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Author Archives: Emily Eaton

About Emily Eaton

I'm just a mom, trying to figure out how to create my "new normal" after my son Julian was diagnosed with Leukemia, then died 15 days later -- just 9 days before his 4th birthday. I'm determined not to let my future be focused on grief. I want to take my cherished memories of Julian with me as I move *forward* into a future that once again includes happiness and joy.

Both are true.

Today is Julian’s seventh Angelversary. In the spirit of celebration and remembrance, I invite you to watch this video and take a moment to remember Julian and your own loved ones who have passed on to the Sky World:

Let’s put our minds together as one
And remember the ones who’ve passed on to the Sky World
Their life duties are complete
They are living peacefully
In the Sky World , In the Sky World.

This video moved me so deeply when I first saw it. If my heart took the form of song and dance today, this would be it. Because today is not a day for sadness and despair. Today is a day to celebrate the four short years we had with Julian, and to remember that he’s not “lost” — his life duties were complete, and he peacefully moved on to the Sky World.

Today is also a day for me to notice how my perspective on life (and death) has shifted in the past seven years. As my mind floats back to those early days, I remember talking to a woman who had lost a daughter many years earlier. She promised, “It may not get better, but it will get easier.” Initially, that seemed impossible.

When I was in the early stages of my grief, I couldn’t even imagine a life that would become easier… let alone better. Up to that point, I had spent my whole adult life working hard to create and control my life. Then, something profoundly tragic happened that was beyond my control — and no amount of hard work, good intentions, or desperate prayers could change that.

I realize now that I was not only grieving my son, I was grieving a total breakdown of my philosophy of life. But with time, I learned to surrender my need for control, and I released the belief that life was controllable in the first place. I stopped fighting the past, and eventually accepted the (unacceptable) present, including the aspects of the present that appear to be contradictory:

My son’s death was an unacceptable tragedy… AND I accept it. Both are true. 

I experienced the very worst thing a parent could experience… AND I have a lot to be grateful for. Both are true. 

I would do anything to bring him back… AND my family and I have had amazing experiences in the last seven years that were a direct result of Julian’s death. Both are true. 

My son died… AND there’s a lot to love about my life. Both are true. 

Today I am reminding myself, it did get easier. It got better, too. My heart is dancing and singing in remembrance of Julian. I am giving thanks for the love I feel and the lessons Julian continues to teach me, because he has passed on to the Sky World… AND he is with me forever. Both are true. 

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2018 in Angelversaries

 

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There and here.

img_1565Today is Julian’s sixth Angelversary. Six years since he lost his battle with leukemia and left the planet. In the early days, I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to live without him. Six years later, I’m living… but I’m not without him. Because he is both “there” and here.

Every once in a while, someone will shyly ask me, “Do you ever sense that he is with you? Do you communicate with him? Do you get signs from him?” And the answer is yes, yes, and yes. Constantly… if I’m paying attention.

Sometimes it’s little things, like looking at the clock when it reads exactly on the hour (to which I always respond, “Hi baby!”). Or, a parking lot that is completely full, except for the spot closest to the door (in our family, that’s known as the “Julian Spot”). Sometimes it’s coins crossing my path unexpectedly, dimes especially. Sometimes these are isolated events, but often they have a frequency. For example, in the past 24 hours, I estimate that I’ve seen the clock at X:00 at least 7 times. That’s not a coincidence, that’s Julian saying “Hi. I’m with you. Always, but especially today.”

Sometimes the gifts from Julian make me laugh in their awesomeness. As I’ve shared before, it’s because of Julian that we are good friends with a famous chef. He’s in the process of opening a new restaurant, and we recently received an invitation for a friends-and-family preview night before they open. The event is on March 12th, the day that would have been Julian’s 10th birthday. This was not a coincidence, this was Julian saying, “It’s my 10th birthday, and I’ve arranged a special dinner for you to celebrate!”

Sometimes Julian sends Earth Angels to protect my family. For example, when my parents were on a train in Russia, they were discussing their plans for getting to their hotel after disembarking at their station. There weren’t many English speakers on that train, but it turns out there was one in earshot. Not only was she listening to their conversation, she was the type of kind person who approached them and explained that their train wouldn’t be stopping at that station on that particular day. Not only did she help them figure out an alternate plan, she negotiated directly with the cab driver to make sure they paid a fair price for their journey. AND she stopped by the hotel the next day to make sure they arrived safely. This wasn’t just random. This was Julian saying, “I’m always watching over you. I see that you’re vulnerable right now. The plan you made can not happen today. I’m sending an Earth Angel to help you.”

My whole family has these experiences. Sometimes we share them with each other, sometimes we keep them to ourselves. But what we all know for sure is that Julian is not gone. He is obviously “there” in Heaven or whatever label we chose to use, but he is also very much HERE with us, all the time. And he confirms that message frequently, when we’re paying attention.

He is the puffy white clouds reflected in a mirror-like lake. The line between “down here” and “up there” becomes almost imperceptible. His spirit is communicating directly with us, just like the beauty of the sky is literally visible here on Earth. He is there AND here.

img_0363p.s. This past year I started making art again after many years. I created an artwork based on this visual metaphor, and it was selected to be included in a show called Spirit: Made Here in downtown Minneapolis. They even interviewed me and made a video about my work. The inspiration for this work of art, as well as the acceptance into the show, was yet another gift from Julian.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2017 in Angelversaries, year 6

 

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Forgiving the unforgivable.

J-fiveIf you’ve ever had a four-year-old in your life, you know how important the fifth birthday is. The turning point from four to five is more than just a number. It’s a whole hand. It’s half way to double digits. It’s a big deal. 

Today is Julian‘s fifth Angelversary. He’s been gone a whole hand of years. And in those years, I’ve changed a lot. Things that were important to me before seem silly to me now. Things that I spend a lot of time thinking about now never crossed my mind back then.

My grief journey has taken me on many twists and turns over the past five years. And today, if I were to pick one word to describe how I feel, it is “peaceful.” It goes without saying that I would do anything to have Julian alive and healthy again. But that is not an option, and I’m at peace with that.

After five years, I now know that forgiveness is a huge part of healing. It would be easy to rage against the fact that my son got cancer. I could be filled with anger that he got an infection that his body couldn’t fight. I could hold on to resentment that the doctors couldn’t fight it either. But I don’t.

Instead, I choose to forgive the unforgivable. I forgive the doctors for failing to locate and destroy the infection in time. I forgive the infection for invading his vulnerable body in the first place. I forgive the leukemia treatment protocol that destroyed his ability to fight the infection. I forgive the cancer for taking up residence in his blood. I forgive his human body for failing to keep his soul alive.

And perhaps most importantly, I forgive my own soul for choosing this path. What I know for sure is that grieving and healing are journeys of the soul. Just like life itself is a journey of the soul. We attend this Earth School, and we do our best with the curriculum we signed up for… and I do believe we signed up for this.

Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping sums up my beliefs perfectly:

“The World of Humanity is a spiritual classroom, and life is the curriculum. Our lessons are the events that happen in life. The objective is to awaken to the truth of who we are and return home.”

This powerful book goes on to confirm,

“Life is not random. It provides for the purposeful unfoldment of our own divine plan, with opportunities to make choices and decisions in every moment…. At the soul level, we get precisely what we need in our lives for our spiritual growth. How we judge what we get determines whether we experience life as painful or joyful.”

Five years ago, I felt nothing but pain. And yet, as the earliest posts on this blog indicate, I felt an instinctual pull toward finding joy again. I wouldn’t ever have imagined that forgiveness would be such a significant part of this process. And I’m grateful for the journey that led me here.

And my to my sweet angel Julian, I say: Thank you for everything you’ve taught me. Thank you for being my my guardian angel and my soul companion. High five, little one. We’re halfway to double digits on this divine plan.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2016 in Angelversaries, year 5

 

The beauty of life (and loss).

Today marks four years since my sweet Julian completed his assignment here on Earth, and transcended to whatever comes next. He died just before his fourth birthday, so that means he has now been gone longer than he was here.

But today I don’t want to dwell on the loss. Instead, I want to share perhaps the most beautiful video I have ever seen. I invite you to watch it, and join me in honoring Julian’s memory with the beauty in this journey we call life:

Because this is the four-year mark, I’ll share four parts of the lyrics that are significant — and True-with-a-capital-T — to me:

1. Our souls are here on assignment.

We’re on assignment.
Bodies on consignment.
Before Julian died, I didn’t spend much time thinking about where our souls came from, why we’re here, or where we go next. Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that our souls here to learn something specific. Our physical bodies in this lifetime are “on consignment.” When our assignment is complete, we have no more need for this body, and we transcend to what’s next. Julian completed his assignment four years ago. I (hopefully) still have many years to go before my soul’s assignment is complete, but I know that a big part of it is to learn how to survive the loss of a child. I can chose to resist this, or I can choose to accept it. I wish it were different, but I accept it.

