SHARED BY DEBBIE WIECK
No one thinks they'll ever belong to the child-loss club, and no one ever wants to be part of it. I wish I didn't belong to it—but unfortunately, I do. Although Jacob wasn't technically at the age of an infant or child when he passed, he was still my child. A wife who loses her husband is called a widow. A husband who loses his wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child because there are no words to describe the raw, emotional pain of grief and loss you feel.
A Big Difference
When Jacob was first diagnosed with metastatic Ewing's Sarcoma in August 2014, we heard the dreadfully low statistics of how many people would survive treatment. With his type of cancer and the rapid way it had already spread to other parts of his body, only 25-30% of people will be alive in five years’ time.
We took the news extremely hard, like anyone would. Jacob did the best out of all of us. After sitting in silence, trying to absorb what we had just heard, he got up from his chair and said, "I'm hungry. Let's go get Subway."
That's the way he was throughout treatment of chemo, radiation, surgery, and everything that came his way—good and bad. We believed in our hearts that Jacob would be one of the lucky ones, one of the 25-30% of population to be alive in five years' time. Someone had to be included in those statistics, and why shouldn't it be Jacob? His positive attitude was contagious. As Winston Churchill once said, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."
In 2015, on Daffodil Day, a major fundraising day for cancer research in Australia, we heard the deafening words: "There's nothing more we can do." So we brought him home from the hospital and wrapped him up in love for the rest of his life. "Live this day as if it is your last" became our new motto.
I was in total awe of the way he handled the news that his life was coming to an end. Life dealt us a bad hand of cards, and in just one month, the parasitic disease had taken our beautiful brown-eyed boy away from our family at age twenty. He took his last breath to a song he introduced me to on the way home from chemo, called “It's Nice to be Alive.” The song that played next was “Here Comes the Sun,” by the Beatles, and that's when the sun shone on his face for the rest of the afternoon.
If I can only live the rest of my life with his determination, strength, and courage to face what comes my way, I will be honored. Jacob taught us to cherish every day we've been blessed with and to tell loved ones we love them. Since we lost him, I have made a promise to myself that I will live out the rest of my life in ways that would make him proud. I talk about him often, and I own the bad days and the tears. I am proud of the tears because they mean I have loved and lost. I am capturing our future with Jacob's camera: we are seeing the world through his eyes, the lens of his camera keeping us forever connected.
Since losing Jacob, I have rediscovered the creative side of my brain, which needed tweaking and awakening, as the feeling of grief and loss tends to leave you pretty numb and unresponsive to finding new things to get you through the day. I am very grateful for a friend who introduced me to Francesca Cox's "Facets of Grief," a self-paced art therapy workshop for grieving mothers. It was through her website that I found out about the inspirational work others offer for bereaved mothers—CarlyMarie, Lexi Behrndt, Beryl Ayn Young, and so many more. I have been able to create so many beautiful and meaningful projects to honor the feelings of losing Jacob.
Some of the creations were created by all the good emotions, guided by all the wonderful memories and moments of his life, and others were created by the all negativity and sadness that comes hand in hand with the grief of losing a child. But the total amount and effort of all the pieces of artwork, regardless of what emotion that was driven behind the creating, was equal.
I have these creative heartworks scattered around the family room, and they have become a bit of a shrine in memory of my beautiful brown-eyed boy. We might even have to get a bigger shelf because I keep adding items to the collection as I make them. This was the room he passed away in. It’s a place I love to be in as I relax, watch TV, and make chit-chat with his siblings about how their days have panned out and what's been happening in their young lives. It’s where I snuggle with our cats and laugh at the funny things our bird says, as he puts his two cents into our conversations.
We have an area outside, too, so his presence is not just confined to the indoors. We have his memorial bar outside, with a plaque on it saying, “Capturing the chaos and creativity in Heaven on film,” where everyone can sit and have a drink for him, and ring his bell to declare a toast is due—providing you have a drink in hand. A couple of permanent markers are on the bar, so people can write him a message; it's the one time graffiti is allowed. We bring out a life-size cut-out of Jacob at every family function, so we know he's physically there with us all to have photos taken with. We scatter a little bit of his ashes at favourite holiday beaches and at places he's never even been to but was planning to go one day.
I guess I could say the words in my blog that I continue to write, as I dedicate them to Jacob, are my creative heartworks, too. I write from the heart as stories of memories, love, and grief.
The grief of losing Jacob has brought about a deeper appreciation of life. I see all the beautiful things in the world, like all the different colors in plants, in the sea—the creatures and habitats they live in, the sky at sunrises and sunsets. How can the death of someone so beautiful in your life make you see and appreciate things more deeply? How is it possible? It should make us bitter people, but that's not the case. With Jacob's guiding love from afar, he is helping us to smile again. To see miracles in life, everyday.
But trying to find the reasons to smile a lot more in the days that pan out throughout the coming year does not mean my heart has mended. Grief has changed me. The pain has sculpted me into someone who understands more deeply, hurts more often, appreciates more quickly, cries more easily, hopes more desperately, loves more openly and smiles more freely. Nothing is more beautiful than a real smile that has struggled through the tears. No one knows how they are going to handle the grief of losing a child. I'm not sure if I'm doing it right—or if there even is a wrong or right way. But I just know it's the right way for me. Grief is as individual as DNA or a thumbprint—unique to each person.
As I write my last paragraph to finish this passage of writing, another bereaved parent has placed a photo with a verse as a Facebook status on her timeline. I will describe it here, as I like the vision it evokes for all parents who have lost a child. You know how new parents look through the window at their children at the maternity ward, and share their excitement with other parents? What if our angels are gathering around, looking down on us, and saying, "My mom's awesome, which one's yours?"