Two years ago today, I was in the greatest emotional anguish of my life. My firstborn son should have been one week old, but instead, I had buried him two days prior. I had white-knuckled my way through the hospital stay and the funeral and the family meals. There were tears, sure, but I had kept it together astonishingly well. But this, this was the start of all the milestones. The first Monday of the dreaded Mondays, each of which should have marked another week of joyful precious new life. Instead, each Monday marked a week farther away from my few short hours with my son. Mondays meant another week of this new life of “after” taking me farther and farther away from who I was “before.” Another week from the trauma that seared this unexpected, unwanted dividing line into the fabric of my life.
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My Grief Looks a Lot Different
Two years ago today, I could never have imagined where I find myself now. About a month ago, I cried over my son for the first time in a long time. You see, two years in, my grief looks a lot different. In those early days, the tears were nearly constant. They were always just below the surface threatening to bubble over. And when they did, there was no telling how deep into the trenches of grief they would take me and how long it would take before I could claw my way out. Now it’s hard to explain, but my grief is actually hard to tap into. Instead of an ever-present force demanding to be reckoned with, it has receded into the background. It is always there, yes, but rarely pierces the façade of my mostly happy new normal.
As I write this, fear rises within me that those reading who are closer to their loss could think that I lack love and caring for my son, or that I’ve forsaken him by moving forward. But I write to encourage you that there are brighter days on the horizon. Yes, there will always be the before and after. No, your grief will not end. But if you choose to, you are capable of healing to a point where your new normal is bearable, even sometimes joyous, and your grief, while always painful, can also be a welcomed reminder of your love. That’s how I felt the other day when I let my tears wash over me. I felt thankful that I could give myself a short time out of my busy day to just focus on my love (and grief) for my son.
I remember the exact moment that I chose to start healing. I was walking my dog around the block, and a very clear thought overtook me. The thought was: Jacob’s life and death can either destroy me, or it can make me a better person. Whatever I do for the rest of my days builds a legacy for him. I can better show my love for him by making my story of love, loss, and grief a powerful, positive legacy for Jacob than by letting despair drag me down.
As a Christian, I strongly felt that this message was from God (and maybe also Jacob), and so I turned to God and asked him to help me heal. It didn’t happen overnight, and the hole in my heart created when Jacob was ripped from this earth will never fully repair. But two years later, I am in awe of the gift of healing that I have been given.
Related Post: A Reflection On Loss Two Years Later
Thank You, Jacob
Dear Jacob, I hate that I didn’t get to give you a gift this year, but I also know that wrapped in Jesus’ arms, you want for nothing. On the other hand, you continue to gift me with more faith, love, wisdom, compassion, strength, motivation, and purpose every single day. I will always wish you were here. That longing is just the reality of my human existence. But two years out from suffering the greatest anguish, I have achieved a peace I never imagined possible the day I let you go. I know it is God’s peace, which you understand far better than me at this point.
Now, instead of resenting my grief, I’m thankful for the moments that I get to spend in it. It allows me to remember that you are real and that my love for you is so very strong and deep. I live that love out every day as I try to make the world a better place.
I build your legacy in small actions as well as in great ones. Small actions like reaching out to friends and acquaintances going through difficult times. Great ones like forming Alive In My Heart and helping other grieving families through its mission. Small things like carving out more time for meditation and prayer. And big things like taking the risk of going back to school and launching my health coaching business to help support others’ wellness journeys. Small actions like savoring life’s little joyous moments even more fully; big ones like writing about your memory in hopes that my experience can help another grieving heart be healed.
It’s heartbreakingly impossible to imagine who you would be, yet I’m so proud of what your life stands for. You are doing big things, Jacob – in me, and in this world, even though you’re so tragically far away. And I will work to find comfort in that until we meet again. Thank you for the many gifts you have given me; gifts I never knew I needed. I love you! — Your Mama
Elizabeth Yassenoff lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Erik. She writes for Still Standing and on her blog to honor her firstborn son, Jacob Dale, who passed away three hours after birth due to unexpected complications during labor. Elizabeth is a co-founder of Alive In My Heart, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides connection and resources to bereaved parents in the Columbus area, and she is studying to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. Jacob’s baby sister, Ella Jane, was born August 11, 2017 and has brought a lot of light and healing.