2. We’re here to make a difference.

…in this existence,
I’ll stay persistent.
I’ll make a difference,
and I will have lived it.

Julian never even reached his fourth birthday, but he made a huge difference in the world. We all can take inspiration from his memory and ask ourselves, what difference are we making? Are we persistent? When our time is up, will we have really lived it?

3. Our inner guide will help us survive loss.

I cry for the creatures who get left behind;
everything will change in a blink of an eye.
And if you wish to survive,
you will find the guide inside.

We all experience loss. What happens next, and whether we survive it or not, is up to us. If we wish to survive — and some people don’t — we must find that survival instinct within ourselves. Our inner guide is waiting to be found.

4. We are privileged to have the responsibility of this lifetime.
Aloha, Aloha Ke Akua, Ke Akua,
Aloha, Aloha, Kuleana, Kuleana.

The literal translation of Aloha Ke Akua means “God is Love,” and Kuleana is defined as “the privilege of responsibility.” This message is a beautiful reminder that life is a gift; it is our honor and privilege to live our best life regardless of the ups and downs.

On this day, I give thanks for the years I had with Julian. Even on the days I want to rage against my loss, I accept it as part of my soul’s assignment. I recognize it as my privilege and my responsibility to carry his memory forward as I do my best to make a difference in this life.
 
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Posted by on March 3, 2015 in Angelversaries, year 4

 

The motivation of death.

Justin-JohnsonBefore my son died, I had attended exactly four funerals: three were elderly grandparents, and one was a family friend who had fought a long battle with disease. Julian’s Celebration of Life was funeral number five. And last week, I attended funeral number six.

On August 13, 2014, a young father of four died in a car accident. His children attend my ten-year-old’s school, and our whole community was devastated. Almost immediately, a parent task force sprang into action to support the Johnson family.

Everyone was encouraged to attend the funeral, but my immediate response to that request was NO WAY. I told myself, everyone will understand. As if the death of my son excused me from supporting others in their grief.

What I didn’t anticipate is that my 10YO son absolutely, positively wanted to go to the funeral. “Are you sure?” I kept asking him. “It will probably bring up some painful memories for you,” I warned.

“Mom, I want to support my friends. They just lost their dad. And I know what it feels like to lose someone you love so much,” he said. Of course my son would have this perspective. For him, his own potential for pain was irrelevant compared to the potential to help others.

Still, the voice in my head said, I’m just not ready. But then, I realized the meaninglessness of that thought. Is anyone ever really “ready” to attend a funeral? No. Definitely not. So last Thursday, my son and I entered the packed church to support the Johnson family — and stare death in the face for the first time in three and a half years.

There were some painful moments, for sure. I remembered what it felt like to sit in that front row. I imagined the journey that the members of the Johnson family are just beginning. I wondered how I had forgotten to put tissues in my purse.

But more importantly, I marveled at the strength of the human spirit. We experience profound pain, and then… life goes on. Most of us, at our core, are resilient. Life is not supposed to be easy. In fact, I believe, it is supposed to be hard. This is Earth School, after all. Our souls are here to learn.

The funeral experience last Thursday — the opportunity to stare death in the face again — reminded me of the central theme of this blog that I started more than three years ago: When we are faced with tragedy, what do we choose to do? Do we shut down, close up, turn off? Or do we live bigger, love harder, create more?

In a beautiful short film called Existential Bummer, filmmaker Jason Silva observes that sometimes love makes us simultaneously happy *and* melancholy, nostalgic for what we have yet to lose. I think the same concept is reversely true of death: it can make us sad *and* inspired, motivated to maximize our life:

(apologies in advance for the advertisement you might see before the film starts)

Death challenges us, reminding us that entropy is inevitable. Death asks, what will you do NOW? I, for one, agree with Jason Silva when he suggests that we must use entropy to motivate us to extend every moment forever (or at least try):

“Perhaps the biggest existential bummer of all is entropy…. Sometimes I feel nostalgic over something I haven’t lost yet, because I see its transience.

And so how does one respond to this? Do we love harder? Do we squeeze tighter? Or do we embrace to the Buddhist creed of no attachment? Do we pretend not to care that everything and everyone we know is going to be take away from us?

I don’t know if I can accept that. I think I more side with the Dylan Thomas quote that says, ‘I will not go quietly into that good night, but instead rage against the dying of the light.’

I think that we defy entropy and impermanence with our films and our poems. I think we hold onto each other a little harder and say, ‘I will NOT let go. I do NOT accept the ephemeral nature of this moment. I’m going to extend it forever… or at least I’m going to try.'”

