Some of you will know me, David Cooper, as the Founding Director of Eli’s Place. However, I write this as a volunteer grief facilitator for the Toronto Distress Center. I work with bereaved parents who have suffered the loss of a child by suicide or homicide.
This means being present to another’s pain, yet not trying to take away their pain. Bearing witness to someone’s story and struggles, yet not judging or directing their struggles. Discovering the gifts of sacred silence, yet not trying to fill up every moment with words. Above all, this means doing my best to be a compassionate presence.
We lost our son Eli, ten years ago to suicide, just before his 31st birthday. Several months later, as a suicide loss survivor, I sought help from the Distress Centre to learn how to deal with complicated grief and begin my journey from “why” to “what now”. My grief made it challenging to be hopeful … to see a future, because meaning and purpose seemed non-existent. How would I survive the most horrific event of my life? Eventually, I realized that I needed to keep my son’s memory alive, to find a way to make meaning out of something that had no meaning and seemed inexplicable. I yearned for hope to hug me, to hold me in its arms, to wipe away my tears and tell me that today and tomorrow would be just fine — when nothing felt fine, nor could seemingly ever feel fine. How do we as parents make sense of our loss without being broken by the weight of it? How do we ensure the invisible thread of love is never broken?
Yes, I was a grieving parent, but I eventually came to see myself as a survivor! There was a realization that life is so very fragile and that we have little control. However, I began to realize over time that I have a choice; while I cannot choose my circumstances, I can choose my attitude towards them. I learned to wake up every morning and choose to see brightness rather than the darkness. I like how Maya Angelou expressed this: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them”.
Now, as I work as a grief facilitator, hearing and validating another’s story of loss, I honour my own loss. By supporting others and making a difference in their lives, I find strength and validation. By sharing my experience as a survivor, I am in a position to help parents recognize and appreciate their resilience, maximize their coping skills and utilize their support systems. Parents are encouraged to begin the journey from grieving to healing.
While seeking comfort after our son died, I came across this helpful expression of hope:
“When darkness falls and we have lost our way, hope is the light inside us that refuses to be extinguished. Hope defies logic. It is the magical quality which encourages us to go on when life seems impossible. It is the irrepressible force that turns us to the future when we are tempted to give up. Hope is what makes us talk about success in the presence of fear, and hope is what gives us the power to leap over obstacles that, at first glance, may seem insurmountable”.
In the face of tragedy, one can learn to find inner strength, resilience and the hope needed to survive!
For more information about the Toronto Distress Centre of Greater Toronto visit: https://www.dcogt.com/