The chaos of Springtime weather can be maddening. Days switch from freezing temperatures and snow to clouds, wind and rain and then a few scattered sunny warm days.
My emotions this time of year can feel as chaotic as the weather.
That’s because the months of March, April and May are the months we struggled with the birth and death of not just our son, but also my father.
And yet, spring is still my favorite season of the year.
And you would think I would dread it every time it comes around.
But I can’t.
And that’s because the season of spring for me is still a season of hope.
And when there is hope, healing can begin.
With hope and healing in mind, I’d like to share with you 11 Lessons I Learned from Losing my Son and how I was able to transform the pain of my grief into living and loving my life and making my greatest impact.
Every life matters and every life can make an impact.
Brandon only lived 29 days and yet, 23 years after his death, his life is still making an impact.
Our son never left his isolette in the hospital. And yet his life touched others in such a profound way. So many people had sent up prayers for his healing, and stepped out in loving support of our family. So many kind words and generous acts were shared with us. And each time I tell his story, his life continues to touch others. If his life could touch so many people in 29 days, I began to really think about the impact my life was making and made a vow to begin living my life in a way that would make a positive impact in the world.
Life isn’t fair but life can still be beautiful.
It’s not fair that a parent should outlive their child. It’s not fair that a child should not be able to grow up. It’s not fair that people are starving or homeless either. There are so many things about life that are not fair. But if we continue to focus on what’s not fair, we will forever live in a state of sadness, anger and despair. That is no way to live and yet, many who are grieving continue to spend their time focusing on what isn’t fair about life when instead they could be looking for the beauty that exists too.
Don’t know where to start? Just pay attention to the fact that your heart is beating and your lungs are breathing automatically. Need to find more? Step outside and look around. The sun, the sky, the moon, trees, flowers, grass, mountains, rivers, and oceans. Then look at wildlife and then look around at the people in your life. Whether they are family friends, work colleagues, neighbors, etc. You can find good people who are doing wonderful things in this world. When you start to look for the beautiful, notice the beautiful, and feel grateful for it, your outlook on life will begin to change and so will you.
His life was meant to be exactly how it was.
My son lived 29 days and that was 23 years ago. Notice I did not say “this would have been his 23rd birthday”. That would not be accurate, because I believe his life was meant to be exactly 29 days and not a day more. This belief has made it easier for me to accept his death.
I don’t spend time on his birthday dwelling on what he is missing or wondering what he would be like, because that would be torturing myself. This isn’t loving or kind to my heart or my soul.
Whether you agree or disagree with this belief is not important as much as realizing that dwelling on the life you feel they should have been living, is doing nothing but making you sad and miserable.
Why in the world would you want to cause yourself so much pain?
Now when these dates come I try to focus on being grateful for my son and for the honor it is to be his mother.
Life must go on because my life matters too.
Your child died. My child died. There is nothing we can do to change that. It is heartbreaking, it feels so unfair. And the pain can make you want to give up on life.
But YOUR LIFE MATTERS!
Your child’s life and death are chapters in your book of life, and because you are living you still have chapters to write.
Will you write a story of triumph and positive impact or will you write a story of giving up and continuous struggle?
Besides, the world will know of your child if you carry his or her memory with you or keep it alive.
I am writing chapters that I think would make my son proud of his mother. And you can write those chapters too.
Growth can come from your grief
When you do the work to process your loss and deal with the deep pain and emotions that come from losing someone or something you love, you tend to change in ways that can be very profound.
Suddenly you have experienced one of the most difficult things to handle as a human and that is grief. You finally can understand that deep kind of pain. You somehow can better connect to others who have experienced it too and if you do the work to move through this grieving process you will learn that you can become stronger and more resilient as a human being.
I like to say grief is the great revealer in life. It can allow you to instantly know what is really important in life and who is really important as you move forward. You can grow into a deeper, more connected, resilient person as you travel through your grief journey.
Fathers and Mother’s grieve differently.
One of the best things my husband and I learned in the very early stages of our grief is that we will most likely NOT grieve in the same manner and as a result, we should not judge how each other grieves.
Mothers tend to want to tell their story, and be surrounded by others who will sit with us in our despair and listen with open hearts and minds as we try and process our loss and understand our deep pain.
