Life, Liberty, & Happiness

1000 Days


aturday, October 24, 2015 - The day my son died in an auto accident, I didn’t think I could survive a week.

Being without him a year was beyond my capacity to imagine. Today marks 1000 days without him…  And I have discovered that I am not born with a fixed amount of resilience. I have more capacity than I knew to get through just about anything. I am stronger than I ever imaged.

For nearly a year, I was awash with the deepest-aching pain. Profound grief is debilitating. Losing Ryan was an around-the-clock, unrelenting, inescapable horror show.  Throughout year two, the acute pain was slowly replaced with an sorrowful ache - and the permanence of his loss. Tears were always just below the surface - and the most ordinary conversation would trigger a return to the abyss. This third year has been one of reflection - and trying to focus on the moments that made memories. And grief remains - visiting most frequently in the night and on holidays. And in those moments, my sorrow is as raw and real as day one of Ryan’s death. I don’t expect that to ever change.

Before losing a son, I was so naive to the grief a parent feels in losing a child - I assumed that grief would be resolved over time. But I’ve learned the hard way that this is simply not true. The initial intense, debilitating grief has become waves of grief that show up at unpredictable times. Sometimes the pain is deeply acute (this is especially true on Ryan’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas). My worst day is Father’s Day - the most harsh reminder that my son is no longer alive. I spend the day dreaming about a phone call or a card that won’t be coming. It’s also the holiday I tend to do a hatchet job on myself emotionally - re-living every interaction and every regret (every ball game I missed, every “I love you” I didn’t say enough). And while counselors and clergy have suggested that is not “healthy” - I suggest they try losing a child and then follow their own advice. It’s not possible. 

There are also other events in the lives of his friends (college graduations, weddings, birth of their children) that trigger a deep sadness as I find myself thinking about how old Ryan would be, what he would be doing if still alive, and the cold hard reminder that a big part of my family’s story is ripped away - he’ll never have the wedding, children or career that would be woven into the tapestry of our family’s legacy.  I hear his favorite song, see a grey 300Z (his car), and occasionally a voice that stops me in my tracks - another young man with that same voice. 

For bereaved parents, our grief lies just below the surface. Even when I'm laughing or absorbed in a conversation, if you were to scratch me just a little bit, my grief would come bubbling up. I've come to view grief not as the enemy, but rather as a part of my DNA that I now can acknowledge and move into. I know eventually grief will go back under the surface and I'll just carry her around with me, hidden from other’s view, but always there.

And for those of you who still have your children alive - don’t take a single moment for granted - they are your DNA - they need to hear words of love from you. Whether you approve of every aspect of their lives or not is totally irrelevant -  Just tell them you love them. Say it now.  Say it loud.  Say it often. Do not assume you have tomorrow. 

About Dr. Michael Burcham

Michael is an executive coach, entrepreneur, investor, and strategist with 30 years of experience leading investor-backed, high-growth organizations.

“I built and sold a $40M company with Dr. Burcham as my mentor. This is the thing: if you EVER get the opportunity to learn from this man, from that moment forward, you’ll list him as one of the most influential people in your life, even if you live to be 90. And, you’ll know how lucky you were to have that opportunity and you’ll immediately say YES to any chance to be in his presence again—his wisdom is that impactful.”

Sherry Stewart Deutschmann

Former CEO, Letter Logic

“If you are looking for a trusted mentor and coach for yourself or your leadership team, I highly recommend Michael Burcham. He has worked with me as my executive coach for well over a decade now. Our conversations and his feedback have helped me sharpen my critical thinking skills. He’s a trusted advisor that I can confidentially speak with about any issue—and I know I’ll get valued feedback. I highly recommend him.”

Ryan McGrath

CEO, Asset Living

“Dr. Burcham’s depth and breadth of experience makes even the most ADD entrepreneurial leader sit up and take notes! His coaching skills bring out the ‘best you’ possible. He selflessly shares the good, the bad, and the ugly—leaving you with an authentic and moving experience sure to spur action and professional growth!”

Julie Lenzer

Director, U.S. Department of Commerce


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