“Your loss is not a test, a lesson, something to handle, a gift, or a blessing. Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen.”
― David Kessler, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief
It has been over a month since my 16-year-old son Sammy transitioned from this world into the unseen realm of the spirit. In the whirlwind of weeks following, I have appeared on shows like “Dr. Phil,” “Tamron Hall,” and “The Dr. Oz Show,” as well as countless local and national television programs, talking about how my son died and how this epidemic of fentanyl poisoning is claiming so many young lives. I talked about why I chose to take my grief public here, and why I am so committed to championing safer social media platforms and educating teens and parents about the dangers of synthetic opioids.
I remember on ‘CBS This Morning,’ host Gayle King asked me how I was still standing and able to be interviewed after the loss of my son, saying if she were me, she would on the floor in a heap right now.
The truth is that being interviewed served a protective function for me. I was able to be intellectual and rational about my grief, to hold it apart from me as I discussed what happened to Sammy and what other parents need to know. With cameras all around me, and knowing that it was vitally important for me to get my son’s message out, I was able to keep my voice steady, my eyes clear, and to ‘keep it all together for a higher purpose.
But I knew I couldn’t be in a rational state of mind and cut off from the whole depth and breadth of my grief indefinitely. I knew I needed to get away from the cameras and let myself completely and profoundly break apart. And I knew I couldn’t do it in front of my sons or my husband, who I was afraid of frightening or dragging down into my vortex of intense agony (although I know they would have supported me if I did fully go into pieces in front of them).
Around this time, the management of 1440 multiversity reached out to me. 1440 multiversity is a special events venue and learning center located near the ancient redwood forests in Santa Cruz. I have led a few sexual healing and relationship-building retreats there, and have always adored the beautiful location and being immersed in the massive and ancient redwood forests.
But I never expected the management to open up their facility for me, and not only offer me a place to stay and grieve, but to fill the fridge with all my favorite, nourishing foods like vegan dips and lentil soups, and to put a framed picture of my son and me in my room. So many little touches (like cards and books and cozy blankets on my bed) that utterly took my breath away, and from people who I don’t know very well—let me tell you this was beyond anything I expected, and for a moment I felt guilty. Why do I deserve this? What have I ever done for these people that warrants them to be so generous (both spiritually and economically) with me?
But one thing I have really worked on during this whole grief process is learning that I need to receive. That if a person refuses to receive from someone who is whole-heartedly giving to them, then it’s not just harmful to the person who rejects the help, but it also robs the giver of fulfilling an act, no matter how small, of unconditional love. So, in truth, accepting help means that receivers can help givers achieve their highest level of energetic vibration (unconditional love), so I am intentionally working on leaning into these gifts that my friends, family, acquaintances, and even total strangers have been offering me in the wake of my son’s passing.
Being able to grieve at this magical, secluded location at 1400 multiversity was just the beginning of the gifts which were offered to me on this ‘grief retreat.’ My dear soul-sister Tina Cameron accompanied me on my journey. Tina is someone who has spent a lot of time working on herself, and has very clear energy and is not easily ‘triggered’ by other people’s emotional states. Like the redwood forests themselves, she gives off ‘Mother Love Incarnate’ vibes and just emanates pure love and potential. She not only held my hand throughout this experience, she held space for me. She held space for me to fall apart.
And the universe had another gift for me on this grief retreat as well. I discovered that Diana Chapman, a dear friend of mine who is a life coach, an author, and facilitator only lives a mile from 1440 multiversity. She has helped me many times in my life (including when I lost my dear mother), but I never needed her the way I needed her on this retreat. And the universe sent her my way. No questions asked, no reservations at all, she met me there and unfailingly helped guide me and comfort me as I went into darkness that I didn’t even know the human heart could feel or withstand.
Every morning I would start the day with somatic experiencing therapy with Kate Hutson, which is something I have tried before and even recommended to clients, but I have never leaped heart-first into it before the way I did this time around. Somatic experiencing therapy is so useful because it bypasses the brain, the logic, the reasoning that we try to superimpose on our pain, and instead helps you get into the physical aspects of your trauma, helping you to find and release those areas in your body in which your pain is locked and stagnating. It’s overwhelming beyond any other therapy modality I have ever tried, but it was invaluable beyond expression. It helped me get out of my brain and into my heart, into the places inside of me that most needed care and attention.
I also did breathwork and grief yoga with Paul Denniston, who created this form of yoga to help people use movement, breath, and sound to release pain and re-connect with love. Paul’s partner David Kessler (of grief.com) is also an amazing healer and grief therapist who came to my house after Sammy’s death and served as a grief doula of sorts as my husband, sons, and I just were rocked with pain those first few days. He continued to offer support and guidance to my family while I was away at 1440 multiversity, which was so instrumental in letting me know that it was okay to leave their sides because they were being deeply cared for and nourished.
So between somatic experiencing therapy, grief yoga, breathwork, and of course, lots of nature hikes and ‘forest bathing’ (and embracing my favorite redwood ‘mother’ tree), I was able to let my heart fully shatter. I came apart. I let myself feel it all. All the darkness. All the rage. All the sorrow. I thought this level of pain couldn’t be tolerated. At times it terrified me. At times it enraged me. But mostly, it just hurt. A lot. Pain beyond expression or comprehension.
But thanks to the help of all the amazing people around me, and Mother Nature herself, I was able to find peace in my shattering. Yes, my heart is in pieces. But I get to rebuild it. I get to ask myself how I want my heart to look and feel in this new world I have found myself in. And I get to find myself again, my bravery, my purpose, my reason for being on this earth and for feeling this pain.
And I want other moms to get to do the very same thing. I know so many mothers have reached out to me on my Facebook group Parents for Safer Children and shared their deep pain over the loss of their child. I want to help a group of moms come to 1440 multiversity and get to experience all the same healing therapy that I got to experience on this beautiful retreat. So, next year (once COVID-19 is more under control), that’s a big project I am looking forward to—helping raise money and organize a grief retreat for other mamas just like me.
We heal when we unify, our grief becomes lessened when it is seen and heard and allowed to exist. We need each other. We need to be receivers, just as I was on this retreat. But we need to be givers too. And that’s what I want to be next for the many hurting mothers and fathers out there who are trying to wrap their arms around the pain of losing a child. So that’s an intention I have for 2022 that I just wanted to share with you.