By Lisa Anderson
Ask any Mom or Dad what their worst fear is, chances are they’ll say it’s to lose a child. Losing a child changes everything. Forever. Every part of us. The why’s, what if’s and why me’s? The anger, the guilt, the sorrow, the empty chair … the bed forever made, or unmade. The silence, the noise, every sunrise or sunset never looked at in the same way again. The well meaning advice from family and friends, or the not so nice comments … all become part of our daily life … the much dreaded saying “New Normal,” a saying I’ve always hated since there is nothing normal about it.
To those of you who are reading this and have lost a child, we are in the club no parent ever wants to be a part of. I feel and share your pain. As a mother of four, I have had to survive the loss of two of my children. My son, Ryan, who was stillborn 24 years ago, and my oldest son, Chris, who passed away five years ago suddenly and unexpectedly at age 32. Nothing can prepare us for the loss of our child. Nothing. To lose a child is to lose part of ourselves. To awake each day to a living nightmare, a grief so deep and so powerful that we never really recover. We just have to learn to live with a shattered heart. We have to learn to accept the unacceptable, to wear a mask to hide our pain.
Within the great sorrow there are blessings. I am lucky to have a good husband, two beautiful children and a grandson to love and who keep me going, give me a reason to smile, and together we make new, but always bittersweet memories. I’m also lucky enough to have met and become part of an amazing support group, “Healing Hearts,” which has become such a source of comfort and hope that I cannot imagine my life without them. We meet usually once a month and share our pain, frustration, anger and yes, even laughter. Unless you have lost a child, you can’t really imagine what it feels like. People try to understand, but it’s not the same as the loss of a parent, sibling or even a spouse.
We provide a safe place to share anything, no matter if it sounds crazy or not. And no, you’re not crazy. It doesn’t matter how old your child was, and most importantly how your child died. There’s no judging, no criticism, just a shoulder to lean on, ears to listen and a heart that understands. With these forever friends, I know I’m not alone. I know if I’m having a bad day or a bad night, I can pick up the phone and any one of them will be there to listen. We are forever linked by our loss, and I truly believe it was our angels who brought us together.
Some of us cry often, express our sorrow more easily than others. I am one of those people who hold everything in. I find it very difficult to express my grief. I always say I cry on the inside, never really letting my emotions show. It can be frustrating at times and once in a while it all comes to a head and I’ll explode over something trivial, but each of us grieves differently, in our own way. It took me two years to even think of what had happened. Being an on-air personality, I had to be “on” at all times. Little did I know how dangerous repressing grief can be, as it happened the last two years hit me like a freight train. I have just now been able to try to rebuild my emotional and physical strength as grief steals your energy; it’s hard work surviving.
I needed to find an outlet for my pain and frustration and it came to me in the most unexpected way. I was blow drying my hair one morning when I distinctly heard a voice … my son Chris’s voice … clear as day he said, “Ma … (exactly as he used to laughingly call me) “you need to make a documentary.” I turned off the dryer and heard it again; a direct command “tell your story … tell it so you can help others heal.” I sat for a long time letting this revelation sink in … for a minute I wondered if I was in fact losing it, but I felt my son near me and knew it was him putting this idea in my head.
I had no idea whatsoever how to begin. Being in radio and making a film are two entirely different things, but as fate would have it, that afternoon I went for a haircut and my stylist Aly asked me what was new, etc. I told her about my earlier message from Chris and she immediately ran to get her phone and showed me a wonderful short film her friend Noelle Ciumei from NJ Discover Productions had done. She was looking to do a unique project … and as fate would have it, Noelle began filming our documentary “A Message of Hope,” which should be completed by March and hopefully with funding we can begin showing it in area theaters and eventually at film festivals.
Noelle has donated 100 percent of her time. She is a beautiful giving young woman whom we have all come to love. Our mission is to those who have lost a child and feel alone, isolated and in despair … to let them know they are not alone in their suffering. They don’t have to survive this journey alone, we are there, and we understand. We want to be that Message Of Hope. Even if we touch one person in the audience, that’s one person who will perhaps find even a little peace in their heart.
I know my sons and our children are watching over us, guiding us as we opened our hearts and shared our stories which most times was very difficult. I know they are near us always, providing the strength to face another day. If you or anyone you know has suffered the loss of a child, we can be contacted at healingheartsnj.com. Look for our documentary “A Message of Hope” to be shown this spring at the Jersey Shore.
Lisa Anderson is a radio personality on Greater Media’s radio stations WJRZ and WRAT. She also writes occasional columns for Greater Media Newspapers.