It is impossible to avoid tragedy in our lives. No amount of precaution, protection, or prayer will stop death from coming for us and our loved ones when our time is up. But until then, we can make a choice to attend that funeral, to feel that pain, to see the entropy all around us… and be MOTIVATED by it. 

That is my wish for myself, for the Johnson family, and for all humankind studying bravely in this Earth School.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2014 in year 4

 

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Angel Day #3: The 3rd 3/3

Today is Julian’s Angel Day. The third one. The 3rd 3/3. And he was 3 when he died. Lots of threes today.

I recently read Louise Hay’s latest book, You Can Heal Your Heart. I highlighted several quotes throughout the book, but the one that struck me most is this:

_______________

“The person you were has forever changed. A part of the old you died with your loved one, but a part of your loved one lives on in the new you. This can be a holy transition instead of a lose-lose frame of mind.”

_______________

So in honor of this day of 3, I’d like to share three insights from the “holy transition” I’ve been living through these past three years:

______________________________________________________________

1. I leaned in. And then I leaned back. And now I fly above. 

I’ve always been a driven person. Goal-setting was automatic; there was always a destination I was striving for. I was “leaning in” way before Sheryl Sandberg told us to. When I was 28, I founded a successful business that grew to support more than 10 families. I served on boards, and I was recognized as a “pioneer” and a “leader” in my field. But eventually I was just on frantic auto-pilot, working nights and weekends for years and years to maintain the leaned-in life I’d created for myself.

The first year after Julian’s death, I appreciated that auto-pilot life. The quantity and intensity of activity in my life was a welcome distraction. But by the time Julian’s first Angelversary came around, I realized I was completely burned out. I cracked. I just couldn’t do it anymore. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead — and I couldn’t do nothing — so I leaned BACK. I stayed in my business, but I redefined my job description and I cut back on anything I could cut back on.

Then, when Julian’s second Angelversary came around, I realized that leaning back wasn’t any better. Instead of achieving more “balance,” I’d gone from frantic auto-pilot to bored robot. I was going through the motions, without authentic passion for any of the things that used to excite me. So I made the scariest decision of my life: I decided to transition out of my business. I had some ideas for what I wanted to do next, but I didn’t have an exact plan. I wasn’t even comfortable calling it a “sabbatical,” because I didn’t know if I’d ever want to return to the work I’d done before. I took a running leap into the unknown — no specific goal, no specific destination. I wasn’t leaning in or leaning back. I was flying above.

And here I am today, three years after Julian died, feeling alive for the first time in forever. What am I doing now? For one thing, I’m writing a book. But more importantly, I’m pursuing what Danielle LaPorte calls “goals with soul.” Instead of traditional goals, I’m driven by my core desired feelings: Freedom, Creativity, and Abundance. And when I re-focused on what I really valued, I found that spark again. I was struck by divine inspiration (thank you, Julian!) for a NEW business that will merge my past career in website design with my newly discovered passion for spiritual technology. (More on that later. I gotta get that book done first!)

I leaned in, then I leaned back, and now I fly above. I’m more “me” than I’ve ever been, and it’s because a part of Julian lives on in the new me. And I thank him for that every day.

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2. I’ve examined my “primal thinking” about relationships.

Another one of my favorite quotes from You Can Heal Your Heart is, “Grief is the window that provides the opportunity to examine your primal thinking about relationships.” As I think back on the past three years, I see how profoundly true that is.

I learned two things about relationships shortly after Julian died. First, I was told that I’d be surprised by who supported me in those darkest days (I’d be surprised by who came forward, and I’d be surprised by who retreated). And yes, that was true for me. But what surprised me even more was how my friendships continued to change as the years went by. Friends who were once close drifted away, and people who entered my life after Julian died are now some of my best friends and biggest supporters. I treasure these new soul sisters, and I thank Julian for bringing them into my life.

The second thing I was told about relationships is that the loss of a child often ends in divorce. A child’s death can directly lead to divorce, like when one parent was fully or partially responsible for the death. Or the child’s death can indirectly lead to divorce, like when a spouse’s physical characteristics bring up memories of the child that are too painful to live with on a day-to-day basis, or when the parents fail to soothe each other and feel they must part ways to find joy again.

I’m happy to report that my marriage did not suffer either of these scenarios. When I look back on the past three years, it’s clear to me that Julian’s death brought my husband and me even closer. He’s had his own journey of grief and recovery, and he’s come out the other side with strength and determination. Together, we experienced the very worst thing that any parents can experience, and we learned that we can survive anything… because we have each other.

