Three minutes after the sheriff delivered the news, I couldn’t breathe. The world went silent. All I heard was my own voice whispering through muffled tears, “Oh God, help us. Oh God, help us.”
Three hours later, the world was still pitch dark. Everyone was asleep. Time stood still. We wanted to wait until sunrise to begin driving to each family member’s house to tell them of our devastating loss. Meanwhile, we just held each other in our numbness. It felt like an eternity. Happy Mother’s Day to me.
Three days later, we meet with our pastor to begin planning a memorial service that would be held in two weeks. Our dear friend offered to put together a photo montage for the service. I started going through photos on my hard drive. Guttural sobs. How do you sum up a life in 100 pictures and three songs? I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. My heart ached as it’d never ached before. The burning pain I felt during childbirth was nothing compared to what I felt.
Three weeks later, the service was over. It was so beautiful and comforting. It started to sink in. I picked up his ashes and brought them home in a wooden box. Something compelled me to open the box and take the bag out. It was so small. How much does it weigh? I wondered. I held it to my chest and stood on the scale. Eight pounds. The same weight he was when he was born. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It felt so surreal.
Three months later, I was back to work. Life went on. I regularly attended a grief support group at church, voraciously consumed countless grief books, listened to podcasts into the wee hours of the night, journaled, and cried until my tear ducts dried up. Friends offered support, listened, and tried to be there for me. They really didn’t know what to say, but I’m so grateful for their presence. We hadn’t yet figured out the cemetery plans. We still needed to empty out the storage unit, to go through his things, to tie up his affairs. It was all too much. It could wait till another day …
Thirty-three months later, so much has happened. We got through our “firsts,” (first holidays, first birthday, first death-versary), and then even the second. Each day, the grief does get lighter. I’ve let go of the “what-ifs.” I’ve forgiven myself for the things I beat myself up for in the beginning. We saw the signs, and we feared the worst, yet it happened anyway. We couldn’t stop it, no matter what we did to help.
Half of his ashes are buried in a rustic cemetery up in Northern California, surrounded by eight other family members. His grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle, etc. It just felt right. But the other half were tossed into the wind in the desolation wilderness. That felt right, too. His passion was backpacking and exploring. I think he would approve.
I’m starting to settle into a new normal. Most days, I feel peace and joy, and purpose. I’m grateful I’ve gotten through one of the darkest seasons of my life. I still have grief waves, but they are much less intense and less frequent. I’m much more in tune to those around me who are hurting. I feel compelled to reach out and offer a helping hand.
Grief has changed me. This loss has changed me. But it has not destroyed me. In many ways, it has made me more aware of the gift of life that I have every day. I don’t take anything for granted.
The three-year anniversary of the knock on the door will be here in May. As it approaches, I’m amazed at the progress I’ve made.
If someone had told me in those first three minutes that I’d be here right now, I wouldn’t have believed them. But I’m here. And I’m grateful.