Guest Blogger: Alan Whaley
Four months ago, my son Cole passed away. He was such an incredible young man, so full of life, so smart, and so fun to be around. At the age of 20, he was at the launching point of his life. Unfortunately his life was tragically cut short. Words cannot adequately express the emotions of such a loss. Those weeks following his death are such a blur.
Two weeks after his funeral while in the depths of the loss, I remembered having seen a Father’s Day card Cole had made for me when he was five. I stumbled across the card earlier in the year as I was looking for something. Until that moment, I had not given much thought to seeing the card. I went to the drawer where I had found the card and there it was on the top of the pile. It was a gift from Cole when he was a five-year-old boy and a gift again when I needed it the most. I would like to say that seeing the card gave me great comfort, but it did not. What it did do was allow an outpouring of emotions that before seeing the card, I was unable to truly release. The tears flowed for the next three days almost unceasingly. I was finally beginning the grieving process.
No one is ever prepared for the loss of a child. It is something that should not have to be experienced. Unfortunately, that is not the reality of our world. Each person deals with loss and the accompanying grief in his or her own way. Since Cole’s death, I have been writing poetry to help me process some of my emotions. The first verse of one of those poems reads:
Grief is the echo of the love lost, a love that no longer can be given, a love that can no longer be requited
What I was attempting to say in that verse was that the pain of grief matches the depth of the love for the person lost. The love that I had for Cole no longer has a place to go. It is a love that is uniquely for Cole. I cannot give that love to my daughter Caroline nor share it with my son Carson. Cole can no longer receive that love or in turn give it back to me. That is the pain of grief, a love that can no longer be given or be returned.
Near the end of the poem is a verse that reads:
As with grief the loss echoes what it is given, with time there will be joy in the echoes, but for now the echoes are silent
In that verse, I was trying to say that right now it is difficult for me to access all the wonderful memories of Cole. They are just too painful. But I do know that one day, I will be able to remember the many amazing times that we had together. The tears of grief will dissipate making room for the joyful memories. At that time, that Father’s Day card from years gone by will take on new meaning. For now though, I am grateful for the release that the card allowed me. It was Cole’s way of telling me “it is ok dad. Let go of your need to try to hold it together. This is going to be hard for all of you, but I’m ok”.
There is no longer a normal in my life. Each day is difficult. This is certainly not a normal Father’s Day. I am really not sure what to expect from the day. I know it is going to be an emotional time. The challenge on this day like each day is to redefine what normal is. How does one take the fabric of a life torn apart by loss and begin to weave those remaining strands into something new? I do not have an answer to that question other than by faith and by prayer. It is God that sustains.
Even in the midst of great loss there is much for which to be thankful. I am so thankful for my daughter Caroline and my son Carson. I love them very, very much. They are absolutely incredible. They have been so strong through the last four months. I am not sure how they do it. We all miss Cole so much. It is difficult, but we do have each other. For that, I am grateful every day. God has shown us that there is the ability to heal. With that healing comes growth, for without growth there can be no true healing. We are growing stronger together.
The thought I end with on this Father’s Day is obvious and probably can go without saying – cherish each moment that you have together.
Love in Christ, Alan Whaley
*Alan Whaley is Chief Strategy Officer for the University of South Alabama Health System as well as an Adjunct Professor, USA Mitchell College of Business. Alan has over 25 years of executive leadership in healthcare and a Doctorate of Business Administration from the University of South Alabama.