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Breathing Through the Timeless Nature of Grief

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My son died seven years, five months and 29 days ago, and the timelessness of grief still has the ability to take my breath away. When Harry died my life stopped, and yet my heart kept on beating. The moment I held him in my arms as his life support was removed, and the feeling of him leaving his body when he died, is something that is etched into my soul, a scar too wide and too deep to ever be separated from my sense of self.

My heart did persistently keep beating though and I had to learn how to live my life without him. I held myself together, through my year of firsts — birthdays and family celebrations and returning to some sense of routine normality. Eventually though, that year of firsts came to a close, and life went on, layering time and constant change through every single heart beat…beat…beat…

The passage of time has not healed my grief, nothing can ever stop my heart from loving both of my children, and nothing will ever make it OK that I don’t get to hug Harry again. Time has enabled me to live more gently with the pain, the edges of my scar have softened. I used to cry every day, usually alone in the car, or when the darkness settled around me. Now there is more life sandwiched between the tears and more opportunity to remember Harry’s life, not just his death by suicide. Endless days full of heart beats have shown me it is possible to live with the pain of child-loss and to experience joy again.

My breath can still stolen by the timelessness of grief though, the way it can overwhelm me and force tears from my eyes again. Sometimes there are red flags, warning signs that the pain is ready to ambush me again. I often lose myself in the double-whammy of loss on Mothers Day, when I grieve for my mother and my son. It’s not just a day about loss though; I can also reflect on the amazing impact they both had on my life, and relish the incredible love I have for my daughter and my granddaughter. Life is a completely bittersweet mess of pain and joy, all smooshed together on days like this, and all I can do is breathe and let my heart beat through every moment.

The Dawn Service each ANZAC Day is another red flag day, as we come together to commemorate the service men and women who have given their all for our country. I feel Harrys presence so vividly — I see him in the Cadets who are part of the parade, and in the tall, young men standing in the crowd. My old heart continues to beat through the pain in that incredibly emotive space, as tears leak silently out of my eyes. This year, they were caught on camera, and exposed to the nation on the evening news. I felt like a fraud, watching myself cry on the telly, knowing the emotion that overtook me was much more about Harry, than our fallen soldiers.

Still photo of contributor dabbing her eyes

Facebook memories can also catch me unawares, like the newspaper headline that could finally be printed three and a half years after Harry died, when suppression was lifted. Reading the headline that “CDHB failings led to man’s death” when I was completely unprepared for it, transported me back again, and the injustice of Harrys death broke me once again. Seeing our smiling faces under that banner headline (a “selfie” Harry took before they were a thing, holding his Nikon camera at arms length) made me feel the pain, sharp and vicious. The discordance between the words and the smiles messed with my head…breathe…just breathe.

Other days, normal days that don’t come with a red flag warnings of landmines ahead, have the power to transport me back into the moment my boy left me. I feel my heart clench in a way it shouldn’t and tears spill unheeded again when I “see” Harry at the mall, in that infinitesimal moment before reality slams into me again…or I pull on one of his jackets and remember him wearing it as he wrapped me up in an enormous hug…or I drive on the route his funeral procession took, and remember the truckie who stopped traffic to let us pass. It feels in those incredibly long microseconds that my heart might finally forget to beat, and grief will completely overwhelm me. It doesn’t though, and I breathe again through every heart beat…and the steady beat…beat…beat pushes me through the pain again, and allows me to remember how very much I love my sunshine boy; a love that did not die with him, seven years, five months and 29 days ago.

Original photos via contributor

Originally published: June 2, 2021
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