Wednesday, July 30, 2014

07/29/2014

   At the risk of stating the obvious, there are few emotions we experience as humans that can be compared with grief. By its very nature it is devastating and overwhelming like nothing else. It cannot be planned for, it strikes without warning giving us no time to prepare. Even when the loss involves an older person or someone who has been very ill, we may feel prepared for grief. Intellectually, we may accept the death, but emotionally we are never ready to have to live without the person's physical presence in our lives. In my case, to have my healthy, talented, loving, beautiful son ripped away from me in a matter of seconds sent me spinning. I don't think men in general are particularly well-suited to deal with such an emotional cataclysm. Most men are raised to be strong, not just physically, but also emotionally. We are taught to keep a tight rein on our emotions, with the possible exception of anger. It's usually deemed acceptable for men to show anger, at least righteous anger, anyway, but most other emotions are kept in check. Many men believe that overt shows of emotions such as fear, sorrow, or doubt are unacceptable both to others and to themselves. Besides, when dealing with something as powerful as grief what good will it do anyone to fall apart? That's not going to solve the problem. That's not going to bring my son back. That's not going to help my wife and children.
   I had experienced loss many times before in my life: my oldest brother died when I was 12, but he had been born with cerebral palsy and never had a so-called normal life , and two of my grandparents had died at about the same time. Over the years I lost my other grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a cousin, as well, so I thought I was at least somewhat acquainted with grief. However, all of those losses rolled together did not prepare me for the loss of my son.
   Those early days of grief reminded me of a time when I was young. We had gone to the beach for the day. It was not my first visit to the beach, and I felt I was prepared for the waves, but the surf was especially strong that day. A wave knocked me down and took me beneath the surface of the water. I struggled to get my head above the surface to breath. As soon as I did so another wave would again roll over my head, and I'd again find myself struggling to get my head above water. This went on for what to me seemed like forever, but was probably only a few seconds. I eventually was able to regain my feet and get out of the water.
   Grief was making me feel like I was drowning. It struck with such sudden violence that my entire life went into a state of shock. I was feeling overwhelmed and whenever I did feel like I was regaining my footing another wave would smash over me, driving me beneath the surface. This went on for months. At times I felt helpless to do anything about it. The chaos and hopelessness that grief had brought into my life seemed impossible to deal with. Would I ever feel anything else?
 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

07/24/2014

   I realize now that in addition to learning how to take things one step at a time, in the early days literally sometimes taking things one breath at a time, there were other things that helped me overcome the various fears that threatened to engulf me.
   I learned that much of the time my feelings and emotions were transitory and that what I might be experiencing at a certain moment would soon be changing. I realized that what I often needed to do was actually the exact opposite of what my emotions were tempting me to do. For example, there were many times when what I really wanted to do was to curl up into a little ball, find an isolated corner in which to hide myself, and wait for the storm to pass. What I discovered I needed to do was to lean more heavily than ever on the people closest to me, especially my wife and children. In this case, I don't mean leaning on them in a sense of dragging them down at such a horrible time, but rather to mean keeping myself available to them, leaning on each other, supporting each other as much as we possibly could to survive together. If we could not stick together and find ways to help each other through something so absolutely horrible, who else was going to help us?
   Unfortunately, we did discover during those early days that some people we thought would always be there for us, could not find it within themselves to do so. We came to realize that many people just felt so uncomfortable around us that they fell by the wayside, some early on in our journey, and others as time went by. Whether it was because they felt helpless not knowing what to say or do or how to comfort us, or because our situation brought the fear and anxiety that if something this awful could happen to a family like ours it could also happen to them, the fact remained that these people were not able to be there for us.
   Conversely, there were other people who actually surprised us with the level of on-going, consistent support they gave to us. In many cases, these people are still with us today. Of course, there is another group of people who we believed would always be there for us, and indeed they have been, every moment of every day and every step of the way. Besides holding on to my wife and children for support, I learned to let these other people who were so concerned about us all, help us in whatever ways they could. Their timing wasn't always perfectly corresponding to what I might have been feeling at a given moment, but I learned to accept that everything they were doing was done out of true love and concern for us. I discovered again that the moments when I most felt like isolating myself from the entire world were often actually the moments when I most needed to allow people to simply love me.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

