The week between my son’s death by suicide and his memorial service was the most surreal and intense experience of my life. It was a time when I experienced the deepest sadness I could ever imagine, and it was equally a time when I had the most profound experience of love. It was as if a portal opened between heaven and earth and I got a taste of the Love that emanates from the Eternal. The Divine. It was God’s love, and it was Andy’s love, now transformed, poured out thick and rich, like paint running through the portal, coating my mind, my heart, with something I had never before known was possible. It was further the love of those who gathered around us, in their sadness in having lost Andy for themselves, and their concern for us, his family. It was my love, roaring forward too, recognizing in this loss how very much I loved my boy. Years later, my daughter told me it was like that for her too, the greatest sadness and the greatest love, co-mingling, becoming something that transcended both, that sustained us through that first week, and imprinted on our souls.
There were two other experiences through ‘the portal’ that came that week. The first was in the instant that I opened the front door to find the coroner on the other side with the words “Is this the home of Andrew Wade?” Andy had been missing overnight, so I knew what she had come to tell us. The human mother collapsed with a primal scream in a heap of sobbing and begging that this wasn’t real. Simultaneously, another part of me, calm and soothing, felt as if it emerged out of and floated above that devastation to reach out to my son, who I felt was near, watching, concerned. This part of me reached out to him to say, “It’s ok, I get it”. I had seen him suffer so much in the past year, working so hard, trying to get his life back from the ravages of a mental illness. No mother wants to see her baby suffer, and he had ended his suffering. A few days later, I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror getting ready to go to bed. This bathroom was a large room with a walk-in closet off to the left side. Absorbed in my thoughts, I suddenly sensed a presence, and movement, along this wall to my left. While nothing like this had ever happened to me before (or since), I immediately knew it was him. It’s hard to describe what this looked like. It was like a disruption in the normal visual field, a blurriness, a shimmer, and the sensation of tingling bells approaching. It was pure love that came to stand behind me, enveloped me and took my breath away. It was Andy, free to be fully himself. Whole. He had come to reassure and to comfort me.
In the seven long years since then, I have endured what all mothers who have lost a child endure. The searing, bone-crushing, heartbreak. The wondering if I am strong enough to get to the other side of this, if there is even ‘another side’. The darkest, suffocating hours of feeling so lost in pain that my own death couldn’t come soon enough.
In retrospect, it has been love that has saved me. This memory of love, of the portal, through which for a few short days we were bathed in an extraordinary outpouring from heaven and earth, taught me that love co-exists with sadness, and that love, ultimately, over time, is more powerful. It is love that nourishes and heals.
For those who feel shattered when a beloved is ripped from their lives, someone you think you cannot live without, for those who are new to Grief’s overwhelming, all-consuming presence in their lives, I would offer, “Your grief is your love story. Powerful. Sacred. Protect it.” People who have not experienced a loss of this magnitude are uninformed about traumatic grief and what it takes to recover from it. Some bereaved people feel pressured to ‘move on’, ‘let go’, and other unhelpful suggestions that we can somehow control our grief process.
In reality certain periods of the grief journey can be a wild force much like a howling wind or crashing surf. Other times it is more quiet and persistent, changing the landscape of your life and your heart much like the Colorado River forged the Grand Canyon. Consciously, mindfully, living with grief can be transformative as you are present to the experience of your love for a once living person seeking a new shape, a different dwelling place, in your heart and in your psyche.
Grief as your love story is multi-faceted, with chapters devoted to your love for another; their love for you, and, like any healthy relationship, the story requires attention to your love and regard for yourself. This latter element, love and regard for oneself, if ignored or diminished can lead to unhealthy outcomes, including getting stuck in the darker emotions, in a process that for many otherwise leads to growth.
It is love that nourishes and heals. Even during the depths of sadness and loss, encountering brief moments of love can comfort and strengthen. Some days love is ever present and easily found, as it was for me during that first week after my son’s death. Other times, it seems as though we are wandering in a wilderness, a desert, bereft of the life-giving waters of love. During those parts of our journey through grief, we have to hunt for the water that sustains us for another day or two.
Below is a reflection exercise, which I hope will help you, and/or the people you are supporting in their grief journey, to find and savor these moments of love that broaden and build resilience and emotional health. Science has demonstrated what we know intuitively, the physiological experience of love calms our hearts and settles our minds.
Water in its different forms is a powerful metaphor for the complex emotional experience through grief. I hope the images and metaphors in this reflection will help to put words to the experience, and, especially about your experiences with love, that will bring comfort and hope during one of life’s most difficult, yet most human of experiences.
I would love to hear about your own Love Story and hope that you will comment via social media or directly to me at email@example.com. I wish you peace and comfort as you undergo this transformation of love for your beloved as well as find ways to love and care for yourself.
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