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