Just over 6 years ago the unthinkable started to happen. It was the week of the Thanksgiving holiday and I was at the hospital emergency room. My wife by my side and my son in the room with the doctor, we stood outside knowing what was being discussed inside wasn’t good. He was 19 though, so the doctor had to talk to him first and get his permission to bring us in the room. Moments later we were told he had advanced stage Testicular Cancer.
The next 9 months were both the longest and the shortest of my life if that even makes sense at all. The longest because we never knew what the next day would bring, things would look great for a while, then not as great. He would go from being paralyzed from the waist down by a spinal tumor to making ACTUAL strides learning to walk again. It seemed like it was taking forever for him to recover and I know he felt that way. But it was also the shortest of times because when the journey started that day in November we never could have imagined that the clock started ticking on the remaining days we would have with him. He passed away almost nine months to the day he was diagnosed. August 20th, 2011 will always be the single worst day of my life.
The fog doesn’t set in right away, you have so many things to take care of when these things happen. Arrangements are made, phone calls are made, you almost feel like you aren’t even given the time to grieve because so much is going on around you. We probably wouldn’t have eaten without the goodwill from friends coming by with food. But as the hours turn into days, you can literally feel that fog rolling in and consuming you.
Grief is relentless. It’s cruel. You find yourself judging people as they offer words of condolence, they don’t know what it feels like do they? Grief can consume you and take over your life. I’m not saying it’s not a necessary stage in the process because, by all means, it IS necessary. But you can’t let it take you over because it will if you allow it to do so.
What I never expected though is how losing him would allow me to change myself in positive ways I could have never imagined. I would still trade anything to have him here with us but I also know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this tragedy.
Losing a child has a way of giving you extreme clarity, and drive, and strength you never knew you had before. Clarity comes in knowing that in an instant any of us could be gone, or be told our time is short. The drive comes to you with that clarity, knowing it could end at any time pushes you to find out what your dream is or what you have been afraid of prior to that day. The strength comes in many forms. Some days you need strength just to get out of bed, or to talk to someone about what happened. But sometimes strength comes from that clarity and drive you’ve gained and it allows you to look at any fear you may have had before and tell it to get out of your way.
What thing in this life could possibly stop me from doing what I want to do? I’ve taken the most brutal hit a parent could take, do you think I’m afraid of rejection? Of a “no” from a potential client? Are you kidding me?
I used to be deathly afraid of speaking in public, in front of anyone I really didn’t know. I wasn’t an introvert but I was shy. I kept to myself and had my circle of people I was comfortable with and that was all. I hated giving speeches in school, and by hate I mean I dreaded those days in class.
Guess what I do now. I speak for a living. I teach marketing and social media classes. I literally get up in front of groups of strangers daily and talk. I also get up in front of young men and tell the story of my son in hopes of them preventing or at least detecting early the disease that took our son. I hated talking in high school and now I go to high schools specifically to talk. I lead entire rooms full of men in group studies at my church and open up about my faith during this journey. I actually started my own consulting business knowing I would be speaking in front of crowds daily after Justin died. And guess what…I’m actually REALLY good at it. Wait, what did I just say? Yes, I’m really good at it. One of my biggest fears during my entire life is now what I do as a job.
A tragedy brought me to a place so far out of my comfort zone that I gave myself no choice but to make it my comfort zone. Maybe I would have made it to where I am if it didn’t happen, but I’m not sure of that fact. I think if my world hadn’t been turned upside down I would have just stayed comfortable and kept doing what I was doing day in and day out. I may never have found out what my true talent really was.
Now don’t mistake what I’m saying as being glad that it happened. I’m far from that. I miss him every single second of every single day. But watching the strength that HE had during the process, the courage he showed EVERY SINGLE DAY he fought the disease undoubtedly rubbed off on me. He endured more than I could ever take, and will always be my hero.
He’s my hero not just because of how he lived
He’s my hero because of how his death taught ME to live.
In the words of one of my favorite lyricists:
“The wound is where the light shines through” -Jon Foreman
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
#getupeveryday #fighteveryday #fearisjustaword