For as long as I can remember I was searching for some kind of purpose. I learned at a very young age that life contained plenty of suffering. Still, I always held onto the hope there was something beyond the pain. I just knew there had to be more than feeling lost; never enough and strangely out of place in this world.
I quickly figured out the meaning I was searching for didn’t come from worldly accomplishments, as I had been taught that it would. It didn’t come from possessions or even romantic relationships. For me, it came from becoming a mom. At 31-years-old, I gave birth to a baby girl and named her Emily Anne. Shortly after I brought her home from the hospital, a thought struck me like a lightning bolt: I now know my purpose. I am here to serve her! That realization never left me, not ever. She was my first child; the one who made me a mother and because of her, my life took on new meaning.
I poured my heart and soul into mothering. I was determined to get this parenting thing right. It was one thing that truly came naturally for me. But despite my best efforts, I still lost the one who gave me my purpose. So how do you survive when you lose someone you can’t live without?
Since I have shared Emily’s story with the world, people often look at me and shake their heads and say, “I don’t know how you do it. I would never survive the loss of a child.” I don’t know what I’m expected to say in these circumstances. I can only muster up, “Yes you would. What other choice would you have?” And they reluctantly nod. Yes, I suppose you’re right. What other choice?
Another member of the club, that no one wants to join, which I irreverently call “Parents of Dead Kids,” says this also happens to her all the time. Barb Olson lost her beautiful, kind and loving daughter, 19-year-old Caitlyn, just a couple of months before Emily died. Caitlyn was rear-ended while stopped at an intersection and pushed into oncoming traffic, where her car was t-boned by a semi. The circumstances of Caitlyn’s death are different than Emily’s. However, both were sudden and traumatic, leaving Barb and I to share the same grief. She told me, “To not go on would cause too much pain for those who are also suffering the loss of Caitlyn.” I get that. When you have other children and a spouse, you must survive for their sakes.
Barb mentioned something else that I could identify with. The loss of a child splits you into two. Eventually you get out of bed, wipe away the tears and resume your daily life. You shower, get dressed, go to work, clean the house, pay bills, take care of other children and socialize. But that is only half of you. The other half is still in deep grief and that 10-ton weight of sorrow can emerge at any moment. I find it usually rears its ugly head when I am alone, especially when I am driving. A random thought or memory is enough to drag me under the tide of grief. I emerge from my vehicle with tear stains on my cheeks and smudged mascara under my eyes.
I am surviving the loss of someone I can’t live without. So is Barb. But she would agree, it’s like trying to run a marathon with just one leg. We all have seen heroes — those determined runners — with a prosthetic leg who accomplish what most people with two legs never will. A piece of my heart has been blown away by the loss of Emily and I don’t have a prosthesis for it. Lord knows, I wish I did. Still, I will get up each morning and breathe while I continue to run the marathon of life with a broken, yet somehow still beating, heart.
Faith, Hope & Courage,