How I Found Life After Death - A Mother's Story of Loss
My son died by suicide after a two-year battle with anorexia on November 20th, 2015.
As you can imagine, when the doctors told me my son was gone, my world was absolutely shattered; I felt as though I had been handed a life sentence in prison.
This was a life sentence of excruciating pain and anguish. Every morning I woke up, remembering and reliving what my new world looked like. It was a kick in the stomach every day.
Xanax got me through the nights — but my days went without any kind of medication. It was unbearable. It was everything you hear about grief and everything you can imagine about losing a child. My life was over. The person I once knew inside of me was gone.
Not only did I miss my son more than words can say but I missed ME. I missed hearing myself laugh. I missed smiling. I missed interacting with my friends and my family. I especially missed my husband and three other boys.
Life would never be the same
When you lose someone to suicide, it's stifling to say the least.
Before we lost Justin, on January 19, 2015, my sister, who is also my best friend, lost her only son to suicide. I cried for her, ached for her, mourned with her and mourned the loss of one of the sweetest boys I had ever known. I felt helpless trying to find ways to be there for my sister. I watched her grieve not knowing what I could do to ease her pain. She was no longer the person she used to be and I missed her, too. I ached for her broken heart.
Ten short months later, my own son, Justin, died. To say 2015 was devastating for our family doesn't even begin to describe how awful it was. After he died, I suddenly realized I was now living my sister's new life.
When I was little, I wanted to be just like my sister. I copied everything she did. But this, no, not this. I did not want this and she didn't want it for me either.
A shimmer of light
Thankfully, though, in that first year after losing Justin, there were times where I could start seeing light again. In fact, it was within the first couple of months.
I remember thinking to myself "maybe my pain isn't going to be as bad as others who have gone through this." What distorted thinking that was, because the very next month — as I stood in the frozen snow on top of my son's grave — I realized my precious baby, the one I had nurtured, loved, laughed with, cried with, worked hard for and had dreams for was frozen underneath that ground.
I became furious!
My whole body filled with rage as I stood in the snow at the cemetery. I could feel a volcano erupting inside of me starting at my toes and working its way up through my body. I hurried to the car before it hit my throat because I knew the hot lava was going to spew from my mouth. My drive home consisted of screaming at God because I didn't know who else to be mad at. I cursed him. I yelled “F” bombs at him. I screamed so loud that I lost my voice. It wasn't my proudest moment but I embraced it because I knew it was yet another stage of my grief.
Over time I worked through many things and began to feel stronger. I laughed more without feeling guilty for being happy. I was well past the one-year mark of Justin's death. I wrongly assumed I was done with my crazy cycles.
Plunged into darkness again
The next spring, I started seeing graduation announcements from Justin’s friends on Facebook and Instagram. I saw pictures of friends in his graduating class ready to finish high school.
I crashed again.
Justin was a 4.0 student who had goals to graduate with his Associate’s degree before he entered intensive treatment for anorexia. Now, he was frozen in time as a 17-year old junior in high school. I was angry again but not in a vocal way. This time it was an implosion instead of an explosion. I ached in my own quiet way. I withdrew from everyone, especially God. I felt forgotten and unloved.
Over the course of a few months, I became a shell, robotically going through the motions of life. The only energy I had inside of me went towards putting up a front for my boys so they wouldn't feel neglected. My husband, unfortunately, didn't receive this luxury. I didn't like myself one single bit. My hope was nearly gone. Thoughts of suicide began to linger in the dark corners of my mind. This was my very lowest and darkest time. And, once again, things started to change.
It happened on a camping trip. I had been asked to attend a spiritual camp for girls ages 12 to 18 in my church. I accepted the calling to do this before my anger came back. And, I began to regret that I had agreed to do this.
I felt so negative inside. I didn't want to take away from the spiritual experiences these young women were seeking. These young women were so beautiful — filled with love and light. I felt bitter and filled with darkness.
One day, after listening to a woman give a talked titled, "Who am I?" I started to crumble inside. I didn't want to appear vulnerable in front of all of these women and girls. I held my breath so I wouldn't cry. I was missing Justin in the most painful way. I told God that I didn't know "who I was" and neither did He. He didn't care about me. He had forgotten me and left me alone to die in this wasteland.
[Now, to preface the next part of my experience, I have to say that, since Justin died, I am keenly aware of my surroundings and I am really good at looking for signs that he is still near me. For instance, I find pennies in the most random places. The perfect song comes on the radio when I'm sad. Music starts playing on my phone even though I didn't open any apps and oh, the beautiful messages I find hidden in the sky! Little 'miracles,' if you will, come to me just when I need them. These things make me feel close to him.]
After the “Who am I” talk was finished, I sat on a bench outside, consumed by my pain. I cried loudly in my head, "Justin, I miss you so much!" I fought back tears.
The moment I said these words, I looked up at the sky. There above me, in the bluest, and most cloudless sky, was a simple and perfect shape of the letter “J” in one small cloud — the only cloud in the sky.
As I saw my son's initial illuminating in the sky it hit me. I am not forgotten. I am important. I am loved; still and always. As much as I miss my beautiful little boy, his spirit will always be with me.
Holding on to the light
Something shifted inside of me that day. I realized that MY story ISN’T over yet. My life can be full of beauty and happiness. It must be. I can honor Justin by living a life that is joyful and peaceful.
When I saw that cloud that day — when I saw that miracle — my shoulders lifted, my heart lifted and the corners of my mouth lifted. I could breathe again. My crumpled-up heart began to pump again and, yes, I truly found life after death in the mountains of Utah!
September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or if you know someone who is, the national suicide hotline is (800) 273-TALK. And, please read these suicide awareness resources; it could help save a life.
About the Author:
My name is April. I am a mother of four amazing boys who are my world. We are a close family and are very supportive of each other. ED crept into my home and took over my son’s life. For a year and a half, I studied eating disorders and learned as much as I could about them while I dealt with Justin’s battle. In January of 2015 we lost our cousin, nephew and friend to suicide. His death was excruciating. A short ten months later Justin took his life. Kyle was 24 and Justin was 17. They had their entire lives ahead of them. My family now deals with a gaping hole in our hearts every day missing these sweet boys. My sister and I, who used to share fun things like clothes and secrets about boys, now share a dark and horrific pain. It’s a pain that no mother should have to endure. This is an epidemic that MUST stop and I will do whatever I can to raise awareness.
This last picture was taking on my oldest son's wedding day. We felt Justin's spirit with us so strongly; we placed this picture of him on its own chair.
I share more of my story about Justin in this video about losing my child to suicide.