By Tara McGuire
If you are reading this it’s very likely that something terrible has happened. Something you never imagined when you thought of your life’s path. Something you could never have prepared for. Chances are you are reeling. Reeling with shock, guilt, confusion, anger and a deep immeasurable sadness that never seems to leave you. It is there when you wake up each morning, carried with you all day long and still there when you finally rest your exhausted body each night.
Your beautiful child has gone. This was not supposed to happen. This was not supposed to happen to you and it was not supposed to happen to me.
Our son Holden passed away suddenly in July 2015. It was an accidental drug and alcohol overdose that took his gorgeous soul from us. He was just 21.
It has been 7 months since that devastating day and the sadness has never left. Not once. In its unpredictability, my sadness has evolved, surged and loosened its grip a little at times but never disappeared. That has been the only predictable part of my sadness; it never leaves.
I have come to equate the size of the love I feel for my son with the physical size of the sadness I am now experiencing. How can the sadness ever end when my love is infinite?
This idea is exactly why I’m slowly learning to give myself permission to feel lighter on those rare occasions when the heavy darkness dissipates of it’s own accord. As it does, for no particular reason. A wise friend who lost her partner offered this little nugget one afternoon over tea and I have found it to be very helpful and completely true. “The sadness will always return.”
If your heart should unclench ever so slightly one day, let it happen. Because the sadness will always return. Allow yourself to step out of the swamp for a short period of time. It does not mean you are ‘over this’ or that your child’s passing means less. Please don’t feel guilty for smiling at a sweet child skipping down the sidewalk or humming along with the radio while you drive. The sadness is part of your life now. Just as your child always will be. Trust that, and allow the unfamiliar warmth of happiness flood your aching bones. Just for a moment.
Another aspect that has become very clear to me is that choosing the dark can be the bravest and most honest response to this unthinkable tragedy. Some grief experts call it ‘leaning in’ to the pain. Only lately have I begun to more fully internalize what that means. I now understand the need to endlessly ruminate on the stupid unfairness of what has happened, as a torturous and yet somehow rich endeavour. I won’t call this experience positive because it is not. Our loss will never be positive. Still, this sort of deepening or widening of my understanding of the human condition has been…interesting. The bottom of the well is not a fun place to spend my days but in passing so much time there I have become much more compassionate, aware, patient and honest.
It has also become vitally important to realize that the way I voyage into the depths of sadness is a choice. Whether consciously or unconsciously every journey offers choice. Yes, I am completely unqualified to navigating this raging river with it’s unexpected perilous rapids, but I do have a paddle. A flimsy inadequate one, but a paddle nonetheless; my paddle is choice.
At times I choose not to resist while the anguish drags me over jagged submerged rocks. And sometimes, it’s possible to gather the strength and momentum to push off the canyon walls avoiding the churning back eddies that try to suck me back under. Whether I allow or resist the rapids of grief, both are my choice.
To accept that lunch offer when I’d rather hide in bed. To go outside when outside seems way too big. These small, directed choices are private, tiny victories that feel like silent declarations of healing. They feel good. Tiring, but good.
Daily, sometimes hourly I ask myself, “How do I live with this? Do I want to be a woman who is defined solely by the too soon loss of her son?” For now there is only one topic of conversation, one item on the agenda, but I believe that over time, the rest of me will eventually be revealed.
The terrible truth is that something horrible has happened. Something we did not choose.
The only thing I can try to do as I attempt to reorient myself in a life forever weighted with sadness, is to choose the light. And on the days when that is simply too hard, I hope to find the strength to at least orient myself in that direction – and that is my hope for you too.
I am so deeply sorry for your loss.