Naomi and I spent the past week at a conference in Phoenix with 900+ other parents who’ve lost children. We had the opportunity to see and talk to David Kessler, and many other experts on grief. Elisabeth Kubler Ross coined “Five Stages of Grief.” David added a sixth phase. The two collaborated and formed a great bond before her passing. One of his first comments to our group was to remember that it’s not linear and it’s not 100% definitive. We grieve in so many ways, and this was evident after spending time with these remarkable people. For the first time since Jacob died, I was able to sit with a large group of people who truly know my pain, and are facing it head on.
I am used to work conferences. Booze boosted salespeople lining the bars while promising work with hollow promises. Monday morning rolls around and reality sets in. The “hangover” from a week spent indulging on the company expense report gives way to mundane meetings, and follow up calls. Today, feels paradoxically different. I have a major hangover. Mine doesn’t come from alcohol. It’s back to work, bills, and normal stresses mixed in with being around “earth people”. Coworkers and friends who haven’t dealt with the unthinkable loss of seeing a child die.
My fellow “shining light parents” (SLP) know how I am doing by a look. I can notice, with nearly 100% certainty if someone needs a hug or a laugh within seconds of meeting him/her/them. I was in a place where we were the majority. We took over the hotel. Shit, we took over two! We didn’t need to ask how the child died. It didn’t matter. I woke up today and my son is not around to answer a text or pick up a call to tell me about his weekend. Whether he died from cancer, suicide, or a freak accident, is inconsequential. I realized that closure isn’t real. Regardless how many times I told Jacob before he died, it wouldn’t be enough. Closure is a fantasy saved for a 30-minute sitcom.
Like many conferences, the amount of stimulus added with information overload, leads to low retention rates. The final speaker said something wonderfully profound. Buffaloes head into the storm as it’s defense. I didn’t know this tidbit. I came home and read all about it. She also said,” what we run from pursues us, and what we face, transforms us.” I was with 900+ people facing a storm head-on. We cried together. We laughed together. We were angry together. But, like buffaloes, we stuck by one another.
I’ve spent my life running from myself. I’ve run from demons within me. Have I faced more in the past four years, than the previous 45? Yes. Does this mean I am facing all my problems? Not even close! Jacob had tremendous courage. This courage was innate. He didn’t need cancer to develop it. I need to channel this. Writing has long been a safe place for me. It’s where I find my peace. For ten years, I’ve been talking about outlining my book, and still no book. I’ve been talking about losing weight while watching my wife’s frustration watching me try and hike. She and I deserve more. I’ve talked about spending more time traveling with a broken body.
Facing the storm cannot exist in a cherrypicked vacuum. I must act to face that which continues to chase me. Here is a bit of reality: It’s not chasing me. I’m caught. It’s time to free myself one action at a time and run into the storm.
Wednesday Blog: List of Action Steps and short-term goals