It’s extremely difficult to express, in words, the most difficult situations in my life and how I was able to learn the tools to move beyond the heartbreaking pain and devastation, to find a life that is still worth living.
There are times when I reflect on my life, and I find it hard to believe, not only what I have been through, but that I am still living and trying to experience the joys in life, after a time where there seemed as if I would never feel joy again.
On June 17, 2006, my world was turned upside down when I was given the news that my ten-year-old son Austin had drowned, while on a boating trip with his father. To say that my heart was broken is a complete understatement. I felt as if there was a giant hole punched clearly through my soul. I couldn’t believe that something like that was happening to me, nor did I know how I would ever survive the loss. Austin was my middle child and as you can imagine, he had all the attributes of your typical middle child, plus some that he made up.
My oldest son, Donovan, was twelve at the time and my youngest son, Jordan, from another relationship was three years old. They were my three boys and I was proud to be able to be their mom.
When Austin passed away, my oldest sister, Sharon, was on a mission to help me get through my grief. She called me every day to check in on me to see how I was feeling. Based on our minimal knowledge of grief, we were using Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief to guide us. It became a routine for us and we would sit by the phone, trying to identify if we were in denial or we were angry, bargaining (even though neither of us truly knew what that meant), or depressed, or if we had accepted that he was gone. After, we would identify what stage we thought we were in for that day, we would then retell our experience from the beginning till the end of what we were doing the day of his passing.
Sharon was actually the person who had to tell me that Austin had passed away, and I was so consumed with my own grief, that I never once acknowledged the pain that she must have been feeling.
Throughout the year, I was being encouraged to seek out support groups for parents who had lost children. I complied, only because I thought this was something one was obligated to do in this situation. My experiences were awful! The last group I tried, I made my husband go along with me. There were only two participants in the group, and both of them were dads.
They had both lost their only child; one to a sudden illness at the age of six, and the other to a life-long illness as an adult. They had been attending that group for years, sharing their story repeatedly week after week. I ended up feeling so bad for them that I couldn’t even focus on my own pain. After that experience, I told Sharon that I would not be attending anymore groups. How, after all of that, did I happen to end up in Grief Recovery?
Through a series of unfortunate events at Sharon’s church, when they were hosting the eight-week Grief Recovery program and Sharon told me that her church had paid for my attendance so that I wouldn’t say no. I learned, after many years, which she, in fact, had paid for my attendance, and to this day, I cannot thank her enough. This program gave me the tools to release the pain I felt associated with Austin’s death, and showed me that I could still love and miss him without feeling like I was also drowning in my heartbreak and despair.
After those eight weeks, I was eager to spread the word and tell everyone I could about this life changing experience. Sharon and I decided to get certified as Grief Recovery Specialist, and we were determined to heal everyone’s pain. We were certified in 2009 and Sharon hit the ground, running starting programs. I, however, had a teenager, a kindergartener, and a husband at home, and I had a full-time job in the field of social work. So, my eagerness to heal was placed on the back burner for some time.
My family and I moved to Texas in 2013 and I have the luxury of not having to work full-time. Once I made sure that all of us were acclimated to the Texas way of life, I began to think about what type of work I wanted to get into. After fifteen years in social work, I was ready for a complete change.
My sister-in-law asked me one day, why I didn’t pursue my work in Grief Recovery, and it was a complete “Aha!” moment for me. I immediately got on the phone with Sharon, and she was extremely encouraging. We checked the certification schedule and found that there was a training course in Dallas the last weekend of June, 2015, which she said she would attend with me.
I immediately signed up because I knew I needed a refresher, and with Sharon coming along, it would prove to be a good weekend. We wrapped up the group on June 29, 2015, and my faith in the program was once again renewed. I was eager to get my groups up and running.
The relationship between my oldest son (who was soon to be twenty-one) and me had become strained, so I chose to work on our relationship. I was able to put my fears aside and was ready to accept him as an adult and that the consequences for his actions would be his own. On July 2, 2015 it was Sharon, once again, who had to tell me that my son Donovan, her god-child, had been killed in a motorcycle accident.
I’m not going to lie, and tell you that for one second in that moment I remembered anything that I had learned in Grief Recovery that weekend. All I remember is the immense pain, heartbreak, and devastation that I felt in that moment. This could not be happening to us again!
I had to look out for my husband who, had by now, lost his only children, and try to figure out how in the hell we were going to survive this. I lost a child, a friend, and my fellow comedian. We had so many inside jokes, so many stories, and so much love. It has not been easy and it has not been without resistance and a lot of tears, but I have managed to use the Grief Recovery Method, to once again move beyond the pain, so that I may cherish the relationship I had with my precious Donovan.
About Sharon Brubaker
Grief is individual and unique for every person. A person’s relationship to each aspect of their life is also unique. As such, the feelings and thoughts each person will have about the relationship that has been altered by death, divorce, or other reasons requires customized attention using proven skills and understanding.