It is my son's 36th birthday today, six years after he was brutally murdered by two men who left him on the ground to die. On each Birthday, I have placed a vase of flowers at the sight where he was killed - but not this year…. My grief has eased a bit, and made some space for me to finally feel less angry, tormented and sorrowful, all the emotions I have remained dependent upon for seven years. They say time heals all wounds, but what exactly does it heal? I feel that I am able to perceive the world a little differently with more gratitude and grace, but who am I now? Can I be a better person, someone nonjudgemental of others, a woman who is able to gush over the grandchildren of others, a human being who can forgive the unforgivable……..
At the time of Adam's death, I was a full time licensed therapist in private practice, listening to clients, all day long, five days a week, and arriving home late at night to feed my dogs and shuffle to the refrigerator, feeling depleted and disconnected. For the first time in a reliable thirty year career, I could not return to my practice with any of my customary endurance …. I was emptied out, and felt intolerant of all human beings, and alarmingly frightened of my familiar surroundings. I hired a handy man to install bars across my garage door, and the door leading into the kitchen from the garage, a new deadbolt on the front door, and enrolled in a one day class to learn how to shoot a gun, while I waited for the second perpetrator to be apprehended. The grief was so enormous, as was the fear, I needed to be on task.
Like many of you, I desperately scrambled for a way to feel different, anything that might dull or erase the unrelenting tidal wave of disbelief, and my emotional frenzy to make sense out of a savage act. I was prescribed multiple medications and immediately thrown into an unknown legal system, as soon as his death was declared a homicide by the District Attorneys office. For the next 2 1/2 years I would attend court hearings twice a month at the county jailhouse, and sit in a courtroom full of people, while we waited for our case to be called and look upon the accused perpetrators stand in a cage before us. We listened to attorneys greet each other in the courtroom, identify their role, and argue our cases. I was disappearing… into someone who couldn't feel or think.
I learned that my son's body had been discovered by a homeless man, while out for his usual walk at dusk, on the bike trail near his camp. I decided to track him down, and began looking for him at the location where many of the homeless planted their tents and roamed the area for companionship. Now I had a function, with a specific purpose and commitment - I felt something, a tiny drop of control, as this was the person who saw my son at the end of his life, and might help me understand what had occurred on the evening that I would never see him again.
I felt desperate for any information that could bring me closer to the innocent boy,
and the grown up tender hearted man I loved for twenty nine years.
Not only did I find the man who lived in a tent, but we began a friendship that continues to this day, and he became my inspiration to seek a way that I could help the homeless community - thus the introduction of a purpose for me…… I found a new program that was developing to help the homeless find shelter, resources, mental health assistance, supplies and food. One day a week, I traveled to a small office in a portable unit equipped with internet service, two old industrial metal desks, several tired metal chairs, patches of threadbare carpet, and one small window. The homeless community lined up outside my door on a porch and signed in on a clipboard, then waited their turn to be called into this small office, and describe what they needed. As weeks and months went by, I noticed that I was beginning to feel differently, something was slowly crowding out my sorrow, my hatred, my anguish…..and it was gratitude. No matter how hard I fought to challenge it's presence, this alien emotion was not going to budge, and it continued to advance.
I can now say with certainty, that having a reason to step outside of myself and provide comfort and understanding to those with a life of harshness and dismissal, became the substantial beginning of undeniable healing and repair for me. I felt better, heard my voice speak without bitterness, allowed positive emotions to linger, and gradually found the openness for strength and worth to plant their roots.
This unexpected purpose entered my life from a tragedy, but I believe that any attempt for purpose can be small, effortless, and occasional. It will be the experience of a new intent, and the emergence of an untried addition to your routine, that will open a small tunnel of light, for a first step away from the enclosure of heartache. You must find yourself again, and accept the absolute vacancy of who you used to be, while you thoughtfully trust in a new beginning……..a tender exploration to feel appreciated and significant.
I know this journey well - the overwhelming disbelief, the crippling anguish, and I hope you can find the support and encouragement to once again find happiness and inspiration. It is the greatest gift we will give to our loved ones, who have departed much too soon for us to comprehend.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR------------------------------------------------------
Janet is an accomplished educator in graduate counseling program who shares “real word” experiences with students to motivate, inspire, and introduce them to the influence of current culture on mental health. Drawing on a diverse counseling background--in private practice, community-based programs, prisons, schools, and substance abuse facilities—she engages students in learning relevant course content using a variety of teaching methods (e.g. small and large group discussions, debates, case studies, lectures). Janet excels as natural teacher committed to preparing students for employment in a variety of settings.