You don't really survive losing a child. You simply learn to live through it. Survival to me indicates some kind of thriving after a sacrifice or tragedy. And after losing our oldest son, Joseph, to cancer I hardly feel like a survivor.
Seven years ago today, our beautiful son Joseph Brett passed away after a battle with colon cancer. Diagnosed with the cancer in early December, he lived only four months past his diagnosis. Those four months were the most excruciating, painful, dark days I've ever experienced.
You can read Joey's story HERE.
Seven years later we are in a good place. A good place means that we miss him daily, but we don't break down sobbing as we did in those early days. A good place means that we carefully watch our children to see how they are managing, but we don't worry as much as we once did. A good place means we know that he has returned home with a loving Heavenly Father, even though we wish he could have stayed here longer with us.
In those early days, "surviving" meant trying to breathe, trying to get up, trying to function. You often wonder if your body can take any more pain and if it's possible for a body to function under the stress and strain and ache of losing a child. It is dark. Frightening. Confusing. You are lost. You are disconnected.
Some days I was surviving by moving from one minute to the next. Sometimes it was hour by hour. And with the years it has become more day-to-day or month-to-month.
Surviving the loss of a child means you are forever altered. It means you don't find joy in things you once did because they seem less important or no longer fit your new, altered personality. It means you worry about being around people that remind you of your son. It means you ache over other children's milestones that remind you that he isn't here to enjoy them as well. It means being more sad, more somber, and yet more compassionate. It does not give you words to comfort those who are also sad. Because there are no words to truly comfort someone going through loss.
Surviving the loss of a child means you have to explain to people when they ask you how many children you have why your oldest child "would have been 20." It means explaining things that make other people feel uncomfortable, even though you're grateful that they asked.
Surviving the loss of a child means questioning how to celebrate their birthday, how to honor their life, and how to continue to parent a child who is no longer with you. You wish there was a handbook on "surviving" as a parent of a child who is gone.
Surviving the loss of a child means pretending sometimes that they are simply at school, or on a Scout camp because you can't wrap your brain around the fact that they are never coming home again.
Surviving the loss of a child means you aren't who you used to be. It means people wish you were that previous person. It means you withdraw. It means you lose some of the fun inside yourself. It means that you don't stop living but that you live in a new way.
Surviving the loss of a child means that you both do and don't want to share your child with others. You do want others to remember him, but you don't want to hear that they are connecting with him on some level when you don't feel that you are. You want people to feel his love, but you want to selfishly feel it more than anyone else. It means talking about him when you don't want to, and wishing sometimes that you could but don't because you're sparing someone else's feelings.
Surviving the loss of a child means you become the "walking wounded" with a hole in your soul so large there is no bandaid big enough to cover it. It is happiness and joy and pain and hurt and suffering and love all mingled together in a mess of emotions you can't always control.
Surviving is simply living. It is trying to let the pain go but not the memories. It is moving towards him instead of leaving him in the past. It is not really surviving, but is living as best you can.
Today I remember a boy that was more magical and more wonderful than I have words within me to describe. He deserved a good life--a great life. He deserves a place of peace without pain. He deserves to have earned the right to return to Heaven. I KNOW he is with Heavenly Father spending his days with my brother Mark who also returned home early. I miss him every moment of every day, but today I honor his suffering, his triumph over death, and his faithfulness.
I love you, Joseph!