Author: Jen Moore
In June of 2007 I lost my beloved only son Ian, to suicide. He was 20 years old, a junior in college, a musician, an artist, a popular friend, a little brother, and a beautiful, sensitive soul. Suffice it to say, it was the most devastating thing any mother can imagine, let alone experience. If anyone had ever tried to explain to me at the time that I would survive, let alone survive fairly intact, it would have felt like an egregious lie and a fairy tale. But thankfully ten years have passed since that tragic summer morning and I am now able to look back at the ensuing months and years with a different perspective. I see now that this event had a severe impact on many lives close to him. Friends became closer and cared better for each other’s welfare. Families mended old hurts, and in general we all realized how short our time with each other really is.
It may sound disrespectful to my darling boy to say this, but so many things in our family’s lives have changed for the better as a result of his death. And because of these changes I feel a sense of gratitude to my child along with all of the other feelings a parent feels when such a tragedy occurs. The profoundness of the impact seemed to awaken a deeper sense of self within many individuals, in addition to myself. These are what I have come to refer to as the hidden gifts of loss. I was only able to come to that realization after much time had passed and I could distance myself from the acute grief. But once realized, a sense of deep gratitude began to fill my soul and allowed me to start to accept that this painful path had led each of us to a new level of growth, strength, understanding, and a sense of awe and wonder at how everything and every one of us in this world is connected. It truly opened my eyes to these gifts, and acceptance began to seep into a deeper part of my soul.
When this realization occurred to me, I began to believe that perhaps this was the path that was intended for me…these lessons and these painful experiences. This was a very unsettling thought at first. But it really caused me to ponder this thought deeply. Would I have preferred he not have died – absolutely, without question, and I would do most anything to have him back! But he did die, and this is my new reality and I prefer to look at these outcomes as gifts that were given to us in the resulting aftermath of this heartbreaking tragedy. These are gifts that may not have come to us any other way.
My personal belief is that we are here, on this earth, to learn from and experience as much as possible to take with us into our next life. From my own experiences I know that I learn a great deal faster and at a much deeper level of understanding when I have faced difficult times. Those challenges have shaped me into the strong woman I am today. Of course life is absolutely wonderful when everything is easy and smooth sailing. And everyone needs some smooth sailing as often as possible. But for me those are not enriching times of learning. This brings to mind the often quoted words of Poet Bob Perks:
I wish you enough.
I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how grey the day may appear.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.
I wish you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.
We need all of the good and bad times in our lives to grow and appreciate what we have and where we are in life. If we don’t like where we are, we just may feel empowered to change it, simply because we have learned new strengths and insights from difficult experiences.
Many significant changes occurred in my personal life. But the most critical change occurred because my abusive second husband stole my precious son’s life insurance money. Cashing that check had felt like a huge betrayal – money in exchange for his life. It was one of the most difficult steps I had to take in the aftermath of his death. But had this unforgivable act by my spouse not occurred I may not have had the strength and courage to leave that cycle of abuse. My strength emanated from the ability to see clearly that I would survive without him – I had already survived the worst tragedy possible. I saw clearly in that moment that no truly loving, caring individual in this world could have done something that cold and heartless. I have often described his actions as “the two-by-four that hit me in the head”, because the impact of such a ruthless act was that profound to me.
But others close to my son experienced the gifts of loss as well. My nephew, who was one of my son’s roommates, and actually the unfortunate individual that found him that horrid day, had previously chosen to drop out of his junior year of college. He was content to sit at home playing video games and smoking pot all day. After this tragic event and his intimate involvement in the aftermath, he not only went back to college, but became a physician, and is now happily married to another physician from his class. He credits the monumental experience of losing his cousin and best friend as his wake up call.
At the time of the event, my dear brother was deeply involved in an unhappy relationship with a cold, uncommunicative, obviously clinically depressed man. Because of the depths of his emotional disorder, he was unable to provide the support and love that my brother so needed during that time. This opened my brother’s eyes to the fact that no matter how hard he had tried to help his partner, nothing he could do would help him until he wanted to seek help for himself. This was simply not the right relationship for either of them and he could see that it would never be any different. They ended their four year relationship and now each of them is in happily committed long term relationships, very different from the one they experienced together.
A huge gift for our entire family was the healing that occurred between Ian’s father and me. We had had a painful breakup some fourteen years previous. Our relationship was very strained and continued unpleasant until the time of Ian’s death. Somehow all of it became so small and insignificant when seen against the backdrop of the death of our beautiful boy that we had each loved and cared for so deeply. And in an instant all of it fell away and was gone. And now, ten years later we are still attending a very loving, joy filled Thanksgiving dinner in their home with all of our extended families. How ridiculous and wasteful we had been with our energy and our time for all those years. How thoughtless of us to trouble our beautiful children with our pettiness for so many years. What we would not give to get that time back and to share our lives and our children in a healthier more productive manner. But we just could not see it at that time. We were blind to the truth that those we love are really all that is truly important.
These examples are a sampling of the many blessings that occurred in our lives as a direct or indirect result of such a horrific personal tragedy. There are gifts in tragedy, just as there gifts in any difficult or dark journey, even if the only gift one can appreciate is how amazing it is to have it in the past, and to realize that you have survived it and are stronger because of that. One appreciates happiness and joy much more after losing it. We love more fiercely, the sun shines brighter, the flowers smell sweeter, colors are more vivid, and the bird’s songs are more glorious. These seemingly small things are some of the many things we often take for granted in our busy, over-scheduled, fast-paced lives. Our daily problems often seem insurmountable and overwhelming until faced with something much more serious and life changing. Then those things seem so trivial and insignificant and you wonder at ever worrying in the first place. Everything quickly comes into sharp focus after experiencing such dark times. These are the gifts of loss, and I am grateful.