We all have a story to tell. We never know how our story will unfold, because it plays out before our very own eyes. Death, ultimately, will be a part of all of our stories, however, some of us experience traumatic and tragic losses long before others. Little did I know that my story would contain a horrifying chapter entitled, “The Loss of a Child”. This past year, I have lived the nightmare of this chapter. I have lived through the most excruciating pain a parent can survive. I have lived in a very lonely place….but I have survived…maybe not well, but nonetheless, I have lived through the most difficult time of my life. I know that this chapter isn’t over and that it will continue to affect me for the rest of my life. I know that wounds and scars will once again feel as raw as they did at the beginning of this chapter. But, I also know, that at some point, I will emerge from it a little stronger than previously….maybe not significantly stronger….but just a little stronger each time.
Throughout this experience, I have read as much as I could to try to understand the gamut of emotions that manifest themselves throughout the grieving process. Reading has helped me to understand that grieving the loss of a child is unique to each individual, that there’s no prescribed time frame for moving through the process, and that it’s the most exhausting and depleting, life changing event that can be experienced by any parent. I’ve learned so much about grieving and how it affects the parents….but there are other people that have experienced the pain of Aaron’s loss. My daughter lost her brother suddenly…without warning…a very traumatic, unforeseen event that changed her life forever as well. She mostly keeps her pain to herself, which concerns me somewhat. But I also know that she copes with her brother’s loss differently….and she needs to do what’s right for her. I see her as a very strong young lady, because she told me the other day that her brother’s loss had changed her. Oh is she right…and I explained that she will never be the same again. She has to figure how to live in this world without her first confidant, her first best friend, her first enemy, and her first partner in crime. That’s such a heavy burden for someone so young, but she is working on it…as hard as it is…she’s taking time to learn who she now is and who she will grow to be without her brother by her side. Then, there’s my mom. Within 4 months, she lost her son (my brother) and her grandson (my son). What a blow it has been for her to lose her son and then her grandson. Nothing about loss is easy, but when the losses are so close together, it’s unbearable to grieve for two beloved family members within such a short time frame. It’s like you haven’t finished grieving for one, when all of the sudden you are thrown into an even deeper abyss of grief because of multiple losses of immediate family members.
One of the things I read suggested something that makes perfect sense to me now, but in the beginning, I couldn’t imagine even considering this advice. In this book, the author suggested to tell your story over and over and over and over…until you just can’t tell it anymore. And that’s exactly what I’ve done. For the first year, I have told my story, my daughter’s story, my mom’s story, and my son’s story over and over and over and over…and now…I just can’t tell it anymore. See for so long I was stuck in wanting to know why this tragedy had struck our family…and why we had to experience 2 very close deaths in such a brief time period…and why my son had to die at the early age of 23. The “why” tore me apart. It created and bred a rage within me that drew me into the darkest, deepest emotional hole in which I have ever inhabited. The “why”, however, allowed me to tell my story over and over in hopes that in the repeated telling I might begin to understand why it happened. That was what I hoped for. Reality, however, was that the “why” kept me angry, depressed, and in the hole of despair. I heard something the other day 0n the radio…”Bad things happen in our world, and God doesn’t need us with limited perspectives and understandings trying to make sense of tragic events that don’t make sense.” That hit me so profoundly when I heard it. For 12 months and 2 weeks, I have tried to make sense out of Aaron’s death…I’ve tried to make sense of it by searching for the why. However, there is no way to make sense of what happened…and would it really matter if I knew why it was a part of His plan for Aaron to die at 23? Even if I were to find out why, the hole from his absence would still be there for all that are grieving his death.
It’s the “why” that made me question everything…even my faith…something that has never really happened before. I mean, I think we all have times in our lives when we struggle with doubt, but this was different. The “why” actually caused me to question my faith…Why would God allow this to happen after so much prayer?…Why did He have to take my son, my daughter’s brother, my mom and dad’s grandson? Why….Why…Why? I became angry at God for a while…and that’s not easy for me to admit…but it’s the truth and He knows that as well.That anger affected my ability to pray and to even go to church. It caused me to distance myself from my Creator, because I wanted to know ,”WHY did it have to be my son?” I wanted a nice, neat answer that would allow me to package it up and put it on a shelf…once I knew the why….everything would be ok. Well, that hasn’t proven to be true at all. Frankly, it doesn’t matter why he died or why he had to die….what matters is that he did die. And I somehow have to find the courage within me to stop focusing on the why and start thinking about what I can do to honor my son and share his love for others. If I can focus on that, then I will be sharing my son’s beautiful, caring spirit with those that not only knew him, but also with those that didn’t know him.
