.  Because the sadness will always return.  Allow yourself to step out of the swamp for a short period of time.  It does not mean you are ‘over this’ or that your child’s passing means less.  Please don’t feel guilty for smiling at a sweet child skipping down the sidewalk or humming along with the radio while you drive. The sadness is part of your life now.  Just as your child always will be.  Trust that, and allow the unfamiliar warmth of happiness flood your aching bones.  Just for a moment. 

Another aspect that has become very clear to me is that choosing the dark can be the bravest and most honest response to this unthinkable tragedy.  Some grief experts call it ‘leaning in’ to the pain.  Only lately have I begun to more fully internalize what that means.  I now understand the need to endlessly ruminate on the stupid unfairness of what has happened, as a torturous and yet somehow rich endeavour.  I won’t call this experience positive because it is not.  Our loss will never be positive.  Still, this sort of deepening or widening of my understanding of the human condition has been…interesting.  The bottom of the well is not a fun place to spend my days but in passing so much time there I have become much more compassionate, aware, patient and honest. 

It has also become vitally important to realize that the way I voyage into the depths of sadness is a choice.  Whether consciously or unconsciously every journey offers choice.  Yes, I am completely unqualified to navigating this raging river with it’s unexpected perilous rapids, but I do have a paddle.  A flimsy inadequate one, but a paddle nonetheless; my paddle is choice. 

At times I choose not to resist while the anguish drags me over jagged submerged rocks.  And sometimes, it’s possible to gather the strength and momentum to push off the canyon walls avoiding the churning back eddies that try to suck me back under.  Whether I allow or resist the rapids of grief, both are my choice.

To accept that lunch offer when I’d rather hide in bed.  To go outside when outside seems way too big.  These small, directed choices are private, tiny victories that feel like silent declarations of healing. They feel good.  Tiring, but good.

Daily, sometimes hourly I ask myself, “How do I live with this?  Do I want to be a woman who is defined solely by the too soon loss of her beautiful son?”  For now there is only one topic of conversation, one item on the agenda, but I believe that over time, the rest of me will eventually be revealed.

The terrible truth is that something horrible has happened.  Something we did not choose.

The only thing I can try to do as I attempt to reorient myself in a life forever weighted with sadness, is to choose the light.  And on the days when that is simply too hard, I hope to find the strength to at least orient myself in that direction – and that is my hope for you too.   

I am so deeply sorry for your loss.

Love,

Tara

**Yukon Hospice offers many free resources for coping with loss on their website.  I found the section on  “Supporting Others” very helpful.  I get it, you don’t know what to do or say.  This page offers some good suggestions**

14 Comments

  1. Rob Collins

    It’s a long journey to finding that “new normal” in life with just those precious memories of your loved one keeping your heart focused on your well being.

    Tara, your writings are turning this negative into a positive for those on this walk of life’

    Thank-you for sharing.

    Your friend, Rob

  2. Jody Vance

    I need you to know that you are so very much more, to me, than your tragic loss. You are a gift in this life. You are my very wise, kind, honest and true friend Tara.

  3. Riley

    You were right, I had to read it, see this from someone else’s eyes and heart. I made it to the end without crying, but a deep sigh part way through. Loss of a child, our son of 14, less than a month before he turned 15, left all these ribbons of his memories all around us. One of him first swimming, one of him doing a marathon and upon seeing us driving by, he smiled a huge smile and ran faster. Things I will never forget. Thank you for your posts, I enjoy reading them.

  4. I was so moved by these emotional and articulate words. I will be sharing this post with a few people who really need to hear this – your words will be an anchor in the well of sadness in which they are living right now.

  5. Karen Hoffman

    Tara, you are blessed with an amazing talent of writing. This post is so real and kind and sad and hopeful. I can imagine it brings even a drop of light to those who have lost so much. I know it has helped me.
    This letter of comfort needs to be read by a big audience.

    Keep writing as a way of healing and helping

    • Hi Scott,

      I’m not sure how brave it is to purge all of this raw emotion out onto everyone else but I thank you for saying so. The writing helps me to organize my thoughts so they don’t run around in my head like wild animals ripping things apart.

      It doesn’t make things any better but ‘contains’ them in a way. Like organizing a closet full of junk. All of your old and useless crap is still in there taking up space, you can just find your tennis racket when you need it.

      Love to you and the fam,

      xx t

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