Fathers on the other hand might want to process their grief as a solo journey or if they are surrounded by people they might not want to talk about it. They just need to feel the love and support of friends.
I know one father in our support group said the best way he processed his grief was by going fishing and just being alone on the water.
One way is not better than the other. One way is not more effective than the other. They are just different. And if we can accept that we will deal with our grief in different ways, then we can show up for each other in ways that best support our healing process.
Marriages can become stronger
Any time a married couple loses a child, they are suddenly made aware of the frightening statistics that most marriages cannot survive this type of loss. In fact, one study showed that 80 percent of marriages do not survive this kind of loss.
But if you dig deeper, you will find that many of those statistics are really just myths surrounding grief. The truth is only 16 percent of marriages fail after the death of a child.
This was a study conducted by the Compassionate Friends in 2006.
If both parents work togther as a team as well as work individually on their own grief, marriages can not only survive, but can become more solid and stronger than ever.
Friends who you thought you could count on may disappear
This is one of those things that can seem unimaginable but it can also be true, especially after losing a child. In the hierarchy of grief, losing a child is at the top of the list. Parents describe it as their worst fear. So when you lose your child, many other parents are coming face to face with this reality. If it could happen to you, then it could really happen to anyone. And facing that grim but true reality can scare people away. Your pain can become too painful for others to bear.
It sounds ridiculous, and almost insulting, but the fact is, some people cannot get near someone else’ pain, let alone support them through it. In fact, there are a few other reasons why people back away during times of difficulties, that’s why I wrote the book “How Can I Help?”. It provides tips and suggestions of how people can step out of their fear of your grief and show up to support you at a time you need it most.
New friends will appear
When your child dies, you suddenly feel like you are initiated into a club that you never ever wanted to join, and yet, when you meet the other members you suddenly don;t feel so alone. You find others who “know” this pain and grief and that somehow brings relief.
When my husband and I lost Brandon, people who were mere acquaintances soon revealed that at some point in their life, they had lost a child too, and they showed up to help us through the worst parts of the grief. They also offered insights into what might come up for us and suggestions on how we could deal with those “firsts” that will come up, like our first Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or our first Christmas without our son. People you never really knew before can show up and be your angels on earth.
You Can Heal from your Grief
This is something I didn’t know at the time of my son’s death but desperately needed to know. That’s why I want you to know it right now. YOU CAN HEAL from your grief.
I know it is possible and I am living proof and so are thousands of other people.
Unfortunately we are fed so many cliches that lead us to believe that grief is something we carry for a lifetime or that time will soften the pain and heal all wounds. Neither of those are true, and yet so many people dealing with grief are led to believe these things and so many other myths, which can lead to a delay in healing or the prevention of it.
You can recover from the pain and suffering of your loss and reorganize and redesign a life you love living. The Graduating Grief Academy can help you do that through the 8 week My Healing Journey Grief Support/Coaching group and the My Transformation Journey coaching group.
Both are designed to help you step out of your pain and step into living and loving your life again after loss.
You can do more than survive, you can THRIVE!
It’s true. So many people refer to themselves as a survivor, but so much more is possible.
As stated earlier, grief can be a great revealer. And if you tap into what it is teaching you, you can take what you have learned and use it to help others in this world, thus making a profound impact.
When you tap into living on purpose, with passion and JOY, that is when you realize you are not just surviving your grief, you are THRIVING.
Each week in the Graduating Grief podcast you are introduced to people who have taken their pain and transformed it into living life with more meaning and purpose than ever before and their stories will inspire you.
These people have survived the worst kinds of losses and yet live thriving lives as they take this pain they have learned to transform and use it for healing instead of hopelessness. Each episode will inspire you to not only want to heal from your pain, but to step into being the person you were born to become.
You can check out the Graduating Grief Podcast on your favorite podcast channel.
These are just 11 lessons I have learned from the death of my son, and I am sure there are many more. The bottom line is that grief is a chapter in your life, not your entire life.
Every life matters and every life can make an impact, so don’t let your grief keep you from making yours.
Sherrie Dunlevy- #Inspirationista, is a best selling author, speaker, podcast host. She is also the founder of the “Graduating Grief Academy” and online support community.