07/09/2014

   After we were given the horrific news that our precious son was gone forever, another emotion that  soon came to the forefront, along with anger, was fear. Fear about what such a drastic change would mean to my life and the lives of my wife and surviving children. Fear about what would happen to us, as individuals and as a family. Fear about how, or even if, we could possibly navigate through something so horrible. Fear for the survival of our marriage. Fear of failing to help our surviving children get through such a loss when we were struggling so much ourselves. Fear that this terrible, all-encompassing fog would never lift. Fear that I would never again be able to laugh, smile, feel joy, happiness or peace. Fear that I would never feel normal again. Fearful of a future stretching years ahead of me-a future that would never include my beloved son. Fearful that I had, for some reason been forsaken by God.
   All of these various fears, and probably others, as well, that I've neglected to mention, if taken as a package, would have been impossible to conquer. They would have been just too overwhelming. We realized early on that the only way we could deal with all that was happening to us was to simply take things one step at a time as each day came. Yes, my life had changed-it had been shaken to its core-and much would never be the same again.  However, in spite of the absolutely mind-numbing loss of Curtis, and all the myriad ways that loss has affected my life, there have been many positive aspects that have developed, as well. I will never, ever be able to say that my life is better without my son, perish the thought! I am, however, grateful that I have learned how to better appreciate the positives and dwell less on the negatives. That is not always easy to do, even after all these years. I think that of all the fears I felt in those early days of my journey, that fear was the most pervasive-that I would never again in my life be free of grief, and all that results from that emotion. I feared that I would not be able to find the strength to help my wife or children because of the grief; that I would not be able to function as a person with any degree of consistency because of my grief; that everything I had been and everything I had done would be lost forever because of my grief; that the way I was feeling because of my grief was the way I would feel every single second for the rest of my life; that I would let Curtis, who had loved life so much, down, by not living my life in a positive way because of my grief; that in some perverse way the man who had taken my son from me would win if I gave up because of my grief. I couldn't let those things happen. I had to find a way out of this debilitating fog that swirled all around me. As I tried to deal with only one thing at a time, putting one foot in front of the other, taking in one breath at a time, I slowly began to find my way, sometimes very slowly.

Monday, July 7, 2014

07/07/2014

   I don't mean to imply that I have completely figured out why my son had to leave us at such a young age, nor do I want people to think that I have entirely accepted this reality. I only relate what I have come to believe, specifically that my son had a mission on this Earth and once it was accomplished he was called home where his spirit continues to exist in a place of ultimate peace and joy. It may be a fraudulent rationalization to some, but it brings me great comfort because I believe it to be true with all my heart. It would drive me insane to think that this life is all there is, that our existence is purely random, and that there is no possibility that I will ever see my son again. How utterly pointless and desperately hopeless life would be. In spite of all the agonizing pain and moments of deep anger and depression my son's death has brought into my life, I totally believe that there is some greater purpose in all of this, and while I don't understand it all, I do believe that ultimately love must win out.
   A few months from now we will be facing the fact that Curtis has been gone from us as long as he was here with us-14 years. There are still moments where I find it hard to believe he's really gone, and harder still to believe I've survived this long without him. When I think back to those first horrible days after his death, it's amazing to me that we have not just survived, but have been able to actually thrive in many ways. I never would have thought that was possible. It was only when I opened myself up again to receiving love that I was able to let go of the darkness that had enveloped my life. Once I realized that my son still loved me, that he hadn't left me because he didn't love me anymore, I could begin to love myself again. Once I realized that my son was OK where he was, I could love others, and allow them to love me. What a burden was lifted off my shoulders! What an amazing thing-my 14-year old son was still teaching me life lessons about the importance of love!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

06/25/2014

   During my "spiritual eclipse" period, I would catch glimpses of light from time to time trying to shine through my darkness, but I wasn't ready to latch onto them. The only consistent point of light I saw was  coming from behind me, a tiny pinpoint that I came to believe was the light left from my old life. But if I took a few steps toward it, it would shimmer and then disappear just as my son had disappeared. I was left to keep going forward toward what appeared to be only darkness. The occasional flashes of light I would see ahead of me I eventually came to realize were people's attempts to love me and draw me out of the darkness, specifically the love of my wife and children, and the love Curtis had left with us. But I wasn't ready to give up my anger and grief. I felt entirely justified in my anger and sorrow. I felt it was all I had to help me survive.
   As my journey continued, however, the flashes of love-light became more frequent and forceful. As I slowly began to accept the idea that Curtis's mission on Earth was completed and he had gone home, I also began to see the lights begin to stop flashing and to, instead, glow with a soft, steady radiance. The lights then began to join together to form one light glowing steadily in the distance ahead of me. I believed that this was the love-light left behind by my son. It was his way of telling me that he was OK-that I would be OK.  At his young age my son had found what many people, sadly, never find-he had found how to love and be loved. Curtis lived his life with love. He was able to let other people love him; more importantly, he was able to love and accept other people just the way they were. He never put conditions on people. He never asked them to change so they would be easier to love. He just accepted them as he found them. He always looked for ways to include people into his life, rather than trying to find ways to exclude them from his life. To this day, it still amazes me that such a young man could have such a profound affect on the lives of the people he met. People still tell us what a lasting positive impact Curtis had on their lives.
   It was that kind of love that brought me out of the darkness: the love of my wife and my surviving children, the love Curtis had left behind, the love I remembered that God has for us even in the darkness. Just as turning on a light in a darkened room scatters the darkness, so did that love scatter the darkness I was feeling. The light was real. It was the darkness that was the illusion. I know now that even though Curtis is physically gone from us, the love he feels for us and we feel for him endures. I feel it everyday whenever I think of him. I will always feel it no matter how much time goes by. Curtis will always be my son, and I will forever be his dad, and the love goes on.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

