October 18th. It marks the anniversary of the death of my son, Brandon, who was age 20 at the time, in 2003. I don’t need the calendar to remember because I never forget.
Yet the day marks time and reminds me that it happened. An unresolved murder case, forever an unsolved mystery.
Nine years later, I look back, as I do every year during this month and many days throughout each year. I can see how my feelings in relation to this deep loss have morphed and changed through the year. Though grief still pays her unannounced visits, they are usually less traumatic now.
At first, grief’s waves hit me like a tsunami. They left me sobbing, shaking and sad to the point of depression. Now they are more like rainshowers or waves that ebb and flow with the tide. Losing someone so close and so dear feels like losing a part of oneself. We are never the same—we are permanently shifted. We know firsthand that even though we are eternal spirits living in human bodies, these human bodies are very fragile.
I miss my son. I wonder what he would be like no, approaching age 30. I cherish my daughter and stay very close to her. In the back corner of mind there is a place where the fear of losing her lurks and peeks out from time to time. And yet I know that worry is wasting precious time possibly attracting future unwanted events.
Here are some of the lessons I have learned:
If events are going to happen anyway, our worrying does nothing to prevent them from occurring.
Death is natural, even when it is tragic. Everyone dies. Perhaps not in the order or in the way we would prefer, but then its not up to us. I see now how egotistical it was of me to be angry at Life for flowing as it did, but I am human.
Empowerment is uplifting and inspiring, victimization is a downer.
From the day I received the news, I decided to focus on how I could see my family in a light other than victimhood. With the aid of wise counsel and patient friends, I came to choose to see my son as a separate soul, not really mine as in “my son”. Separate souls are allowed to come and go freely to and from this plane. It is not up to us to decide. I was able to synch my mind with the understanding that even those who are murdered, like my son, on a soul level, attract that to them as an exit plan for a reason mostly impossible for us humans to understand.
People told me from the beginning that time would eventually help me. It did and yet the event changed me for life in a positive way because I allowed it to.
I now see the preciousness of all my relationships in more vivid technicolor than I ever imagined possible.
I have a deeper appreciation for ordinary days. I am never bored, nor do I see any activity, even sitting in a traffic jam or waiting for a flight delay, as a waste of time. I honor my son by living my life fully and I know he takes great delight in seeing this.
“If your daily life seems of no account, don’t blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its treasures. For the creative artist there is no impoverishment and no worthless place.” ~ Rilke
Special days of remembrance like this anniversary, birthdays or holidays are especially difficult after a deep loss. It’s understandable and pretty much universal. I would have preferred never to celebrate another holiday again after losing Brandon.
However, consider this: what if every single person who ever suffered a deep loss refused to participate in holidays or celebrations? The gatherings would be smaller each year!
I found great comfort in sharing my story because it gave me a connection with so many others who have also learned deep life lessons in this way. Yes, it is a course that on one wants to take, a club that no one wants to join, but after you do, through no choice of your own, you have the opportunity to gain deeper insights that you ever knew were possible.
Our sorrow may have been self-chosen at some level of our being to bring about an enlargement of our self. Without struggle we would learn nothing about life.
On Joy and Sorrow (by Kahlil Gibran)
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.And how else can it be?The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.