On July 26th, the day of my 4-year old son Nico's birthday, our OB doctor reminded me of something. She has given birth to all three of our children and she said, “I remember what you said to me on this day four years ago, you said I can see colour again”. I had heard it somewhere from some other parent who had lost their child. The day Nico was born, I started seeing colour again. At first, the colours weren’t as bright, they have continued to grow stronger and brighter.
I realised I haven’t really spoken to many people about how I am doing.
How we are doing.
Because there isn’t an “I” when you lose a child, there’s only an “us”. If you know me well, I’m sure you can see it. Or I may have told you. Still, I’m sure many may wonder. I know I would. I would wonder what it’s like to find your way back from a pain so horrendous I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Can you return from that? I would wonder. The bad news is, I know the answer. The good news is that yes, you can.
Today marks five years since I lost my son. Five years feel like a lifetime. Just to think back on events from five years ago, to think about how much has happened since, feels so long ago. At the same time, it feels like yesterday.
I can very easily go back to that day, those days; the worst days of my life. I think it’s odd how I remember unimportant details: I remember how hot it was. I remember running barefoot on the hot asphalt and how it burnt my feet but not caring. I can also without difficulty remember the strong emotions of devastation and the feeling of my whole world crumbling down. Just to wake up in a new world; a world full of dust and ashes and with no colours, only different shades of grey. Most people can’t see it, but those close to you can and they know.
You are not the same anymore. It’s hard to be around a lot of people for long periods of time. It’s hard to stay focused on conversations. It’s even harder to keep up the facade.
The journey back from losing a child is so incredibly hard and it takes a tremendous amount of hard, painful work but with the right support and mindset, it can be done. You will live with a heart that’s partially broken and your soul will have a huge, permanent scar but you can learn to live with the pain and live not only happily but also fully. I remember speaking to a man who had lost his daughter who told me it was possible. He told me he knew I couldn’t see it or feel it yet but to trust him and so I did.
He was right; I couldn’t feel it or believe it, but hearing him gave me hope. So I worked towards that vision, blindly, like climbing a large mountain, never looking up, just putting one foot in front of the other.
Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
A lot of times when I do public speaking events, I involve the topic of grief to some degree because it is a topic most don’t speak of openly in society but we will all experience it, unfortunately.
We don’t learn about it in school, even though we need it so badly. This is a heavy burden for people to bear. This pressure is particularly heavy on men. Men, in most cultures, are taught from early years that showing emotions is a sign of weakness. Such rubbish.
The fact that we don’t speak more about grief is mind blowing because when not handled correctly, it ruins life. We have all seen it; lives not fully lived or cut short because someone didn’t have the tools to come back. You need to have the right coping mechanisms in order to deal with something all consuming. So if we know we can help prevent that from happening, why don’t we?
Although grief is subjective, there are certain foundational concepts that will help the healing process. Moving is one. Working out is not just a good way to get away from your own thoughts, even if it’s just for thirty minutes. There’s also a lot of positive chemical reactions in your brain that will help subdue the pain, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment sometimes. It will help over a long period of time, however. Finding outlets for your emotions in general is important. For some, it’s painting or yoga. For me, it’s this; writing. Something I wasn’t familiar with was Shinrin Yoku; or “forest bathing”. You can click here to learn more about it. Being in nature is healing. My “forest bathing” is the ocean and the mountains. Trail and Ultra running is something I’ve fallen in love with and as tortuous as both the Rim to Rim to Rim of the Grand Canyon and the Backbone trail were, it’s something magic about it. It’s also important to be able to talk about those emotions, in order to take the power away from them. You can’t truly start healing until you face the pain, because it becomes powerful in the dark. It’s scary to do, because it’s like a pent-up levee of emotions of uncontrollable pain and sadness. I wish there was a way around it but there isn’t. Just like if you have surgery, you need rehab. Talking about your feelings is physical therapy for your emotions and if you don’t take care of it, it can become chronic pain, which ruins lives.
It’s also important to have a good social network around you. The amazing network we’ve had around us has been such a huge part of the healing process and I often feel guilty that I can’t show more how grateful I am to so many of you, because there've been so many amazing humans who have meant so much along the journey.
I’m sure there’s a lot of people that have suffered from depression in the past year, whether it be from just having to deal with isolation or worse, from actually losing someone. Please feel free to share this with them, maybe it can help them understand that there are still colours and they, too, can learn to see them again.