A noted child psychologist, Alan Wolfelt said, “Anyone old enough to love is old enough to grieve.” I love this quote, probably because time and time again, I’ve had people ask me if I really understood what happened. In an article by Karen Carney, called “Children and Grief” she writes, “Some adults, perhaps to protect themselves from having to manage the full impact of a child’s grief, fool themselves into believing that children are “too young” to know what is going on.” The fact is, no matter how old you are when you lose someone you love, it impacts you. For many people, that impact is felt for the rest of their lives.
Children grieve, just in different ways sometimes. I remember when I would go to set out five plates at the dinner table and then remember we only needed four. No family picture was ever complete anymore. One night in the early months of John’s death, I went downstairs to his room. I went through his closet and touched his clothes and smelled them. They still smelled like John. I wish that scent could have lasted. I turned around to see my brother Pat, sleeping in John’s bed and we laid there together, trying somehow to be close to the brother we lost. One time, maybe a month or two after losing John, Pat and I both said we were so sick of being sad. So tired of crying and sadness everywhere but God got us through. We kept moving on, through the pain, and somehow life became more happy than sad again. Sometime probably in the first year, I remember feeling happy about something and then guilty. How could I feel happy when John was dead? It’s a common feeling and thankfully doesn’t last forever.
It is said there are five stages to grief. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I can’t say we were in denial about John’s death but we were definitely in shock. The first few months, your mind tricks you into believing that maybe they are just on vacation and they will be back soon. As time goes on though, and the meals and flowers stop coming, you realize that this is permanent. John is never coming back. That’s when it really hurts.
Anger. I didn’t experience anger for quite a while actually, and neither did my parents. My parents actually forgave the shooters right away, and before you think they are crazy, just know that it was God working through them. I was never mad at God, I didn’t really ask him, “why us?”. Instead I thought, why not us? I did wonder why God saved some kids and not John, but when I would hear stories about how God was working through John’s legacy, it made his death not be in vain.
Bargaining. I think my family made it a point to not go down the road of “what if’s”. What if we hadn’t moved to Colorado? What if my mom had let John go to Bear Creek High School, like he originally wanted to? Yes, we asked ourselves some questions but it was a conscious decision not to go down those meaningless and never ending roads.
Depression. One night I was laying in bed and I told my mom, I wish I could die just so I could see John. I wasn’t suicidal, I just knew that I would be in heaven with him if I died. I so badly wanted to hug him again and at least say goodbye. But I knew even if God gave me one more time with him, I never would be ready to say goodbye.
I was missing him one night my first year of college. I confided in a friend, and he said, “Ash, that was a long time ago.” Basically, he was saying move on, get over it, that was seven years ago. I get it. People who haven’t lost someone precious to them, someone who was a part of almost every single day of their lives, they just don’t understand. They think grief is something you get over. The fact is, I’ll carry John with me forever. When John died, a piece of my heart was ripped out and a piece of my future gone. Yes, you move on, but life is never the same. It’s like someone who loses a limb. Their life will never be the same, they lost a piece of themselves, but they move ahead and learn how to live a “new normal”. I think about John all the time. The people we love are tattoos on our hearts, imprinted on our souls. No matter where I go in life, no matter what I do, John will forever be my brother and he will forever be loved.
I absolutely can’t wait to be reunited with John and my Grandma Rose, Grandpa Bob, Grandpa John, Grandma Liz, Uncle Gary, Aunt Beaner, and my precious little one I never got to meet. Here’s to the greatest reunion ever! I hope to see you all there too!