Onward I drove, hopping curbs, white knuckles gripping the steering wheel, accelerating to fifty miles an hour, heading just three streets away, arriving too late.
He was gone. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome had stolen the breath and life from our six month old son, Cullin, leaving this mama broken, scared, breathless…lifeless. Living still but not feeling alive. My heart was beating, but pieces of me left this world with my child that day.
My knees were weak and at times unable to hold my body upright. My concrete feet were too heavy to lift, my arms and hands empty and achy. My eyes swollen shut from the constant stream of tears. The weight of grief had a firm grasp on every aspect of my life, and in that realization, I decided to get a handle on falling apart.
There is a fine line between living and living life; just ask any grieving parent. Living after the death of a child means barely going through the daily motions, with little care or regard for food, sleep, entertainment, or conversation. You are numb. You ache. You do not find pleasure in that which once brought excitement because the broken soul left behind to mend has nothing left to give or receive. You want your child, deeper than ever imagined. You are just alive, barely living. Only breathing. Barely inhaling and exhaling, choosing to take each breath for the child who is unable to do so.
To come alive, you must truly, deeply, completely, fall apart. Allow your broken heart to feel and acknowledge the love-filled pain. Though sometimes silenced in isolation, your tears are heard. We hear your cries. We know your cries. The silent sobs. The deep throated wails, too low to growl into existence, are heard. Your tears, my tears, our tears will never cease to fall, as the love and grief we feel for our children is infinite. To a bereaved parent, a day can seem to last a year, and a year’s time feels like an eternity. Make the most of your everyday eternities. Cry, scream, break stuff and smile when remembering your child. Share your tears, your child’s memory, your heart, hurt, and hope.
And one day, it will happen. You will inhale. You will smile. You will laugh. You will feel guilty about smiling and laughing, but it will keep happening. Bit by noticeable bit, your forever-healing heart will lighten. There will still gut-wrenching thoughts, never to be granted wishes, and painful reminders that will weigh you down, but brilliant rays of hope will begin to pierce the darkness that is grief. You will feel life. Engage in life. Live life. It will take effort. You will begin to eat and sleep again, and feel a desperate need to get “back to you.” You will see a glimmer of your pep, your zest, and your will coming back. You will breathe and thrive, with conscious effort. You will continue to survive, and wonder how it is so. You will radiate. You will revive. You will look for the rays of light in your life, and then bask in what makes you shine.
When Cullin died, our family of nine minus one decided to unite, revive and uplift others, even when we were feeling so deflated. Little by little, we began to breathe life into ourselves and others by taking our empty and achy arms, and turning them into helpful, hope-filled hands through bonding and healing experiences and connecting with other families who have endured the death of a child, like ours. Our non-profit called Scared Sidless fundraises for and provides ©Camp Cullin, a Retreat from Grief for siblings of loss and their parents. Each July, grieving siblings under the age of 18 meet at camp to participate in team building activities, healing techniques, art therapies, and connect with kids just like them; children living without their brother or sister. United by death and love, they feel safe to express their feelings, share the burden of grief, and open up, or sit back choosing to listen and relate to the stories shared by the others, at camp they come alive. These kids have taught this teacher and bereaved mama a lesson or two on coming alive:
- Have fun and play, enjoying each of the moments that provide laughter, joy, even tears and pain.
- Grab your friend’s hand and ask them to join you on your life’s adventures, forging on through the boo-boos and scares, together.
- Make new memories with the loved ones of today, while remembering the love ones of the past.
- Believe in the unseen, watch for the magic in life, and use your imagination to combat the stifling effects of grief.
- Be courageous enough to listen with empathy and speak with intent.
- Life is full of choices. Choose to survive, revive, and come alive.
In grief, feeling it is part of the healing it. Grief cannot be, refuses to be ignored, and must be addressed head (and heart) on. You will forever grieve, as you will forever love. There will always be a desire to share your heart, your child, with others. Grieving and healing are perpetual states of being. Your grief came from love, and your healing will be fueled by that same love. Grief is love manifested as pain. Healing is pain manifested as life. Feel it. Live it. Come alive. For yourself. For your child. Not for anyone else.
Determined, focused effort helped me turn the survival of self into the revival of soul. Here is a list I followed.
- List all of the hobbies, interests, dreams, loves, wants, and wishes that define YOU.
- Circle the activities or items that you have stopped, given up on, or pushed to the side through the years, and have neglected more so since grief has entered your life.
- Create a new list using the circled items.
- Add to the list any new hopes dreams, or hobbies that may shape the new, revived you. Grief changes and reshapes facets of our being, so it is important to take the time to discover and reflect on any new interests, challenges, or passions that may arise from the ashes of heartbreak.
- Begin your revival by choosing one dream to chase, one want to attain, or one passion to reignite. Create a Revival Journal. Reflect upon, write about, draw, photograph, and/or document the journey of your soul’s revival.