You see, since I’ve let go of the why, I have begun to feel the clouds lift just a tad. The lingering darkness that engulfed me for so long that I never thought I would see light again. But since I’m beginning to let go little by little, I can see the light shining through the darkness…I can see it breaking through the darkest of clouds and I am struck by the beauty of the light that streams down from heaven in rays that almost touch the Earth…As if to say to me…”The light will lead the way.” The light gives me hope that I haven’t felt in a long time…it brings me comfort and warmth which have been missing from my life for months upon months. It lets me know that God is there….and I believe that it lets me know that Aaron is closer than I think. That he is all around us…whether we feel it or not, his spirit lives on through those of us that loved him so deeply. It’s almost, at times, like I can feel a warmth that lets me know, “Hey mom…..I’m right here.” Call me crazy if you want, but I have felt that warmth in the hardest of times…and I believe it was sent for a comfort for me.
Throughout this journey, I have wanted God to rescue me from the pain, the grief, and the endless emotions that assault the mind and heart on a daily basis. I’ve wanted him to pull me from the storm and the fire and to bring me out on the other side, because the pain of losing a child is unlike any other pain I have ever experienced. But as I was driving today, I heard the verse, Isaiah 43:2. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you.” The thing I expected was that God would deliver me from the waters and from the fire, but nowhere in this passage does it say that He will deliver me. He said, I will be with thee…the rivers shall not overflow you….thou will not be burned when walking through the fire. Instead of saving us from the heartaches of life, He walks with us through those heartaches, even when they feel like they are going to consume you, He has promised that they would not. Now I can’t say that I actually felt God’s presence during these troubled waters or during the times that I’ve walked right through the center of the fire. It has often felt lonely during those times…like no one was there. But, I know that He has been there, because His promises have held true. As I have walked through the deep and troubled waters, it hasn’t overtaken me. As I have walked through the fire..I haven’t been consumed. He has lived up to His promises…I just wasn’t aware of it. I was so focused on me and my feelings, that I didn’t even notice that He was walking right beside me. See…I didn’t want to have to face the pain and the heartbreak and the despair. But without acknowledging those emotions, I would have never even walked through the fire or through the troubled waters. I wouldn’t have learned what I now know about grief…not that I’m an expert by any means…but I have had some experience. Without those emotions, I would have never been able to begin working on moving through my grief….not move on as many would say…because, you don’t ever move on from the loss of a child….you move through the grief. And at some point, maybe you do come out on the other side. I don’t know yet…I’m not there. But the important thing is that I’m working on that.
I think this is where Aaron would want me to be. I think he would want to see us in the light and to see us happy…and I think he would want to see us honoring his name by sharing his beautiful spirit with others. I’m beginning to see Aaron’s beauty everywhere…in the deep blue sky, the brilliant sun, and in the melody of the birds on a nice warm day. I see him everywhere and I feel him everywhere.
I just have to remember that our story isn’t over…even with Aaron…he is still a part of our family…we just have to continue to share him with everyone. This chapter, “The Loss of a Child,” is to be continued…because it will never be over…but it will change over time.
To Taylor: Your brother would tell you to continue to be strong. You are one of the strongest people I know…don’t let that change. Keep your chin up…you were a good sister and I love you.
To Granny and Papaw: I believe that Aaron would say to you guys…You were always there for me even when no one else was. You should never second guess anything you did. You did it all out of love for me. I love you granny and papaw,
To Me: I think that Aaron would say….Stop that negative self talk, mom. You did all that you could and you were there for me when no one else was. Keep your chin up, you were a good mom and you loved me unconditionally. I love you mom.
To His Closest Friends: I think Aaron would say….man I love you guys so much. You made life so much fun and you even listened to my music. You helped me when I needed it and you showed me that you cared. I miss and love all of you.