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When My Son Died in My Arms 8 Years Ago, I Didn't Die With Him

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

It has been eight years since I last saw my son; he died in my arms in the ICU after critically injuring himself three days earlier. The grief a parent experiences after the loss of a child is always going to be a complex one; the love we have for our children never dies, even though they may no longer be with us. Learning how to live with equal parts love and grief is a never-ending journey.

The further my life stretches out beyond Harry, the more I realize how I have become separated into the person I was before and the person I am after his death. Grief does not make me less-than the person I was before, in some ways it has made me more-than: more resilient, more patient, more open. I am also more sensitive, more able to cry, and more introspective.

I don’t feel stuck in the pain, my mind and my heart are able to celebrate what an amazing human he was, and also remember some of his teenage antics (not surprising I have grey hair!). I get to enjoy watching his friends and family grow and change, and while their milestones may produce a tinge of pain when I consider that Harry will never make them, I can celebrate their achievements.

The past eight years without Harry have shown me that grief is simply one part of me; it has not overwhelmed me (although it is at times overwhelming). I still have the same heart, one that is capable of giving and receiving love, a heart that continues to grow as I celebrate becoming a Nana, and feel the incredible joy that comes from having grand babies in my life.

Every big milestone in life separates us into before and after. Before I lost Harry, grief was already a familiar in my life — my teenage years are clearly separated into life before and after my mother’s death. I can also see that solid line in the sand that exists between being an individual and becoming a parent, and the separation in my life of love lost, and what it looked like to be on the other side of that.

The challenge is always how we respond to change, whatever that change might be. I used to get incredibly frustrated in the early years of my grief when people told me it was time to move on from Harry; that it was time for me to get on with my life. In part, my frustration came from the dreadful inertia the pain of grief and loss brings with it, like swimming in treacle while wearing a blindfold and earplugs. It does feel like it will never end… and perhaps they were right? Perhaps I should just choose to stop loving my boy?

With hindsight I can see that I have moved through my grief in a way that is uniquely mine. This is my life, and my choices, and my grief. If I choose to cry over memories still, eight years past Harry’s death, then that is OK. If I choose to indulge in the “what if?” game for a while, that’s OK too. If I don’t think about Harry for days on end, I’m all good with that.

When my son died in my arms eight years ago, I didn’t die with him. I chose every day to carry on living, to continue to work on this new iteration of Maria who could remember a beautiful boy who left way too soon. I choose to own my grief, not to hide away from it. I choose to remember the pain I feel is a representation of the magnificent love I felt for my sunshine boy, from the first time I held him in my arms. If grief is the price I have to pay for having my life indelibly changed into before Harry and after Harry, so be it. I choose to live and to love and to remember, because love never dies.

Lead image provided by contributor

Originally published: January 6, 2022
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