When someone we love dies…we are changed. When that someone is our child…we are changed forever, deeply, no matter how old they were. Letting go is not a possibility. Everything in my being was geared to hold on, to protect and to be aware of his life. It didn’t matter that he was an adult, twice the size of me. Past, present and future collapsed into a series of nows. This event shook me to my core. I have lost parts of myself. How can this happen? Where did he go? Where did I go? What were his last moments like? Did he feel pain? Did he suffer? Was my mom who passed a year prior there to greet him? How could I have prevented this? What should we have known?
In the months after his death, feelings of failure, vulnerability, depression, remorse, profound grief, guilt on top of a first hand experience of the meaning of the word bereft. Feeling bereft was/is physical for me. The word so accurately expressed my flattened energy.
Fortunately for me, I hadn’t completely lost my spirituality. I lost my belief in God but I still held a belief that we are more than our physical bodies. This belief helped me to try to be open to connecting with him or open to the possibility that he might be able to give me a sign or some indication that he was nearby. I believed early on that if it took any focus or intention for a spirit to make contact, Richard would at least try to make himself be known. He had a strong presence in life. When he walked into a room, people noticed. He was upbeat and deeply calm at the same time. He loved life.
While my belief about the non physical was open, my heart was so badly wounded by his sudden death that all I could do was to call out his name and plead, “Richard, Richard, Richard, how could this happen to you?” I begged for an answer, “Richard, how am I going to survive this?” These phrases poured out from the longing in my heart. I continued this way for a year, several times a day.
Everything in my world had changed. I moved to Southern California from New York to live close to him. These were to be the good years in my life and in his. Lots of outdoor activities, cookouts, hanging out, bike rides, hikes, paddle boarding and the gym. Those activities were just the “normal” weekend fare. Lots of talk of boats, excursions and opportunities to share life and celebrate the life of his baby girl. Our lives had not been easy when he was young. now the future looked really bright.
My hope stopped when he died. The resounding emptiness was deafening. Our family is spread out but mostly located in the Chicagoland area. I wouldn’t have survived without them, close friends and wonderful neighbors where we lived three blocks from each other here on Balboa Island.
With Richard’s guidance, I believe, I chose measures to help myself to continue with some of the goals that he and I shared, like becoming part of the community, getting involved and trying to make a contribution. Each choice that I made to move through an obstacle, or my own resistance, I heard Richard’s voice beside me encouraging me, like he did back in Chicago when I achieved my second masters degree in 2005 to become a psychotherapist. He was always in my corner.
Now my journey includes widening my circle of trust. I’m choosing to live life instead of living a small life. Each of the obstacles have given me a choice…either move through it or acquiesce. Movement always feels like choosing life. Acquiescing to obstacles/resistance feels like defeat. I can’t take anymore defeat. Richard’s death was literally my worst nightmare. So in some ways my current fears are nothing compared to the one that just happened…out of the blue, suddenly, and shockingly.
Well-meaning people make assumptions about each other’s lives. I’m choosing not to focus on being offended. I’m choosing to believe that people are generally well-meaning, even if their comments sound ignorant or unconscious. People have the impression that I’m strong and that I’m getting over this or that new people have filled the void in my heart, that horrible, empty void. That is just not so. I’m unique to this journey, as is every other parent who has lost a child. There’s no script except the one that we write.
I’m choosing to stay focused on the ‘miracle’ of feeling Richard’s presence in my heart on a daily basis. Feeling connected to him helps me. During his life, he would never have been in favor of my checking out or living a small life. I know that ultimately choosing to live is my decision but I have to say that many times it’s because I know what he would say or do. You could say that I continue for him. He has sparked a new determination in me to create an expanded version of myself. I have nothing to loose.
I’m clearing out the clutter of previous struggles, attitudes and perceptions that aren’t useful to me any longer. I feel leadership growing out of my broken heart. People are entering my life and I am saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ or worse, ‘I don’t know”. I am beginning to get glimpses of how my life is evolving completely differently than I expected when I moved here. It’s like my energy is clearing by the methods I have used to take care of myself in the past year and a half. I am finding a strong connection to Richard in my heart that I feared would go away but now I know will never die. I am not afraid to die and welcome the moment that I see and embrace him again. It doesn’t matter what form he is in, I will recognize him.