The New Year has arrived, but it didn’t arrive fresh and new with a clean slate like promised. For me the lingering pain of child loss resides in my heart and has taken permanent residence. I guess I wasn’t expecting the pain to go away; but I was hoping it would somehow feel lighter this year. It doesn’t.
My son died unexpectedly almost three years ago of a massive heart attack. I still feel the shock waves of that news almost every day. Trauma does that to us. I don’t know if the trauma part will ever completely go away. I still jump any time my phone rings around 8:00 in the evening. I freeze. I refuse to answer. I never want to hear those words ever again. “They tried. They tried for almost an hour, but he didn’t make it. I’m so sorry.” My body is trembling as I’m typing the words that forever changed my life and the lives of so many that I love.
I’m trying to figure out how to move forward in this New Year with some kind of hope and joy. After all, isn’t that what the New Year is all about? I’ve spent weeks thinking about this knowing that January 1 would be here and I want so badly for this year to be better, to be brighter, to be a more peaceful year.
I sat on Mike’s memorial bench for a long time with snow blowing against my cheeks as my tears froze on my face. “Mike, how am I going to do this? I know you don’t want me to feel so sad all of the time. I can feel you pushing me out of this dark hole of grief. But, I need some help from you. I need you to show me how to live within this grief with some kind of hope and joy. Help me.”
I talk to Mike often. It helps me to feel his presence. I need so much to feel him nearby. As I sat on the snow covered bench, off to the left of me three deer inched their way out of the woods. They stood within feet of me and stared not showing any fear. Mike loved the snow and he loved the deer. He loved everything that was part of country living. I locked eyes with those deer and I saw a gentleness that I needed to see. They stayed for a good ten minutes then wandered back into the woods as the sun began setting.
For the first time in a long time my shoulders eased, the tension grew less, and my tears stopped. I felt somehow warmed as I sat on that bench by Mike’s memorial garden. Those deer seemed to deliver a message of peace to me. It was as if Mike had sent them to let me know that all was well with him. I was sitting in his happy place among the things that made him so happy as a young child growing up. He moved to Tennessee with his wife and three children but he always made a trip home each year to spend time in the snow, in the woods and among the wildlife. I was doing what he loved, and I felt him right there with me.
Is this the peace I was searching for? Is the inner calm I was feeling the joy that would somehow reside in my heart this year in order to calm my grief?
Today, January 1, 2018, was a blustery, snowy day in Pennsylvania. I got up early and walked outside to take in the early morning air. I felt the snow falling against my face. I looked to the heavens and prayed a prayer of thanks for giving me this day. I felt the ache of missing my son. I know that ache will always be there. But, as I looked to the heavens I imagined him watching his mom from above feeling the gentle peace of this day and I know he was smiling.
And, I began this first day of the New Year wrapped in peace and a quiet inner joy understanding the message of hope sent to me from my son.
I think as parents of child loss we all want this terrible emptiness to somehow leave. I don’t think we’ll ever feel whole again — not in the sense we were whole before our child died. How could we? There will always be that aching, emptiness of missing our child. But, I’m convinced that we can have a meaningful peace-filled life even within the brokenness of loss.
If you have lost a child and you’re struggling with finding your way into this New Year, I hope that something I’ve shared will help you in some small way. This is a difficult journey we’re on. There’s nothing easy about child loss. But, as we love and support one another we can be encouraged along the way.
May I suggest you get a copy of the book Hope 365? I keep my copy with me at all times. I read from it throughout the day for an added boost of encouragement. The short, hopeful messages really do help!
If you’re still in the early raw pain of child loss, I’d encourage you to get a copy of the book Child Loss – the Heartbreak and the Hope. I wrote this book about a year and a half after my son died. I think you will find a lot in there that will help you.
My love to you. May you find your way to inner peace, hope and inner joy during this New Year.