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Surviving the Unthinkable

I wrote this a few years ago - it mentions the Oklahoma City Bombing which will have its 18th anniversary tomorrow - and after what has happened in Boston I thought it might be appropriate to share now:

I vividly remember April 19, 1995. My daughter Nina had heard on the news that something horrible had just occurred in Oklahoma City. She told me that a federal
office building had been bombed, killing many people, many of them very young children. As the scene replayed itself on every station, Nina and I knelt in front of the television. We held hands and were motionless and hushed except for the sound of our occasional choking sobs.

As we watched the horrific scene and the victim’s loved ones in their shock and grief, I distinctly remember my reaction. After saying a silent prayer that I would never have to bury my children first, I looked at my daughter through teary eyes and said aloud, “Those poor parents! I can’t even imagine! I know that I could never survive losing any of you.”

Little did I know those words that I had spoken to Nina would come back to haunt me. That only three weeks after the Oklahoma City tragedy, my own beautiful 15 ½-year-old daughter, my Nina with the captivating smile, would be killed suddenly and violently, far away from home, on a Florida freeway while on our family vacation.

From that moment on, our lives changed completely. She would not be here to see her sisters become mothers and enjoy being aunt to her nephews, or watch with pride at her brother’s graduation. A piece of the family puzzle would be forever missing. As my son Dan gazed out the plane window on the agonizing flight back toMinnesota, he turned to look at me with deep sorrow in his eyes and said, “Mom, what will we ever do without Nina?”

That one sentence said it all. I truthfully answered back, “I have no idea.”

And so the nightmare began, for my family, just as it has for so many others. We were harshly and unexpectedly propelled into the same horror as those left behind inOklahoma City. We were left behind to try to answer the unanswerable and pick up the pieces of our shattered world, changed in a fleeting second.

We have lost our children from many different causes, all of them life altering. I am quite confident that you felt as I did, that we would never survive the loss of
our child. It was unthinkable, for no human being could ever withstand the force of such unbearable pain.

However, if you are reading this right now, that means that, somehow, you have survived. I am quite confident that you sit back and wonder how you ever did. You may have been directed to Open to Hope or The Compassionate Friends, whether through a caring friend or or you heard about TCF from a professional. You may have even taken the initiative yourself.

Whether you attend our meetings or read the newsletter as your contact to other bereaved parents, you already took the first giant step. It was a step that said no matter how much easier it would have seemed to refuse to go on, you had made that commitment toward survival, toward learning to cope with the pain and finding ways to live again. It isn’t an easy road to travel, as it is fraught with roadblocks along the way.

The first time I noticed I must be progressing was when I realized that I had made it through half a day without crying. For those who have not lost a child, this may
not seem like much of an accomplishment. But to me, it was one that at one time seemed insurmountable. If you really look closely, I think that you too will find that you have made progress, no matter how tiny the steps may seem.

The grieving process is a long one. Try not to be impatient with yourself if you thought you were making progress only to find you have slipped backwards a little. It is a lifelong process, because we have loved our children so deeply, and therefore we need to be patient with ourselves. The ultimate heartbreak does not begin to heal overnight.

It will be seven years April 19th since theOklahoma Citybombing. Sadly, since that time, we have seen additional tragedies that have taken the lives of more children, such as TWA Flight 800, the school shootings inKentucky,Oregon, andLittleton, and the unspeakable horror of September 11th. Each of us cried along with those parents who were just beginning the same painful journey that we know all too well.

I wish I could say that another tragedy such as this would never occur, or that I would never again see the shock and emptiness in another bereaved parent’s eyes as they walk into a meeting or their cries of despair on the other end of the phone, but I know that is impossible. Yet, I can say with certainty that those who have thus far survived the unthinkable will be there for the newcomers who walk through those doors. We will cling to each other and reach out with understanding and compassion and hope — through all those tiny steps, whether forward or backward. Somehow, we will survive, together.

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About the Author

Cathy began writing about her grief not long after her beloved daughter Nina Westmoreland was killed at the age of 15--on Cathy's birthday--at the hands of a drunk driver. Her stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul, Open to Hope, Tincture of Time, and the Best of Bulletin Board, as well as numerous grief publications including Living With Loss and We Need Not Walk Alone. Cathy has served on the TCF National Board of Directors from 2004-2010, and is currently Minnesota Regional Coordinator and St. Paul, MN's chapter leader. Since that time, her stepson, Chris, took his own life in June of 2012, and she hopes to write about her journey as a bereaved stepparent and the complexities of a loss by suicide. She is the proud mom of her three surviving children and five wonderful grandchildren.

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