Friday, April 28, 2017

How it Feels to Lose a Child: 10 Years Later

Today marks the 10th anniversary of my son's passing to cancer. A lot happens in ten years. I've been thinking a lot about where I was 10 years ago on this day. I think I've been thinking about it more as I watch friends and loved ones of friends going through losses of their own. You realize no one really escapes loss, and it comes in so many different forms. It's something we will all have in common eventually. And I suppose I need to share a little of my journey today on this anniversary date.

Ten years ago on this day, we prepared to say good-bye to our little son. We knew that he likely wouldn't survive the day; and so we spent the day, alone as a couple, saying our good-byes and loving on him as much as he would let us. That night our beautiful boy passed from this life to the next, and the pain of losing him began.

I don't think there are words that can truly give you even a glimpse into what that pain feels like. Movies do a good job of making you feel some of what that feels like. A really good storyteller can pull those emotions from you. But until you lose a loved one, a child, you can't really know how deep the despair, longing, and hurt can go.

I remember I used to purposely watch sad things so that I could feel something deeper, something more meaningful. I don't do that anymore. In fact, I often avoid deep, sad things because I've lived it. I can recall it at any time. And I don't need, nor do I want to ever feel that way again.

How It Feels to Lose a Child


Those first few minutes after you lose a child, you're simply remembering how to breathe. You cry deeper than you ever thought possible. You keen. You feel as if you are breaking a part. You hardly know how you're holding together. You wonder if your wails, screams, and tears can be heard around the world because to you they are so deep and so large and so LOUD. You wonder if your heart will burst, break, or stop beating as you feel something so horrible, so awful, so excruciating that you question how you are still living. Time stops. And something so deep inside you breaks. And yes. It breaks forever. And it is a tear so long, so real, so raw that you feel a part of yourself drift away forever.

The drive home is surreal. Your arms already begin to ache with the emptiness, knowing they will never feel the weight of your child again. People pass you: living, breathing, moving about as if nothing matters. And you wonder how they could not feel what you are feeling. How could the universe not know your child has gone? How can the world not already feel the loss of him? How is it that time has not stopped for everyone else? Can they not feel the hole he has left behind?

You begin to tell others that your child is gone. What words can you possibly say? Gone. Lost. Moved on. And the word I never say and can only spell here "D . . . E . . . A . . . D." You will never say those words out loud. You will block them mentally. They will NOT cross your lips. And you will mentally cringe each time you hear that word used for anyone else who has left this life.

You sleep. Somehow you sleep. Can the body not endure the pain, the sorrow, the ache? You feel you've betrayed the pain somehow by "resting," and you feel guilty when you crash in exhaustion. You feel you must somehow outlast the pain. Stay awake until all is well again. But you sleep. You cannot help but sleep.

Every minute of every waking moment the pain washes over you, consumes you, takes over you. And you clutch your chest hoping to hold your broken heart in one piece before it escapes you and leaves you a shell of what you were before. But all the while, the pain is a connection. You cannot remember without the pain. And if you stop hurting, you stop remembering.

You live from minute-to-minute willing yourself to go on or questioning how it is that you are still alive. It is back and forth, and nothing, and everything all at once. You feel it course through your body, out your toes, through your fingers, seeping through your eyes, bleeding from your heart. It is all, and it is everything. Holding you together and breaking you apart.

Minutes turn to hours, hours to days, and days to that first week; and you realize somewhere along the line you've been counting: counting the seconds without him. Marking the time in morbid fascination of the time apart, the time you've survived, and the time you've mourned. Time becomes an enemy and yet a lifeline.

And so the years go by. Each year that passes the pain fades a little. Not fading away into nothingness, fading away into hiding. Buried deep within because you're never truly free of the pain. It's always there. It can be called up at a moment's notice sometimes with your permission and often without. It will appear in the most random places at the most random times and yet will elude you when you think you need it most.

And after 10 years, you realize you've survived. Such a strange word: survival. Can you truly survive when you are no longer the person you once were? You are changed. You are new. You are different. You are strong but you feel your weakness. You are sorrow, and joy, and pain, and happiness all wrapped into one.

And he? He is always a part of you, mixing and mingling in memories and moments and melodies that hint he is still there. And he is. Softly moving in and out of your life. Quietly reminding you that he too is moving forward, growing, changing, and becoming something new. And while you cling to the lifeline of your past connection, you look to a future with a new relationship when you once again meet.

And I will see him again. And that reunion will be as sweet as was the bitterness of his passing. And just as my mind could not comprehend how the pain of losing him would feel, I cannot quite understand the fulness of the joy I will feel when we are again united. But I hold to that hope. And I have faith in that moment. I believe we will be together again.

I look forward to that day!

(If you would like to read more about Joseph's story and his battle with colon cancer, you can read his story HERE. If you would like to learn more about my faith and testimony in the Resurrection, you can learn more HERE.)

33 comments:

  1. Cyber hugs and prayers to you and your family. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. I can not imagine, & yet with your lovely use of words and your creative ability to share your feelings and story I am educated and enlightened in a way I wasn't expecting. For that I thank you and as the poster above so aptly put... cyber hugs and prayer to you and your family.

