Next month it will be 5 years since I lost my 25 year old son in a car accident. It’s significant only because I was sure that in the beginning, I wouldn’t survive at all. But I did, and this is a story of how I did survive and how I have learned to find some joy in my life again.
We got a call April 27, 2014 that my son had been hit by 2 men street racing after he had taken a friend home. The accident instantly took my sons life. I was in such a state of shock that I could hardly function at all. I don’t remember most of the details from the accident but I do know that the two men took off and left my son there to die alone. I remember seeing my baby in the basement of the hospital and I remember a bit of the service our family held for him. But for the most part, my heart just can’t go back to that week.
After the accident, I was suicidal. I had no desire to live in a world that had taken my son. I just could not wrap my head around the fact that my son was no longer physically here. I would exist by either raging at what had happened or settling safely back into a constant fog that I had created just to survive. After existing between those two worlds, I started to see a grief counselor and she started on a low dose of antidepressants. The combination of the grief counselor and medication saved my life.
Part of my journey includes the support system that I have surrounded myself with. I have a very supportive husband and family who have had and continue to have my back throughout this nightmare. I have a wonderful daughter and she and I grieved my son’s death together. We are closer than ever. For a while, I think I pulled back from her a bit. There was no way I could lose another child and survive. I was trying to protect my heart. I understand now that this was pointless. Was I protecting myself? Of course not, and I was denying daughter and myself the love that we have always shared when we needed it the most.
It took me a full year for that fog to begin to lift. Once it did, I kind of went backwards for a short period of time. Without that fog covering, I was forced to face my new reality. But there came a point where I was tired of feeling so bad. It was always in the back of my mind that my son would in no way want me to continue to suffer like this. He would expect me to grieve and then move forward. So that’s what I have tried to do.
I slowly came around to the fact that I had to make some decisions. Either I was going to honor my son in a way that he would have wanted and try to move forward or, I was going to continue on my self destructive journey of pain and anger. From the very beginning of this journey, I had continually said that I didn’t want to end up bitter over what I had lost. And I was losing that battle.
I continued with grief counseling (in my opinion an absolute must when suffering a loss of a child) and I continued my journey of healing.
I decided to start paying attention to my community, which I’m ashamed to say, I never really did before. They had been there for me in my time of need and I wanted to be there for them as well. I started practicing kindness wherever I went. Small acts of kindness seem to have made the biggest difference to me--things like paying for the person behind me in the drive through or paying for a meal for a first responder or member of the military when in a restaurant. I have learned that always being friendly, looking people in the eye and using their name when speaking to them have made such a difference. I used to spend a lot of time in my own head and just never paid too much attention to that type of thing. I have started helping families in the community with kids at Christmas time.
I have tried hard not to judge anyone. It’s important for me remember that people fight all sorts of battles that we don’t know anything about and it’s better to just be kind to them. My son had been a big believer in not judging others, what better way to honor his memory? The bonus for me is that I have met some really great people by stopping and paying attention to the community around me.
I have learned to look for the simple joys in my life. I live in Arizona where we have the most beautiful skies. The sunsets are glorious. I try to watch them often. I like to think when I look up at that sky, I see my son. And I have a sense of peace.
I have also learned that my grief journey is not a straight line. There have been so many ups and downs since losing my son. My daughter got married 3 years ago and It was such a beautiful wedding. And I cried buckets. It’s not easy to feel absolute joy for one child and heartbreak over the other at exactly the same time. I was overjoyed to be a part of her day and heartbroken that we would never have this day for my son.
I now have a grandson and he fills a hole in my heart that I thought was closed forever. There are moments though when his expressions and mannerisms remind me so of my son. As much as I love that little guy, it can take my breath away and twist my gut a little when I see those expressions and mannerisms. When my breath is fleeting and my stomach is twisting, I remember that I am here to honor my son. And I am determined to be there for him and love him wholeheartedly. After all, doesn’t he deserve a family that is fully vested in his well-being?
What I want to do now is reach out to others who have suffered the loss of a child. I have written a book that describes my journey and outlines some of the tools I have used to survive. I will never be the person that I was before, nor do I have any desire to be that person. I have learned to live with a giant hole in my heart. I still sometimes get angry that my son was cheated out of his life. That we were cheated out of him, maybe a family of his own. I have learned to ride the waves of anger and grief that still sometimes consume me. I have learned that after riding that wave, I can tuck those feelings back into my heart and try to move forward. And I want to let others know that even though life will never be the same, I have survived.