bereaved parent | teen son loss
"BEYOND GRIEF -
Snapshots of Life after Loss"
by permission of Gracelyn Bateman & Melody Lomboy-Lowe
Published by Luna Peak Foundation, pages 114-116. Copyright 2021.
3 minute read
Susan holds up a booklet full of Justin’s artwork and shows one of his paintings.
Susan| 6 years | Son
How are you doing, 6 years after loss?
“I still have moments where I scream and cry and shake my head and say, ‘Why us, why this good kid that could have changed the world in his own way?’ So yeah, you get jealous, you have resentment. You have to live now through his friends. I think, ‘Gosh they get to drink now that they’re 21,’ but Justin probably wouldn’t have been a drinker. I wonder if he would have hair on his face, and what he would look like. I’m changed. I’m not who I was. I get comical sometimes, but really I’m a broken heart. But I try to be a heart with ears to listen to others and help because I know I’m not alone.”
What are your favorite memories of Justin?
“Justin was a visual and performing artist. He loved to dance and we loved to dance in our kitchen. As he got older, he was involved in musical theater at school, from elementary school all the way through high school. He loved to go to all the Broadway shows and local plays.”
What advice do you have for a grieving parent?
“Just be who you are. Don’t hold in how you feel or not cry because you want to protect everyone else. When you keep holding things in, it’s like a teapot with a cork in it. Eventually, it’s going to explode.”
Did you have any turning points?
“My turning point was when I went to a grief recovery method class. It teaches you the real deal of how our world reacts to loss. We have all been trained the wrong way. We’re trained to be strong, to not cry, to keep busy, and all these things that sound intellectually correct. However, that is not going to help how you feel from an emotional standpoint. Educating myself to be able to educate others helps me in my grief journey. I’m on a journey to speak the truth to help others realize what grief really is, the good grief.”
What do you wish others knew about your grief?
“You can’t say, ‘Oh it’s 5 years, you seem great.’ No, I’m not going to be who I was. People say, ‘Well you’re smiling,’ - OK, but I still want my baby.”
What gets you through your darkest days?
“What really helps is talking about Justin, having quiet time, learning new stories about what he did in the classroom, and getting random messages. Talking to his friends and trying to keep connected makes me happy. When the kids come for help, it is like helping Justin.”
How has your perspective changed since loss?
“Things don’t matter. What you drive, where you live, and how much money you make - that doesn’t matter anymore. We were working to provide for Justin and that all went out of the window. We have a lot of stuff and so the value of trying to fill the void doesn’t help. I don’t care about that anymore and put more value on honesty and truth and how people respect each other.”
What is something helpful to say to a griever?
“Helpful things to say are - ‘Good to see you,’ ‘I can’t imagine how you feel,’ ‘Can you talk about Justin?’ ‘What is it like for you?’ ‘I’m sorry. This is unimaginable,’ ‘I don’t even know what to say.’ Those are good things for me.”
How do you celebrate him?
“For the horrible senior year that Justin couldn’t participate in, I wanted to give their class something to take with them. We had these luggage tags made for them. I also wrote a letter that shared how Justin would want them to be and encouraged them to take their little bit of Justin with them. So then kids started sending us pictures from all over the world with their luggage tags. It became this game where people would tag us from places and remember Justin. My husband and I now run a nonprofit in his honor, with a mission of art, heart, and peace.”