06/24/2014

   What was this great secret that was to finally move me to give up my anger? After all, it was an anger that I had carried for so long that it felt to me like I had always been angry. It seemed like it was the only true emotion I knew-that it was all that was allowing me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, as if it had become the driving energy of my life. I was afraid that if I stopped feeling anger, I would instead feel nothing at all. That worried me more than being angry. At least anger seemed to keep me going. It prompted me to keep fighting for justice for my son and his friends in court, and to keep looking for ways to honor my son's life and memory.
   Alongside the anger, there was another thought always at the forefront of my mind: why had my son had to die so young? Gradually, as I pondered this question and my mind went back over some of the conversations we'd had with other people, I remembered the words of one of the young Mormon missionaries who had ministered to us in those early days of our journey, "Your son's mission on this earth was done. It was his time to go home." When I first heard those words, I didn't want to accept them. That was not a good enough reason for my son to leave us! But as time has gone by and my wife and I have discussed this concept many times, and I've learned about other people's experiences, I've come to believe with all my heart that every person has a mission on this planet and a time given to accomplish that mission. I know that to some people that must sound like the rationalization of a grieving father desperately trying to make some sense out of a senseless situation, and perhaps it is, but to me it's the only explanation that makes any sense at all. My son had a mission. He had fulfilled that mission even though he was only 14 years old. His time on Earth was done. It was time for him to go home. Am I totally at peace with this notion? No, of course not. I would still much rather have my son here with us, but I am enough at peace with it that I've been able to release the anger that was poisoning my life and replace it with what I believe Curtis had learned as part of his mission here. I believe that, while I still don't understand everything about why my son died so young, God has chosen to give me a small glimpse into the secret that Curtis discovered-that what we are here to learn is love-how to love ourselves, how to love others, how to allow others to love us, and how to love our God. In short, that life is love, and love is life. How did he learn that in only 14 years?

Friday, June 20, 2014

06/20/2014

   Many times when I sit down to write I have no idea what I will say at that moment. Perhaps that's another reason I didn't write for so long-I feared I was running out of things to say or was becoming redundant. But virtually each time I write, the words begin to flow, often giving me the sense that I'm not really the one doing the thinking and writing.
   In the days, months, weeks, and years following Curtis's death I experienced a great many emotions, most of which I was unaccustomed to feeling and didn't know what to do with. Perhaps the most intense of these emotions, and the one I was most reluctant to give up, was anger. I felt an overwhelming, intense, violent anger unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I was angry at everyone and everything. Why couldn't my son had just stayed home that night? Why hadn't they left a little earlier or a little later? Why hadn't I or my wife driven them? Were the neighbors really being careful with their driving? Why couldn't the other driver had left his house a little earlier or a little later? Why couldn't the neighbors or the other driver taken a different route? Why couldn't the man just follow the traffic rules and not speed through a red light? Where was God anyway while all this was taking place? IF He's so all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, why had He allowed this to happen? I prayed every morning for God to protect my family. Why hadn't He? Why were we being punished like this?  Why had my son left us so soon?  I was angry at the world, but especially I was angry at God. I felt betrayed. I had never been so angry about anything in my life. For the next several years I experienced what Richard Paul Evans described in his book, The Four Doors, as a "spiritual eclipse." I felt as if the entire world had become a place of complete and utter darkness. I  felt incredibly isolated from life. There was no light left anywhere in the world, except a small point of light that I could only see when I looked back to where my life used to be. When I looked ahead I could see nothing because there was no light before me. Fortunately for me, this state of life was not to be permanent. There was a way out, but it took me awhile to discover the secret, which was really not a secret at all.