I was asked to write a story about my personal grief journey. It took me a while because I realized this is not something I openly discuss with people other than my husband/best friend who is riding this same roller coaster with me. An emotion I often push down inside of me on most days. Perhaps sharing my story will help others who are on this same journey. After all, everyone in life will experience grief in their lifetime. It is inevitable, though it’s not easy – parents die, grandparents die, but kids….your kids are not supposed to die before you. That is not the natural order. The grief experienced by the loss of your child, the loss of their future, the loss of your life plans you had for your family, is a very, very different kind of loss, one that cannot be compared to any other loss. I have chosen to share my story and my journey (so far) with you.
My beautiful and fantastic son, Evan, died suddenly and unexpectedly 5 years and 6 months ago at the tender age of 17 years and 6 days old from heroin toxicity (an accidental heroin overdose). He was an inexperienced user who, for some reason beyond our understanding, was experimenting with one of the nastiest and deadliest drugs out there. He was a compassionate, caring and hilarious young man who never even saw his senior year of high school. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t mean to die. It was a tragic accident.
This was the most shocking and devastating event that our family had ever dealt with, as well as for his friends, his teachers, his pediatrician and our community. People, including myself, that saw him every day, his pediatrician who had just seen him 13 days before he died. All of these people were in shock that this happened to Evan of all people! No one ever expected this or saw this coming. Not Evan.
This does not happen to “normal” families like ours who live on the “right” side of town and have their children attend the “right” schools. This is what you read in the news that happens to “other” people.
When it came to my grief, there was no way to ever be able to explain to anyone, in a way they could even begin to imagine, the immense shock and grief the loss of a child and sibling causes you and your family unit. Because of this, you tend to isolate yourself from those who can’t understand you and your struggles. You build your walls up high to protect yourself from any further hurt, even by well meaning people. You seek out and find those people in similar situations to get you through; people who don’t expect you to “get over it” or “move on” in a certain amount of time; strangers who become friends and your most important group for support. Emotions cannot be described, but only experienced and felt to fully understand. The emotion of grief caused by such a tremendous loss is the lowest and most painful emotion there is, emotionally and physically. I don’t feel the human mind is programmed in such a way to ever begin to imagine this type of loss. It can only be experienced to fully comprehend it. It is an emotion I would wish on no one.
Now for my personal grief journey: After 5 years, the immense grief has very slowly changed, yet has not gone away. I have learned that you never stop grieving the loss of your child and the future you had so many plans for, grieving a life that was never fully lived. In time, and it takes a long time and a lot of patience with yourself and your family, to be able to learn to live knowing that grief will always be a part of who you are. I wish it wasn’t, but there is no way around it. You can’t just simply wish it away. It becomes an unwelcomed part of the “new” you. You didn’t ask for this “new” life, but for some reason it is what you got and now you have to learn a new way of living a life you never planned for. What you planned for is gone. I often remind myself that no matter what struggles life may throw at me from now on, I have already been through the very worst, and somehow I made it. Everything else seems like a piece of cake in comparison.
On my personal journey, I have learned that the first year, the entire year, you are still somewhat in shock and disbelief, and the pain is so intense you feel like your heart with physically explode. It just doesn’t let up. I remember wishing that the first year would be over with so that things could get back to the old familiar normal. See, even I didn’t understand grief, it simply doesn’t work that way. I was in a fog that entire year. I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up to feel this pain for another day. I was existing, putting one foot in front of the other and going through the motions of life, but I wasn’t living. I didn’t know how to anymore.
The second year, well it didn’t get better or “normal” the way I had imagined and hoped for. The shock is now wearing off and reality is starting to set in. In a way, it was worse than the first year. Not to mention for 2 years we were also dealing with the additional emotional stress of the legal system in and out of the courtroom. That experience alone is another story all together. We got “justice” if you want to call it that, but my son is still gone. We were looking for new family holiday traditions, because it was too hard, and impossible to keep things the same. Things were no longer the same.
Year 3 and 4 were full of very mixed emotions. Lots of highs and lots of lows, still searching for answers that there are not answers to, still searching for what direction to go. You are still so off balance. Life is still making no sense. You don’t recognize the person in the mirror, what a different person you have become. You feel lonely, even amongst friends, because you know they cannot understand. You do your very best to enjoy those highs, yet they are always clouded with a tinge of sadness. That part, even after 5 years has not gone away. I have finally accepted that it is a part of my “new” life I didn’t ask for.
This brings me to where I am now, in my 5th year. It still doesn’t seem possible. Part of me feels like I just spoke to my son and kissed his cheek yesterday, yet another part of me feel that it has been a life time ago. This type of devastating loss has torn many families apart, many marriages end, but we are stronger than ever as a couple and as a family. Some days we have to work harder on this than other days. But we are in this together. This is the year that the fog has, for the most part lifted. This is a year that I came around a corner and could start seeing things for myself and my future more clearly. I made many positive changes in y life, for ME (which seemed to have pissed some self-centered people off, as if my life has anything to do with them) and I am FINALLY feeling some peace and true happiness again (though tinged with a sadness that I have to live with). My Faith ensures me that I will see Evan again one day, and that gets me through the days. Until then, I will continue to think of him every hour of every day. I will continue to hear his laughter is other sweet little boys and remember those days I once had. He will continue to be my first thought of every day and my last thought every night. This is now my new life, and my new normal. I am a very different person than I was 5 ½ years ago in so many ways. I can never go back to the old me. It doesn’t work that way. I miss the old me, I miss my old life, but honestly this has been a great year for me and for my family. I only expect it to get better and I am now able to see that my “new” life can also be great. Just different than what I planned.
Life is good. That is one of the many things that Evan taught me.