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Experiences of Traumatic Loss - Deep Sorrow

There is heartache tragic loss brings that appears as deep sorrow. It comes, often unexpectedly and in waves. For our family, this year has brough a long slow set of waves crashing on our shore. Post covid, our oldest son has formally begun his launching sequence out of the home and into adulthood. And in the midst of all of these wonderful changes, I feel the push of sorrow forcing its way to the surface.

Even though it’s been almost 8 years since his death, there are still moments of sorrow and sadness. The moments don’t all come at once. Their father starts getting mentioned more, stories full of memories of him start getting told more often and I feel that pang of all the things their father is missing. With this, more questions arise as they begin to see things from a more mature adult perspective. Perhaps, like some suggest, he is just energy and is now everywhere in the quantum field, somehow seeing and experiencing what is happening to us, but it doesn’t feel that way. With important family moments, comes the intense nature of being together in human form, for the smile, the laugh, that moment of connection. Human form, it turns out is the form that really counts for living, along with physically being in the moment to celebrate, for example, a high school graduation. And he was simply not there, for any of it.

The sorrow came up as I sat there, while telling our son to get in the car so he wasn’t late to his own graduation, while I was listening to the valedictorian in a silent room with our son sitting in the background. It came when we were taking pictures in the parking lot, and it showed up when he started talking about the first date he went on. I felt it as I was reading his college acceptance letter. I am often surprised by these moments that hit. I probably should not be but as I feel the wave coming onto the shoreline, I think back to the moments when he held the boys as babies, he carried them on his shoulders as toddlers, and he told them how much they mattered as they grew right before our very eyes. I remember the smile on his face, and the feeling of so much happiness, exuding from his soul. Moment after moment. At that point in his life, things were balanced, he was healthy, and he was very happy. The kids meant everything to him. Being a husband, becoming a father and having a family were tantamount in importance to him.

Those facts are also what makes this is a lingering sorrow now. Those kids, our children mattered so much to him and he to them. Because I know this, I carry the pain of the missed connections. I see and live what’s happening, without him here. We can say he would be so proud of them, and he is adoring them from afar, but what I feel is a stillness. A silence where the opportunity to connect should be. The moments when a parent should show up for their child and laugh with them, cry with them, hug them and hear how proud he is of them. I feel the missed connections, sometimes one right after the other. And I still feel the empty space, a space where he should be. The table of life is set now with an abundance, but there is always that empty seat for him sitting at the far end. A quiet unassuming chair, just sitting there, reminding us that no matter what you say, it’s not the same. He is still terribly missed. Painfully so.

Over the past few months, in the midst of these changes and moments, I have an insurance agent that keeps calling me, trying to get me to buy a life insurance policy. The title life insurance feels funny to me, because there are no assurances in life. I guess that is why it is called that. It also feels like an irony that I, in the middle of celebrating life, have to worry about that in the midst of all of this. In truth, I think about like and death much more now since Tom’s passing. I know now that it’s not just about someone dying, but also how they died. I am also acutely aware that how we live our lives matters, as does what we think about living. About being alive. Mindset matters. Mental health and wellness matter. Finding a purpose matters. Knowing your why in this life matters, along with resilience, determination and grit.

I have had to rewrite a script in my head about birth order. We were the youngest of our generation and I had held this expectation that we would naturally outlive our siblings and cousins just by virtue of our age and birth order. I assumed that he would be with me longer than most people in my life because he was a few years younger than me, and we were the youngest of the siblings and cousins. I don’t think that anymore. I let that go and instead, carry a solitariness in its place. I am also a single parent now, so living has with it worry, worry that something will happen to me, worry the kids won’t get the love and support they need, worry they won’t get taken care of after I am gone, and fear they will struggle with my death. I pray I don’t die in a tragedy and can die a peaceful death with a chance to say a proper goodbye to each of them, because I know how hard it will be for each of them. That’s all part of the new landscape I live in now, which includes preparing for my death someday.

As Stephen Jenkinson says in his documentary Grief Walker, we love life because we know, on some deep level, that we will die someday. Death feels much more real to me now. I am not afraid of death, at this point in my life, I probably know as many people living as dead. And I believe in God so I’m good there. I am worried about unfinished business in my life and leaving things as a burden for our children. I try to get things in order, in bits and pieces, in boxes and files, just in case something was to happen. I mention key things to the kids from time-to-time . . . just in case . . .

My search for meaning in this life formed when I became a counselor and then a mother. My purpose for living landed right in the middle of that stage of my life. I return to those experiences today as a part of the foundation that keep me solid in this new life I am living without Tom in it. I have the ability to be a great mother which I strive for, and I have the ability to help others in a really deep way. I have also rewritten the future that I had ingrained for us. I keep the fact that Tom and I were not destined or meant to travel through our whole lives together, but rather, just for a really important period of our lives. We helped, we loved, we each had some healing, we each did some of our work and now we are moving on separately. That doesn’t change my feelings for him, my attachment to him, the important role he played as father, or the fact that I had a wonderful love affair with him as my husband for so many years, but it does shape how I look to the future. I have a solitary view now, as a widow. The deep sadness is now a part of the landscape of life. It keeps me connected, as I reevaluate the work I feel an urgency to move towards.

With both feet tied to this earth, I acknowledge my desire to be here for as long as I can to be with our children. And I continue to do outreach to help other families that have suffered tragic loss. I write, I read, I listen, I offer empathy and support, I educate and inform when I can and reach out, to people that lose loved ones in tragedies and wonder how they will go on. You can do it, I say, you will survive this. And it will change you. It will also change your landscape of living. You will carry a new type of appreciation for living and a deeper awareness of death. You will develop a better sense of yourself. And with all of that, you will carry a deep sadness and sorrow for the one person you thought would be there and is not anymore. It will still feel unbearable at times. And you will survive that. The sorrow may stay with you, and you will learn to be ok with it. And you will go on because living is a wonderful thing and your life matters. This is your soul work now.

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