The day after Maddie died, I remember specifically asking “Will we ever be OK again?” In those first hours, and days, and even weeks, there were so many moments when I didn’t understand how that could ever be possible. I kept asking.
I remember talking to a few parents in those early days, who had also lost children. That was my question for them: “Are you OK?” I was desperately searching for the tiniest glimmer of light – something that would signal that someday, somewhere, our family could heal and be OK. I knew the journey would be endless, but we had Greyson – who was 5 at the time – and we had to be OK for Greyson.
I realized that the perspectives varied greatly across bereaved parents. Some described themselves as “OK” – it was a different OK, but they found some form of joy again. I remember one mom telling me that while they would always be sad, they were also happy. Those two emotions coexisted – and that was OK. I remember others telling me that they were not OK and that they never would be again. I spoke to parents who had spiraled in the wake of their grief, and in those moments, I could understand that. I understood it, but I deeply, fiercely wanted something different for our family. We had to be OK. We had to go on – and so I began to search.
Throughout that first year, I wondered why some of us could get through and be “OK” and some of us couldn’t. At one point, I ended up reading about prisoners of war and survivors of concentration camps – and how one of the biggest things that made the difference in their survival was hope.
While grief is an entirely different experience than being physically tortured, I believe the theme of hope applies here. When you lose a child (or a parent, a friend, a grandparent – anyone meaningful in your life), especially in a sudden and traumatic way, you can easily lose touch with reality. You are initially in shock, and you feel empty – as one of the most treasured pieces of your life has been taken. It is an earth shattering experience. In the beginning, you’re not sure how you’ll make it through. But each day, there are little pieces of hope that surface – if you search for them. There are signs from your loved one. There are sunny days. There are hugs from parents or your babies or your spouse. There is human connection. There are beaches and birds and butterflies and so many beautiful things in this world. There are hot showers and candles that smell like heaven. None of these compare to the joy you felt when your loved one was here with you on Earth, but you also have hope that you will see them again in some other universe, somewhere on the other side. And then there are dark days, but once you have hope, you can get through them – even if it’s just one moment at a time.
I remember focusing my energy on Greyson, on what I would do to keep Maddie’s spirit alive. I remember praying and visualizing who our family would become – how we would manage to find joy again.
I almost hate to share this advice, because it’s so hard to tell a parent who has lost a child to simply have hope. Hope? How could you even think about having hope in such a time? When your heart has been ripped from your body and you’re on your knees screaming and asking why? It is not easy to find hope in the early days. The world feels like a pretty hopeless place, at least initially. Even in the years after, there will still be days where it continues to feel that way. You don’t understand how you could ever go on some days. But you get up every day. You get out of bed. You wash your face. You get dressed. You try, and you fight like hell for hope.
Almost two years later, here we are. We are OK. We are incomplete without Maddie on Earth with us, but we were gifted a beautiful boy, Ford, last year. He is not a replacement for Maddie. He is here, however, because of her. He is full of sunshine and light and I can’t imagine a world without him. We are happy. We are happy and we still miss Maddie every second of every day. Those feelings coexist – and that’s OK.
There is light ahead, I promise you – you just have to keep looking for it.
"If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not. … Such men are not only in concentration camps. Everywhere man is confronted with fate, with the chance of achieving something through his own suffering." Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning