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Milestones in the Shadow of Loss

On a December morning 8 years ago, my 16-year-old son T.J. died by suicide. T.J. was the middle of our three sons. He left behind 2 brothers— 13-year-old Matt and 17-year-old John. Since that time, we have moved through many of life’s milestones without T.J. There are always so many mixed emotions ranging from true joy to a punch-in-the-gut sadness at the realization that we are moving through yet another milestone without T.J. here with us. Even harder is the understanding that it is another milestone T.J. will never cross. When you die at 16, with so much of life ahead of you, there are so many of life’s milestones that just never happen.

Last week our youngest son Matt graduated from college. My husband and I were so proud of this young man who had dealt with unimaginable loss at such a young age yet, like his older brother John, had pushed forward and carved out a positive, productive life in the shadow of loss. There is no doubt the scars of losing his brother still exist. T.J.’s death reshaped all of our lives and continues to have an impact on what comes ahead. Both John and Matt majored in psychology. John went on to get his Masters-in-Counseling and is currently working as a mental health clinician with at risk youth. Matt will be going on to graduate school with a similar focus. God willing, both John and Matt will continue to cross milestones as they move through life and I will be able to witness and cheer on their resiliency, fortitude and grace to continue forward even when life may try to push them back and down.

I have never been one to buy into the notion that, “everything happens for a reason.” I will never believe people die by suicide so their loved ones can help others who struggle or that children are stricken with cancer so their loved ones can go on to cure cancer, but I do believe that when life happens it can change the trajectory of our life and we have some say in the path of that change and that to find purpose in the heartache can be healing and motivating. I hope this has been the case for John and Matt. I know it has been the case for me. My passion to help others who struggle and the families that care for them has helped me find a path through my brokenness.

While everything changed for me on that December night 8 years ago, I am so grateful I have had the opportunity to continue to share in the milestones of my 2 surviving sons, my family and friends and my husband and myself. With all my heart and soul, I wish life didn’t carve a path for me where I have to celebrate milestones without my T.J. who is such an integral part of my being, but I am so grateful my soul allows me to continue forward and to embrace the joyful moments that come in this life and to find the strength to press on when the going gets impossibly difficult.

One thing I have observed about milestones in the past 8 years is many of us feel sad about the passage of time and what is no more when presented with a new step forward. T.J.’s death helped me to find a complete shift in perspective when presented with life changes. I no longer feel sad, but so incredibly grateful that my loved ones are alive and well and moving forward in life and not staying still and frozen in time like my 16-year-old T.J. who will never graduate high school or college, will never marry or have children or a career.

I am so grateful to watch Matt and John use their wings to move and soar. And now I believe that even though I can no longer see T.J. in the physical sense that he too is using his wings to move and soar and to experience milestones in a way that is beyond our imaginations.

So today, as I reflect on Matt’s college graduation I will focus on the joy of this latest milestone and not the bittersweet emotions that sometimes try to envelope me at these times. I am grateful. I am proud. I am at peace.

Posted with Love & T.J. hugs

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