Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear–not absence of fear. ~Mark Twain
In February 2013 our family was at the tail end of a six month family adventure traveling, working and playing around the western US and Mexico. In January we rented a home in Sayulita, Mexico for three months and it felt like home. We had a gated rental, a 10 minute walk to the beach, and a babysitter twice a week, life was good.
So twice a week Randy and I went surfing while the babysitter watched our two boys (2 and 7) for a few hours. Since we home schooled and traveled with our family it was a rare few hours to relax and spend quality time with just the two of us.
On February 28th we left as usual. Three hours later I watched as a surfer paddled up to us with terror in his eyes and told us we had to get to the local hospital. After a terrifying drive to the hospital we were told our son didn’t make it. He drowned in our pool. A few hours later we heard more of the story. Our babysitter’s estranged boyfriend was let into the property high on drugs and assaulted our 2 year old son Axel while the babysitter did nothing and then he threw him in the pool to drown. Our 7 year old was unharmed and unaware as he played in his room.
I don’t need to explain what that first month was like; sheer grief, horror, and devastation. We craved hugs and giggles from our joyous, just turned, 2 year old. Yet we also had amazing support and comfort from friends, family, community, and strangers.
A month later I went to the bookstore looking for something helpful and inspirational. As I opened book after book in the child loss section I quickly realized this was not the section that would provide inspiration or hope. I specifically remember one book that ranked the type of child loss into sections. At the top of the “you’re doomed forever” list was sudden child loss and at the top of that list was murdered children. This “expert” said these parents would need intense therapy and might not ever recover.
How’s that for inspiration and hope?
So I left that section and another book caught my eye. It was Brené Brown’s new book Daring Greatly. As I read a few pages I knew it was the book I needed.
Daring Greatly reminded me of why only 1 month out I knew I was going to get through this loss. Forever changed, heartbroken, angry at times, lonely for my son, facing more fears than ever before, but not completely broken and left to waste away for the rest of my life.
Society doesn’t often talk about the part of losing a child where you go on with life. It’s hard to imagine you could go on without that piece of you.
But you can. And if you have lived with courage before the loss you’ll find it’s possible even before you think it’s possible. And it’s not about ignoring the depth of the loss, positive thinking, denial, or forgetting; it’s about building a life before grief occurs that can sustain you through the worst of tragedies and help you heal on your own timeline. It’s like a foundation that will protect you from the abyss. You’ll fall to the floor and it may take a long time to get up but you’ll have a solid foundation to stand back up on.
Your healing is dependent upon the life you live before grief. Ask yourself what is important and have the courage to build your life around the answer. Move towards that life by practicing everyday. Do it now, not later or when it’s convenient.
We were building our life around what was important before tragedy hit. Our family was living all in and doing what brought us joy and a sense of purpose. We weren’t timid, complacent, or merely existing.
We were living life to the fullest and someone did the unimaginable to our most vulnerable family member. But it’s not the time to let fear (or anger) win. To retreat into some dark hole where we hate everyone, fear everything, and stop doing what we love. I haven’t come to a point where I can forgive the people involved with my son’s death but I don’t focus on the anger. There is a place between anger and forgiveness and that’s where I go. I don’t give hate or anger power over me.
We don’t meet tragedy with despair we meet it with courage. Because courage isn’t about being brave and ignoring bad experiences it’s about living life with an open heart. The word ‘courage’ has its root in ‘heart’. ‘Cour’ = ‘coeur’ (’heart’ in French).
Fear is not the answer so we go on asking today, tomorrow, and the next day how can we live the best life we are given at this moment. Now more than ever before there are bad moments and bad days and fear creeps in a lot. It’s also hard to tell a story that people often don’t want to hear. Grief, especially when it involves a child, is a place most people like to hide from. It’s like the Ebola of emotions and nobody wants to catch it. Even after losing Axel I can’t imagine losing Kalden or now Lars. The darkness of grief really is impenetrable until you’re in it.
We live life resisting fear but also do our best to find joy, love, and purpose so that those around us see that fear is not the answer to a good life. Now more than ever I want to put us all in bubble wrap and protect us from the world but I don’t. We let Kalden race his bike and surf in the Pacific. We continue to travel, we choose unstable income vs. stable jobs because it allows us to be together and be where we want, and we share our story and ourselves with the Axel Project.
The list goes on and it’s not easy but the message remains the same…
Fear steals but courage heals.