My “primal thinking about relationships” has shifted a lot in the past three years, and I’m grateful for it. I’ve made beautiful new friendships, and I’ve gained even more strength in my marriage. Julian inspires me to appreciate every relationship I have.

______________________________________________________________

3. I’ve learned the Truth: love never dies.

Before Julian died, I described myself as “spiritual but not religious.” I still describe myself that way, but now I really understand what that means. I’ve found myself drawn to books like Proof of Heaven and Many Lives, Many Masters. I know in my heart that Julian and I have been together before, and we’ll be together again. But also, WE’RE STILL TOGETHER NOW.

Louise Hay says, “The ultimate truth is that love never dies.” I’m here to tell you, that’s true. And I don’t mean conceptually or abstractly true. I mean, literally capital-T True. Julian is no longer in human form, but he is not gone. He is present in my life every day. In large and small ways, he gives me signs that he is with me. Like for example, last year my whole family was celebrating Julian’s birthday and our server introduced himself to us. His name was JULIAN. That wasn’t a coincidence. That was Julian saying, “Hi! Thanks for celebrating my birthday! I’m here, too!”

Our loved ones’ bodies die, but their love never dies. Their souls live on, and connect with us ALL THE TIME. If you pay attention, you will see it, too.

So there you go. A trinity of transition. Three ways Julian has become a part of the new me. He blessed me in life, and he blesses me still. 

Happy third Angelversary, little one.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Angelversaries, year 3

 

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The difference between empathy and sympathy.

The difference between empathy and sympathy.

I never thought much about the difference between empathy and sympathy until my life took a turn and suddenly I received an abundance of both. 

When Julian was diagnosed with leukemia, most people in my life wanted to show me they cared, and they wanted to help — but they didn’t really know what to do or say. When he died two weeks later, they really didn’t know what to do or say. And I didn’t blame them. I wouldn’t have know what to say to me, either.

Earlier this year I read a book that profoundly changed how I understand empathy and sympathy, as well as vulnerability and shame. (And trust me, after losing a child, one becomes intimate with all of the above.) The book is called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown.

As much as I loved the book, it soon became just another good literary memory as I moved on to read other great books. Then yesterday, the author posted an animated video that so beautifully captures her core message about the power of empathy. The video reminded me of how much I loved that book, and I just have to share it:

My own “hole” was about as deep and dark as they come. Very few people felt they could climb down that ladder, even if they wanted to. What I didn’t quite recognize at the time is what Brené Brown shares from her research: empathy is a vulnerable choice. Empathy is risky and painful; sympathy is not.

For someone to be empathetic with me, they need to get in touch with their own pain. They either authentically revisit  a time when they experienced profound loss, or they allow themselves to really feel the pain they imagine they would feel if they were me. (The latter approach is less effective, but appreciated.)

Sympathizers, on the other hand, may have good intentions but maintain a separation from me and often say the wrong thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared about Julian, and the first thing someone asks is, “Do you have any other children?” The look of relief on their face when I say yes is equivalent to the “at least” insight from the video. At least he wasn’t your only child. I’m grateful for my older son, but nope. Not helpful.

My favorite quote from the video is right at the end: “The truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.” After Julian died, many people wanted to be able to say something to make it better. But nothing could bring Julian back. What I needed was something to help bring ME back. That something was connection.

Thanks to my personal connections combined with the grief journey I’ve described on this blog, I now feel more connected to the Universe and other people than I ever did before. And maybe that’s why the Brené Brown video struck me so deeply: I now know, without a doubt, that connections are what keep us afloat and alive. Without authentic connections with others, we could so easily be eternally lost in our dark hole.

So if there’s someone in your life who is struggling, be thoughtful about whether you are responding with empathy or with sympathy. Remember that the need for empathy isn’t limited to extremes like cancer and death — there are people in our lives who need and deserve our empathy for minor things, too.

Also, if someone in your life is struggling with something as traumatic as cancer or death, don’t try to convince yourself that you’re unable to be empathetic because you haven’t experienced the exact same thing. As I’ve written about before, pain is pain. If you are human, you’ve felt pain. And if you’ve felt pain, you have the ability to show empathy. You just have to be brave enough to be vulnerable.

You don’t need to be a bereaved parent to understand what it means to experience traumatic loss. I don’t need you to tell me, “I know how you feel because I’ve also lost a child.” I just need you to tell me, “You’re not alone, I’m here, I’ve also experienced pain.”

Because ultimately, Brené Brown says, the most important two words for connection are, “Me, too.”

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Learn more about Brené Brown:

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2013 in year 3

 

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