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Holding On and Letting Go
Emotions & Challenges, Losing a Child

Holding On and Letting Go

Nathan has been gone for ten years.

The first five years were very hard. In the early hours of that first day, I had a sudden realization that I really could die of grief. It scared me. I made up my mind at that moment that I wouldn’t let that happen, that I would cling to God with all my might and live, and not let the darkness have me too. I held on to life. I cried I searched my soul, I reviewed the past, I became numb to my feelings, and I stumbled over words trying to tell my friends about it. Some friends let me go, others held on. Then I found Alliance of Hope on the Internet. I read about others like me, and their healing process; I read every book on suicide that I could get my hands on; I went to therapy and EMDR sessions. Everything helped a little. Nothing helped a lot. But I kept trying to heal.

It took a while. For a couple of years, I blamed myself for his suicide, thinking I had “failed” at my main job as a mom–keeping my child from harm. But eventually, reason prevailed. Like anyone, of course, I had made mistakes along the way … but responsible for his suicide? No. Nathan was 23 years old, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, refused to take his medication, and refused to go to therapy. I couldn’t force him, no one could. And then that thing that I had feared for him for so long had happened. I had feared it, but that didn’t make it my fault. I started letting go of blaming myself. And I let go of blaming others too.

And then I had a dream. In the dream, there was an enormous, brilliantly colored butterfly flexing his wings on the wall of my room, and then he let go and flew away. I woke up feeling at peace for the first time since Nathan died. I was so taken by the dream that I looked up the symbolism of the butterfly. And that’s when I learned it can represent spiritual rebirth, transformation, angels, and even the Holy Spirit. This particular butterfly was predominantly orange, and I read that meant to “stay positive and reconnect with joy.” I held onto that dream and its implications. I looked for butterflies in nature and bought butterfly things for the house.

Then one day I laughed at something funny on TV. I hadn’t laughed in so long, it surprised me. It sounded unfamiliar. And I realized I was emerging like a butterfly from that long, lonely, dark place I’d been. Then, instead of holding onto the familiarity of the darkness, I chose to keep walking toward joy. I let go of many things that at one time had seemed important; I stopped trying to be—I don’t know—Martha Stewart? Super Woman? I began to appreciate simple things. I let go of stuff.

Eventually, I let go of the butterfly too. Set it free.

Years went by, and one day it came to me that I hadn’t thought of Nathan in a while. Then on days when I did think of him, I held onto the sweet memories, and I let the scary ones go. It’s not that I “moved on.” That sounds so cold. It’s more like I took him back into myself, back where he started, back where I kept the idea of him safe in my heart. I keep him to myself now, where both of us are safe from all the negative “voices” that might criticize either one of us. We move on, but we move on together, holding onto the present moment, the gift of each day, holding onto love, holding onto life, holding onto joy.

Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you today. As you can tell, I no longer talk about it much. But I hope this was an encouragement to someone else on this difficult journey. Hang onto the Light, to God. The only way through it is *through* it, yes, but keep marching forward as best you can. My love and prayers continue for all of you.

About the Author

Wisdom From Our Community

"Wisdom From Our Community" posts originally appeared on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Loss Survivors and are reprinted with the permission of the authors. Our online forum transcends time and distance, offering a culture of kindness, hope, and understanding to people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Operating like a 24/7 support group, our forum is supervised by a mental health professional and moderated by a trained team of loss survivors. Members can read and comment, share their stories, and connect with other suicide loss survivors.Read More »