Finding Hope

I want to send you a message of hope during this holiday season, but I know that sometimes hope is too slippery to grasp for those of us who are reeling from the loss of a child. How can you hope when you are petrified it might happen to you again? I thought I would die the day my baby died, 23 years ago this New Year’s Eve. I walked the neighborhood in the early morning hours after we left Mikey at the hospital, and wondered why the sky was pink. How could the sun rise? How could I take another breath? How could fold his laundry, put away the toys, replace the rug where the EMT’s took him out of my house? In spite of my feelings that life could not go on without my son, it did go on. The sun rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell. Someone else put baby’s room in order. I continued to breathe in and out. I made dinners, washed my face, slept for a few hours at time, hugged my goddaughter, and even let my guard down enough to make love with my husband. After many months, I began to count days not by how long my son was gone, but by events that signified living. Hoping began by looking forward to the future, and letting go some of the fear that things might go completely awry. Part of finding hope again might have been the pregnancy of my subsequent child, which brought fear but also, when I let myself dare to dream that I might become a mother again, hope for the future. Having hope doesn’t mean that I don’t think of every horrific thing that could happen to my loved ones. I worry when my husband has to drive long distances for work, afraid that I would answer the door and find state policemen behind it. I worried about during my subsequent pregnancies, so that the obstetrician had me counting kicks every couple of hours. Can you imagine how much I worried when my daughters got behind the wheel for the first time? Or the second time? Or the 45th time? How can I let go of my fear of everything that might happen to enough so that I can enjoy my holidays and my life? After many years of fear, I learned to let go of that worry by ceding control of my life. Many people I know think that if they just follow the rules, that they will be able to control the directions that their lives take. Mikey’s death taught me that no matter how prepared I think I am for life’s ups and downs, I really have no control over what will happen to me or to the people I love. To be able to move forward, I have learned compartmentalize my fear. I have to do what I can to keep people safe, and then let what will happen, happen. My son died, and I went on living. If I can manage that, I can manage anything that life will throw me. Some people find comfort in ceding control to a Higher Power. I’m not sure myself if anyone is manipulating the puppet strings to my life, but all I know is sometimes, you can’t control what happens in your life. And whatever comes your way, you find ways to manage. This attitude lets me suspend some of the fear that can easily grip me into inaction, and find things to hope for again. If my words about hope and control don’t comfort you, then know this. I was a mess for a long time after my son died. But I lived, I sought support from the good folks at the SIDS Center and from my friends and family (and anyone else with a heart open to my pain). It may take time, but I know you will find a way to live a life that looks forward more than it looks back.

-Kathy Whelan