In September 2014 I made the hardest call of life. That day I called my friend Jason’s sister, Sunshine to tell her that her brother had been killed. I remember the wail of anguish that echoed through the phone and a part of me registered how penetrating and deep her anguish must be for her to emit such a cry. We see in movies and on the news…the wail of a parent, wife, sister child upon hearing a loved one is gone from their lives. It was a deep, abiding wail that is somehow both primal and eerie.
A year later, almost to the day I heard that sound coming from me as though from a great distance. It sounded far away and a part of me knew I should stop because I was scaring my daughter. My beautiful daughter whose face had just crumpled into tears and pain when the person on the other end of phone said “its much worse than that, I’m afraid he’s dead.” She looked at me, tears streaming down her face and said “Mom, Rob is dead.” I wailed over and over “NO, NO NO….my beautiful boy! My boy…..no no!” just as Sunshine had a year earlier.
The loss of child is a profound thing. My son was 43 years old and his death has made me acutely attuned of stories of loss we hear in the news almost daily. The kids at children’s hospital fighting deadly diseases, the accidents, the murders and lately, the never ending steam of overdoses. These stories strike a deeper chord with me now. With each one my heart breaks a little for their families.
In the days and weeks following Rob’s death my mind and even my body reacted inexorably. I found myself unwittingly and even unwillingly reviewing our entire lives together. On an emotional and even sensory level I wound my way back to the time I felt that first stir of life that faint fluttery, butterfly movement in my body that said a child was growing there. His face, his smile, his hands, his smell…...me contemplating him when he wasn’t looking and his eyes, finding mine with a look of joy and love. His pain, his losses, his disappointments, his hurts and his music. His laughter, his voice, his hopes, his dreams and his poetry. It all swirled around me as vivid pictures and physical feelings. I kept busy with the arrangements, the condolences, the hugs, the calls, and the tears and …..…even with those who couldn’t do anything but look away. At times I felt I would have rather died myself than see him die before me. I have other children and I have a beautiful grandson. I am responsible to stay alive and well for them. .
They asked me write about survival. Although initially reluctant I became willing to write about the aftermath of Rob’s death in hopes that some parents, particularly who are losing their children to drug related deaths might find some hope or experience kinship from my story,. My son was an addict. He didn’t die from a drug overdose but the Coroner said she was putting addiction as a secondary cause of death. They believed he may have survived his other illnesses entirely, or lived much longer had he not been an active addict.
In a way I was lucky. I had given Rob up for adoption when he was born in 1973. When adoption records were opened and reconciliation was fostered by new legislation in 1992, we reunited. His fist words to me were “Hi Mama, long time no see.” That’s my boy, no recriminations or judgement, just love and acceptance. The story of our lives together belongs in another telling. The adoption meant that Rob had another Mother, Vicky. She loved Rob with all the enduring, fierce love that I did. When I called her to tell her our son had died, I could tell by the tension and resignation in her voice when she answered that she knew why I called. We both knew this was coming. Just a month before Rob died my husband had said “you are going to outlive him Louise.” I know, I know, I know….but not today.
Vicky and I talked every day. Rob’s biological Father, Jerry and I talked every day. We shared our pain in the morning, we cried together at night and in the middle of the day we poured over the past. We made trips to see each other and together, we fretted for our other children and rued their pain and loss. Through their pain we saw them worry for us in return, our bright beautiful children loving us back. My thoughts and feeling would ramble down some strange paths, I often imagined alternate scenarios to Rob’s life in which he was happy, healthy and free from pain. I wanted to hold on to my daughter in a way that was physically painful. I played Rob’s music and I cried, I had long drives crying over miles of long dark roads. I cried and cried some more. I was engulfed by a feeling of disconnection from everything and everybody and with intense physical, whole body pain.
I’m fortunate in some ways. A counsellor by profession I have helped many clients and families deal with grief and loss. Although my pain is mine and very personal I benefit from the professional training and understanding of the grieving process.
There are survival skills. One is to stay connected. Sometimes I felt that Vicky and Jerry were causing some of my pain by sharing theirs. While it can trigger pain and at times even seems to deepen your pain to talk openly with friends and family I’ve learned it’s necessary to stay connected with those who love and care about you…… and with those you love and care about. Do no shut others out of your grief. We need real time connections to help move us forward through life. People - my daughter who reflects her brother’s face to me each time I look at her, who comes to his graveside with me and says how sad she is that Rob won’t be here to teach her son to play guitar. My friend who simply hugged me long and hard when I collapsed with grief along the Camino Trail in Spain. My Mom whose eyes well with tears at the mention of Rob’s name. My best friend who hones in on my feelings like a bloodhound and takes my hand in hers. My colleagues who move silently around me ready to show love when needed. My husband who holds me when I cry and knows nothing needs to be said.
Survival skill number two – keep loving. As a child of the 60’s I grew up listening to anthems about love. It was the solution to everything including war, and, it’s true! Love your family more, love your neighbor, love your friends, love your pets. Love the sun, the rain, the sky and the moon. I find great comfort in knowing Rob was lovable and loved. It helps to know he was loved deeply by many. Everything from the simple Facebook posts from his friends to the depth of his sister’s grief is evidence of how he was and is still loved. Love mends the broken heart and although I feel a piece of me is gone and notice that my general level of happiness is perhaps permanently reduced by Rob’s death, I believe the love I give needs to be equal to, or greater than, the love I get. I have a lot of love in my life. That’s what Rob would want for me.
Don’t be sad Mama.
Director of Development & Finance
* You can order shirts below to support our women in UGM over the holidays. 100% of money raised goes into beautiful gift bag for 20 women and 6 babies.