I’ll never forget seeing this line in Mattie’s obituary,
“He is survived by father, John, mother, Tracie, brother and sister-in-law, Nick and Amy, brothers, Taylor and Aiden and sisters, Isabelle, Elia and Emma.”
He was gone, and we survived.
It didn’t feel like survival. It felt like a crushing collapse of pain had settled on our family.
On August 21, 2014, I woke up got my nails done, ran a few errands, and packed my bags for a weekend getaway with my husband. The first one in many years, I couldn’t remember the last one. Our son Mattie was almost 4 years old. He was born with Down syndrome, and had spent the first year of his life in the hospital overcoming multiple illnesses, two open heart surgeries and a tracheostomy. He finally came home just before his first birthday and though the years to come would bring many hospitalizations and very terrifying moments, our lives had been filled to overflowing with love and joy and the celebration of his life. The 14 months prior to this day had been a dream come true. His health had dramatically improved, we went on a miraculous family vacation for the first time, and we felt for the first time that he was stable enough for us to travel away for a few days.
As I was closing up my suitcase, Mattie’s nurse gave a call for us to come. We walked in to see our son’s blue face and the familiar panic in his eyes as he struggled to breathe. I jumped into to give rescue breathing, and we called 911. With my hands on a bag that forced air into his lungs through his trachea, we transferred him to the ambulance where minutes down the road his heart stopped. I worked with two paramedics to help restore life to my son’s limp body, but life would not return.
My son was gone. My beautiful, brown-eyed boy had slipped out of this life and into the next.
And we “survived” his death.
It has been almost a year since his passing, and here we are, surviving.
We are the ones left behind. We outlived our son. Parents should never outlive a child.
We are the ones who “continue to live in spite of danger or hardship,” the ones who “continue to live in spite of” intense pain and grief.
I have learned that grief is as deep as love is wide, and that sorrow exists because of the power of love’s impact on the world.
I have learned that there is space in the human heart for joy and pain, peace and anger, and hope and sadness to all reside. And I have learned that to truly survive such unspeakable loss, we must allow ourselves to feel them each completely.
I will survive because of Love. For this beast called Grief is not stronger than the power of Love.