Today is Labor Day. It’s also the 18-month anniversary of Julian’s death. On days like today, it’s important to remind myself to focus on what I gained, not to dwell on what I lost.
“Lost” is such an odd concept, anyway. Some bereaved parents really hate phrases like, “the loss of a child.” As one of my friends says, “Our sons are not lost. We know where they are. We did not lose them, they died.”
She makes a good point. When a person dies, it’s not the person that we have lost — we lost our future with this person. But did we really ever “have” it in the first place? Was it really ours to lose?
It’s easy to take the future for granted, especially when it comes to our loved ones. I expected to have a long, full life with my husband and two sons. When Julian died, my future with my youngest son felt more than lost. It felt stolen. In fact, a simple definition of “bereaved” is, “deprived of a loved one by death.” It is us, the *surviving* parents/children/loved ones, who have lost.
Eighteen months ago, I began reading everything I could find about “surviving the loss of a child.” I quickly discovered that there are two types of bereaved parents who write books, write and comment on blogs, and otherwise get their voice out there: those who are stuck in their grief, and those who acknowledge that what they assumed to be true about their life and their future — their definition of “normal” — has been permanently changed.
I can certainly relate to both sides of this coin, but it was the parents in the latter category that motivated me. They often referred to their “new normal,” which inspired the name of this blog, Creating “New Normal.” I knew I had to make a choice… either stay stuck in grief over the loss of the future I had expected, or be proactive in the process of creating my new future.
I believe it is the spirit of Julian himself that helps me focus on my gratitude for the years I had with him, instead of focusing on the future that has been permanently changed. One particularly powerful experience occurred just a few days after his death, when I went out with my husband and mother-in-law to run some errands. As they went into a gourmet food store, I went into a nearby gift shop to see if they had any guest books we could use for his Celebration of Life, which was happening a few days later.
As I walked in, I thought to myself, I wonder if there’s anything Julian might want me to see in here? Then, instead of walking straight toward the guest books, I was compelled to take a left down an aisle. I felt pulled to the end of the aisle, where a display case held a collection of framed quotes. Most were well-known sayings from famous philosophers… but the one that caught my eye said, “Don’t cry because it’s over… Smile because it happened.”
Tears of gratitude came to my eyes, because this was exactly the message I needed to be reminded of that day. When I noticed that the quote was from Dr. Seuss, I got goose bumps (or “spirit bumps” as my friend calls them). This quote, from this person, in the middle of a collection of famous philosopher quotes? I knew it was a message from Julian. I bought it, brought it home, and placed it on my home office desk. It’s still there today, 18 months later.
This quote became the theme for his Celebration (which I wrote about in a previous blog post), but it also became the mantra for my survival. This quote reminds me of the message of the famous Buddhist saying, “Pain is inevitable; Suffering is optional.” Every moment, it is MY choice. Do I choose to suffer, because I “lost” the future I expected? Or do I choose to smile, because I was blessed with almost four years with him?
I love that the Dr. Seuss quote specifically references a smile, because one of my favorite things about Julian was his smile. He almost always smiled with his mouth wide open with joy. How can you not smile back at this sweet face?
Of course, sometimes I just need a good cry. But I still feel his spirit in my heart — even more now than in the beginning — and I know he doesn’t want me to suffer. Suffering does not honor his memory, and it certainly won’t suddenly make him “found” again. I know he wants me to smile, and remember what I gained by having him in my life.
I will always be grateful for Julian’s life, and today I’m not crying because it’s over. I’m smiling. Because it HAPPENED. And best of all, I know that just because he isn’t here with me on Earth doesn’t mean he will be absent from my future. He is, and will continue to be, with me in a new way — a “new normal” way.
Emma Caroline Fernandez
September 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm
Each time i read your blog, it gives me sense of comfort. i cant tell you how many times i have come to your site and read the same blog again and again because when i feel lost and dont feel courage to talk about it to my friends, coming to your blogs and reading them gives me peace and i cant thank you enough. You are strong mother and a woman and admire you. There are so many blogs out there regarding this but some how i find comfort in you and i want to thank you for that. I am sure there many other parents that find shelter in your blogs so keep up the good work, you are my hero.
September 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm
Beautiful…..as always. Love, Aunt Deb & Uncle Don
September 4, 2012 at 9:43 am
I needed to read this today, on the day Abigail would have started Kindergarten. I follow the same philosophy as you – to be grateful I got her at all, but it is still a hard pill to swallow most of the time. I may steal Dr. Suess’s quote for my update this week! Thanks so much!
Leanne (Trebilcock) Avila
September 7, 2012 at 11:00 am
Love the Seuss quote. And Julian’s smile… adorable, priceless. And now you’ve got me smiling 🙂
Tom and Darlene Lund
September 18, 2012 at 3:52 pm
Dear Emily…darling, darling pictures…Julian is so sweet in your heart and mind as you go about your days knowing he was a precious gift. He enlightened the hearts and minds of many…especially me, and I didn’t get the chance to meet him. One of his gifts that keep on giving are these messages that other parents can draw on for strength. Emily, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). He draws close, to ripen your wisdom, to deepen your peace, to increase your courage, to augment your power to be of use to others, through the very experience which is so grievous and distressing…you are growing under the load of the cross. God Bless you Emily. With love and admiration , Tom and Darlene Lund
November 14, 2012 at 10:05 am
Emily: I found your blog today because I googled “how do I survive the loss of my child?” and came to this through another article on Kubler-Ross. My 11 year old daughter died 4 weeks ago today as the result of a fall. She was a vibrant and beautiful little girl who went for a walk with a friend and wandered into a dangerous area and fell 40 feet. Her father, brother and twin sister and I are all going through our own forms of hell on earth and I am reading and seeking
November 14, 2012 at 10:51 am
Kelly, I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. I understand and agree — outliving our children IS hell on earth (I use that phrase a lot, actually). All we can do now is to move forward, one day/hour/minute at a time. Thank you for sharing your story with me.
December 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm
I am struck by how you are making a choice each day to choose joy and not suffering, although pain is/can still be there. I am also struck by mothers contacting you with their experiences of the death of their child, some more recent and some longer ago than Julian’s. I am glad that you have presented this opportunity to connect and to have a community that understands. The hard part is that you cannot protect anyone from their pain or prevent them from going through their own process, which is different for each depending on circumstances, family dynamics, etc. What your blog so clearly offers is hope that there is not just survival, but life, beyond the death of a child. You and others who write about their circumstances are incredibly courageous and my love and embrace goes out to you all, as does the love and embrace of all mothers.