Nine years ago, (on October 22, 2010) our oldest son Matthew died at the age of 21 and we started on a grief journey that we continue on to this day. Nine years ago, the enormity of the loss was just beginning to settle upon us as we began to place our feet on the path that was only just beginning to reveal itself. Nine years ago, I remember wishing that we could fast forward our way out of the immense pain that was enveloping us so that we could emerge in a place that was somehow less excruciating, less "different." Of course, we couldn't do that. Our world had been knocked off its axis, and now we had a huge line running down it marked "before and after." We were plunged into a wilderness that we had never encountered before, and our lives were forever changed. Now as I stand at the ninth anniversary, I find I am grateful for many things that I am continuing to learn on this journey. Here are some of my reflections from the past nine years.
The first is that the grief we feel is a function of the love we feel for Matthew, and that love is infinite. Without love, you don't grieve. Yes, we are learning how to live without his physical presence in our lives, but it doesn't mean he is no less present in our lives. We talk about him all of the time, tell stories, share memories and carry him in our hearts. Our relationship with him has been redefined, but we still have a relationship. This may be a hard concept to understand if you've never experienced a profound loss, but that has been our experience.
Secondly, It's impossible to write about my own grief journey without talking about the importance of connecting with others who were already navigating a similar road. Before Matthew died, I only knew a few people who had lost children. Our worlds didn't intersect, and possibly more to the point, it wasn't something that was talked about. As the months started to unroll, I began to meet others who were further down the road than we were and they served as beacons of hope for me. I saw that they were not only surviving, but had also found meaning in their new lives. This was such a crucial concept for me at the time, because life seemed so hopeless. But I began to see how others had picked up the pieces of their lives and reassembled them, so that once again their lives had purpose.
Now some of my dearest friends are walking this path with me, and while I wish that none of us were on it, I am so grateful for their friendships and can't imagine being on this journey without them. Some are years ahead of me, some are walking in tandem with me, and others are just starting out. We light each other's paths as we make our way in a world without our children. No one understands our journey like another bereaved parent; it helps to be with others who are walking the same rocky path.