Glei, with husband Robert and son Kyler, holding a picture of older son, Liam.
I have been asked many times, “What is it like to lose a child?” “How do you survive that kind of loss?” I never thought I would one day need to answer these questions.
Imagine feeling every bone in your body constantly breaking, but you are still crawling. Even when my heart was dying inside and being crushed to pieces, somehow, I chose to stay alive.
I felt wrecked, emotionally shattered and broken when I lost my son Liam. It was sudden and unexpected. A car accident claimed my Liam’s life instantly. In the blink of an eye, he was gone. Just like that, the son I knew was gone forever. Every wave of grief that came so intensely reminded me of my own death.
There was hurt, anger, sadness, guilt, and pain – all of it, so profound, it’s beyond words. Only a parent who has lost a child can relate to this pain. I never knew I was capable of feeling this kind of agony. It brought me to my knees praying.
I have reviewed in my mind what I could have done differently – where I have failed and fell short. If you have lost a child and suffer the same thoughts, know that you’re not alone. In fact, my research has shown that these kind of questions are common among those who have lost a child.
My son passed away when he was 18, just a few weeks before his 19th birthday. Only a couple months prior, we had been happily listening to him deliver his graduation speech as the valedictorian of his high school. He had a full college scholarship waiting for him to the university of his choosing.
A couple of weeks from now, he would have been 22. It is getting harder every year to imagine what Liam would have looked like if he were alive today. I miss him every day. I miss his handsome face, his loving heart, his wit and humor, and the sound of his voice. He and his little brother were the reasons we work hard every day.
I can still hear him zooming along on his long skateboard, gifting others with random acts of kindness. He genuinely envisioned a kinder and a more loving world.
So what do you when your child’s life is taken from you?
You do your best to continue his life by living yours. Every day, you learn to live with the empty space and fill it with your most loving memories.
The grief and pain will come in waves. And while you’re in the midst of it, you may not realize it, but the truth is, feelings come and they go. Be calm, and you will find your saving grace. When I felt drained to my core, I would pray even more intently, and would ask others to pray for me. Do not resist the feeling. Instead, trust that you can get through the pain, and let it wash over, and eventually, through you.
Then, something unexpected happened. My pain drew me closer to God, closer than I’ve ever been. If you think you can do it on your own – I’m sorry to say — you’re probably headed for a harder journey. Surround yourself with the love and support of friends and family. This is the time to lean on others for comfort and strength. Open yourself to that. I chose to surrender my pain to God. If such thoughts are foreign to you, I invite you to consider that this is the time to seek guidance and ask for help.
Without our faith and the promise of Heaven, my family would not have survived those first darkest, most difficult days. The love and support of others – sometimes even just the right kind of humor – helped rejuvenate everything in me that was dying inside.
Yet some parts of me will never recover. I know that. I mourn that loss as well. Sadly, that’s the way change and growth happens. I get to notice and acknowledge the sprouts of new hope, and appreciate that while I mourn. Turns out it’s possible to do both. I am also realizing that my Lord is chipping away at parts of me that must also grow in order to develop my spirit. If I want my soul to heal, if I am willing to embrace change, I must be open to being transformed.
As time passes, I’ve found that the waves of grief become more familiar. I may not weep as often as I did during the first three years, but if I do cry, I know that Jesus also weeps with me. I’ll never be alone. The pain will always be there, but with it, God’s overflowing love. I also feel Liam’s love. Returning to that love, and remaining open to it, allows me to appreciate that I had a child. His life meant more than his death.
There will be days, like the holidays, when it is most difficult. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself what you need in order to get through the day. Healing is not about forgetting; instead, it can be about remembering and honoring our children. I invite friends to talk about my son, and continue his vision by giving love and showing kindness to others.
I trust what I know to be true. God is always good. I’m choosing to see my son’s life and his death through God’s eyes, not just my own.
I believe that my son is always with me. Liam continues to be a part of these next chapters of our lives. It’s my faith in the Eternal God that allows me to think of Heaven and life beyond this material world.
Someone once told me: If you believe God is with you, and you also believe your child is with God, then it must mean your child is always with you.
Happy 22nd birthday in heaven, my dear Liam.
Glei Apolinario-Mantell is the co-founder of BrightLife, Inc., a professional life coaching firm, and the program director at the Trichotillomania Relief Specialists, both in Southern California. Glei is mom to her son Kyler, 11, and wife to Robert, her coaching and business partner at BrightLife and www.Trich-Free.Com.