Learning to Thrive After Loss

After losing my son, I was completely swallowed in the fog of grief.  An emptiness that filled my lungs and heart - constricting my ability to think or breathe. After a lot of research, counseling and thought; the following 4 realities emerged. As I learned to deal with these, I was able to begin my journey of grief. I thought I’d share these lessons learned in the hope it will help someone else.

Reality 1: Personalization. I found I was tending to blame myself for losing my son. I never really said it out loud, but I was constantly thinking about what could I have done differently.  How could my child’s death have been avoided?  What else could I have done to avoid this tragedy? What have I learned about personalization? I learned that when I stopped personalizing the tragedy - I began to thrive. But I had to stop accepting blame for everything that happened. I was not responsible.

Reality 2: Pervasiveness. The first six months - the pain was overwhelming. Life was awful. Everything was awful. I wasn’t much fun to be around. I found myself becoming a pessimist. The glass was always half full. I couldn’t see that there were other things in my life that were not awful. I was struggling with friendships, not giving my surviving daughter the time she needed. I wasn’t going out to dinner. My perception of life became my reality. What have I learned about pervasiveness? I’ve learned that all of life is not terrible. I now live knowing how precious every day really is. I am truly grateful for the gift of life. This is my greatest irony - I have found gratitude in my loss.

Reality 3: Permanence. I believed that my sorrow would last forever - the horrible fog of grief seemed permanent. I think I became clinically depressed. I just couldn’t see beyond the present. This never-ending saddness would be with me forever.  What have I learned about permanence? I’ve learned that while grief is a life-long journey, it does change. The pain of grief will ebb and flow - and I will find moments of joy. I have a big reservoir of sadness - and it’s always just below the surface. But pain is not permanent. There is joy.

Reality 4: Perseverance. I honestly didn’t think I would survive my son’s death. Part of me didn’t want to (or care to) survive. I struggled with the belief that I could survive or “succeed” at anything. What have I learned about perserverance? I’ve discovered that I’m stronger than I ever imaged.  I will survive this tragedy. I’m not the same person. I’m a work in process - more thoughtful, more aware of the pain in the world around me. I’m more empathetic to others. I’m now defined by how I’ve learned to handle the “hard stuff” - not just my accomplishments.

These are my lessons of hope.  My lessons of strength.  My lessons about the fire within each of us that cannot be extinguished. I walk this journey of hope to honor my son.  He guides my journey.