Last year my life changed forever. I’ve joined that club no one wants to be in – one of my children died. My 36 year old son, Joseph, died of a brain aneurysm.

In the first blog on Grief, I noted some skillful ways to help someone who is grieving. The depth of the pain when grieving the loss of a child, including an adult child, requires a degree of compassion and sensitivity that challenges even the most caring among us. Our communication tools can suddenly seem woefully inadequate. 

I can try to help by relating what people have done that was meaningful to me in the most difficult  year of my life. In the early weeks, when people provided food, it was a necessity or we would not have nourished ourselves. The dozens of handwritten notes we received from friends and neighbors, which we displayed for several months, were welcome.

Yes, some were better than other’s in finding the right words but anyone who made the effort was appreciated. One person wrote multiple times in the ensuing months. This was both unusual, and unusually comforting. As is often a surprise to the bereaved, those who are most attentive are not necessarily your closest friends. That was the case with this caring woman. She was the ex-girlfriend of a neighbor! 

A new friend, whom we met through a playdate for our dog, took the time to read up on how to relate to parents who have lost a child. She was forthcoming in bringing up our son by name, even though she’d never met him. A common refrain among bereaved parents is that friends and even family don’t talk about the deceased child. We want to talk about him, what he loved, and what we loved most about him. 

To borrow what another parent said about her son, there is a “Joseph shaped” hole in my heart that nothing can fill. 

Yet I’m still a wife, a mother to our two daughters, and a grandmother of four fabulous young ones. I’m a sister to five wonderful siblings, an aunt many times over, and a sister-in-law. I have much for which to be thankful. I often bring my attention back to gratitude for those blessings in my life. I also have a health condition that makes conscious living a necessity, not an option. 

Summoning the energy to show up for my life and for my loved ones is the greatest challenge of this profound grief.  The discipline of a lifetime is sometimes elusive but it serves me well when I can form an intention to do the next right thing, for myself or others. I will set small, manageable, goals for my day and, by bedtime, have a sense of accomplishment. 

The continuing kindness of family, friends, and neighbors is a tonic. Those who can simply be with us in our sorrow are heroes to me.  I have the comfort of a strong belief in an afterlife- in some other realm, the beautiful soul I knew as my son, lives free of earthly burdens. Others, of course, believe differently, perhaps similarly comforted, perhaps not. Losing a child precipitates a faith crisis, regardless of background or tradition.

 Nearly every day comes the thought ” No. This cannot be.” But it is so. I sit next to the box with the ashes of my son. This grief will not go away. I will carry it, we will carry it as a family, always. We became a smaller family by one but six weeks after Joseph died a new grandbaby was born. Joy and sorrow co-exist in the mystery that is life.


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