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  3. There is no word to describe the pain of losing a child. Your thoughtful post really touches many who love and mourn. Please continue to love the ones around you deeply and live your life to the fullest. Your 10-year old son in heaven would love that for you. Big hugs!

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    1. I love that: your 10 year old son in heaven. :)

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  4. Oh Jen, I have no words. My heart is with you and there is no way I could even know what you have went thru (and are still going thru). Please know you are in my thoughts and prayers. Hugs and sweet memories to fill your days.

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    1. Katrina, you have experienced your own loss; and I've worried about you so much! Such big hugs!!

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  5. Jen, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Your words brought me to tears.

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  6. Sending you big hugs. So sorry that I can't help take away your pain. That day of being reunited with him will be very sweet indeed. You are a beautiful survivor. :)

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  7. A great and accurate article. For me it's been 18 years....she was 25 and it was sudden....I survived but having meltdowns this week as her birthday approaches Sunday, May 7th.

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    1. Oh I am so sorry! Sunday is going to be so tough. Sending you HUGS!!

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  8. It's been almost 2 years since our son moved on and I can feel every word yout said in my soul. I say my soul because,like you, I long for the day we will be together again and rejoice. Thank you for finding the perfect words to describe all that was and will be. God bless.

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    1. I'm so sorry that you know what this feels like. Big hugs to you.

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  9. It's been almost 2 years since our son moved on and I can feel every word yout said in my soul. I say my soul because,like you, I long for the day we will be together again and rejoice. Thank you for finding the perfect words to describe all that was and will be. God bless.

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  10. I just ran into this article, and it is so neat how God works. This year marks the 10th for my son and daughter.

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    1. You lost a son and a daughter. I'm just SO sorry!

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  11. You first line: you realize you are still breathing...this is me. I was still breathing, and told myself: I had to keep it together because I still had a son and a husband.

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    1. Sometimes you're shocked that you're still breathing. Sending you MUCH love!

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  12. Olga Solis7:28 PM

    I lost my 44 year old son on November 30, 2014. He battled kidney cancer stage 4 with carcinoma. I feel every word you wrote. I still have my breakdowns. My son was a single dad. He left us a wonderful 21 year old grandson. We cared for our son in our home. He had many friends, classmates, work buddies, and family members that followed his journey on Facebook. Guy would give updates just about every day. He had an army of prayer warriors. I miss him so much. I visit his gravesite just about every day. He's just down the street from me. I take him fresh flowers on Sundays after church. I sit on the bench and talk to him. Thank you for the words that expresses how I feel. God bless and sorry for your loss too. I too await for when I'll be reunited with my son. We bought our plots one on each side of him.

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    1. I love that you visit him every Sunday. He was so blessed to have a mama who took such good care of him. Please know how sorry I am!

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  13. Yes...our megan will be 20 in december...hard to believe so much time has passed and yet some days the pain in my heart makes it seem like yesterday

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    1. Sending you such love and hoping you feel Megan with you always.

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  14. i just loved this article. our daughter left us in january, she was 19 months old. the descriptions of the pain, the wailing, how is the world just moving on? so accurate to how i felt. i wanted to burst through the door, run out into the snow, i felt like i had to run and get away somehow. i'm still trying to figure out how i'm going to get through this life without her. a sweet relief society sister who also lost a child told me that the joy and happiness we'll feel at seeing them again will be as deep as our losses, but amplified as only heaven amplifies. i'm excited for that day.

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    1. I am SO sorry. You are in the thick of it right now. And my heart aches so deeply for you and your sweet little girl. Praying you feel peace when possible.

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  15. Replies
    1. Anonymous4:21 PM

      lost my son aged 20 2004.another 2010.totaly agree with most said.but i cannot believe in life after death.if that believed by some and it gives comfort then good luck.

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    2. I'm so sorry you lost two children. My heart aches for you. And I respect that you believe different things. Losing a child is just SO excruciatingly hard and you've had more than your share of loss. Such BIG hugs!

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  16. Jen, I'm so sorry. I'm reading this as I sit at the bedside of my 19 year old daughter, also a Jen. She is slipping away through my fingers after 4 years with a brain tumour. Four years well lived and full. Thank you for helping me know that I'm not alone in this agony. Much love Amanda x

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  17. irene misiewicz10:38 AM

    Thank you for sharing what so many of us feel. Your statement that that pain never really fades, just hides and returns, is a beautiful way to put it. I lost both my adult sons 13 months apart, one in 2012 and the other in 2013. I still ache for what could have been and struggle with who I am supposed to be without them . Im so sorry for your loss and thank you for offering hope on what is the hardest journey a parent can take.

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  18. Such a beautifully written and heartfelt piece, it took me until last night to be able to read it. While I have not lost any of my children, my Mum died of ovarian cancer 6 years ago, one week before my second child was born. I still miss her every day and want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions with us all. It's scary to think these are all things that we know our friends, family and loved ones will go through- life can be incredibly tough at times. Love to you all xx

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