“The greatest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude.”---Thornton Wilder
I don’t believe there is any grief wider or deeper than the loss of a child. It is easy to drown in despair as the permanency of my daughter’s death hits me over and over again, like tidal waves crashing into shore. Sometimes the waves are big; sometimes they are small, but as predictable as the tide, they always arrive.
However, after those waves carry me deep into the ocean of grief, something keeps returning me to the warm and inviting sand of life. It is gratitude. Gratitude is truly the only antidote to grief that I have found. Sometimes it has been a matter of just being thankful for my own breath, or that I am healthy and still have people who love me and whom I love in my life. But more and more, I find my heart filling up with gratitude for Emily.
I would gladly go through the excruciating pain and emptiness that the sudden and unexpected loss of a child brings, in order to experience those 21 years I had with her all over again. I would even endure the sleepless nights and the mother-daughter battles that began at about the age of 15, when my idea for the path she should take for her life, conflicted with her own. I am forever in her debt for what she taught me, even in the tough times. I learned I cannot control another person, even my own child. I learned that I must sometimes detach from others’ behavior to save myself. I learned to put aside my anger and approach her with love instead of condemnation. That is how we are all called to respond to with every human being on this planet, but rarely do.
Through Emily I evolved into a more empathetic and compassionate person. I am now much less judgmental of others than before I became her mother. I am so very grateful for the gift of her life. Instead of throwing myself a pity party, (which is perfectly understandable for any parent who has lost a child) I am counting my blessings for all that she brought into my life. Every hug, every smile, every piece of artwork she made for me. I am grateful I could be there to help her follow her passions; from fashion design to painting. When you love greatly, you risk the pain and suffering of losing that person. I have no idea what happens after we die. I know what religion tells me I am supposed to believe. But there is one thing I know for sure--the love I have in my heart for Emily and the love she had for me lives on--forever. That love will never die.
In the first few weeks and months after her death, each time I would look at photographs of her, grief was an anchor pulling me down into the depths of despair. But more and more with each passing day, I find that when I go back and look at pictures of her, I delight in the memory of the time when it took place--the ice skating rink, the wagon ride, the visit to the aquarium. Those memories envelope me like a soft blanket. I would never exchange any of those precious moments in order to alleviate the pain of losing her.
As I publicly share Emily’s story and attempt to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction, I worry that my daughter will only be remembered as the addict who died of a fentanyl overdose. But people are never just one thing. Like all of us, Emily was extremely complicated and she was so much more than an opioid addict. She was my daughter and she was everything to me. She was the greatest gift I have ever received because she made me a mom. I used to tell her when I tucked her in at night as a little girl, “Thank you for making me a mommy! God must really love me to bless me with a child as amazing as you!”
I still thank her for making me a mommy. And I know that I was blessed with the greatest gift… her life.
Faith, Hope & Courage,