A Grief Journey

Below story shared with permission from Sandy Peckinpah...

National Grief Awareness Day

I wanted to post on this day because grief is something everyone will experience at one time or another, and I know for sure… there is life after loss.

It’s been years since my greatest loss happened, and yet, I still stumble over the question, “How many children do you have?” It’s the moment my heart sinks. Then, I have to decide what I want to reveal, how long will I know this person, and… if I acknowledge just my three living children, will I feel as though I’ve betrayed the memory of my beautiful son who tragically died at the age of 16 years, 3 months, and 10 days?

With each year that passes, I gain more wisdom from my own experience and from listening to other parents like me. We’re connected on a level that most people could never understand. Nor would they want to. The very thought of it rips the heart out of any parent. That’s why people say, “It’s the worst that could happen.” Because that’s what it feels like.

I once believed if I was good, nothing bad could ever happen.

I had a fairy tale life! I was married to a wonderful man who was a successful television producer and writer, and I had just completed a book tour for my newest children’s book. Our kids were at the very core of all that mattered.

Then one day my oldest son woke up with a fever and was dead the next morning of a deadly silent killer, bacterial meningitis. On that day my castle walls tumbled to the ground.

Any parent who’s been through it will tell you, recovering from such a tragic loss is hard work. In my grief storm I was thrown unwillingly into the 5 stages of grief, defined by noted grief expert Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. When you work through all 5 stages, it doesn’t mean you’re done. You’ll likely go in and out of the different stages for years, even a lifetime.

As I began to reclaim my life, I discovered there was a very necessary 6th stage. It’s what I call “resilience.” It’s the ability to bounce back. This process of healing has taught me so much about life.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. We can’t control the lives or destiny of our children, or anyone for that matter.
  2. Love harder now. You might not get the chance tomorrow. Tell your children how much you love them.
  3. All we can count on is now.
  4. Mourning is not a plan for healing. Healing takes hard work and a commitment to wanting joy in your life again.
  5. People often say the wrong thing but their intention comes from love. Forgive them.
  6. Cry your tears deeply now because some day you’ll miss them.
  7. Love is a connection and a force of energy that doesn’t diminish as you heal from the loss of your child. Your love will not fade. In fact, it will continue to grow. How amazing is that!
  8. And finally…You have an opportunity to honor your child or your loved one by healing. No child dies without leaving a legacy and a purpose for those who are left behind.

And that last point is the one I encourage you to really think about.

I believe in the power of our stories. Our lives have a beginning, middle, and end, yet often, we get stuck on the tragedies and struggle to find the next chapter. When you lose someone, It’s the meaning and purpose you give to your experience, and you begin to create the new relationship you’ll have with them in the years to come. Your love will always be there! They will always be a part of you!

Defining the love, the meaning, and the purpose is a critical step to healing. For me, it was writing about my loss to help others heal. It keeps my son alive in my heart. For you it might mean planting trees in the park or starting a charity, or even showing up at a friend's house whose experiencing loss right now. By doing things like this, you're honoring your child, or whomever you are grieving... you are connected with them in love and purpose forever.

That’s the moment you’ll transform your loss into legacy.

And this brings me back to who I was before the loss of my son. I didn’t know then I had a force inside of me that was so strong it wouldn’t let my spirit die. It’s the same force that we see in nature when a seed bursts out of its husk and starts to grow, or when a baby chick finds the power to rupture its shell to see a greater world. That’s what loss does. It gives you the opportunity to look at life and love differently.

I suffered the greatest tragedy a mother could imagine and yet, I survived… and so will you. We all have the ability to find the legacy and purpose in our loss. It leads us to a greater life. Just like the baby chick cracking its shell… it just needs to be broken open to see what more life has to offer.

I know that now.

Much love,

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