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Friday, August 29, 2014

Losing a Child to Death

“If we lived in a perfect world, life would never be extraordinary.”
—Michael Bishop

I have always been a collector of quotes and consider myself quite the philosopher as a result of embracing the brilliant minds of those who preceded us but today the words of wisdom I repeat are from my nephew, Michael, whom I have always believed understood human nature more than any young person I’ve ever met. It’s as though he were an old soul brought here to impart on us. These words have pentetrated me on such a deep level that I was compelled to share so that others might feel comfort if only for today. Here is my story.

I am no stranger to death or dying as many people I have loved have passed. At one point I even referred to myself as the angel of death because so many people around me died. In one year alone, I lost 11 people who I cared for deeply. My grandmother, Bertie, would always allow a few tears after a loss but would then gently guide, “That is enough…we’ve got to keep going.” I embraced her acceptance of death and life and moved through the stages of grief quickly by automatically accepting death…until last year when my son, Katlin, died unexpectedly. Before, I had never asked why. I had never felt cheated. I had never questioned the directions or turns my life took—ever. I only trusted that nobody gets out of here alive. My faith was so strong and incredibly solid. But now I find myself questioning my own existence. What does life mean? What is my purpose? Why am I here? Why couldn’t it have been me? How can I go on?

I realized I had never truly grieved the loss of loved ones and I felt like a fish flopping and suffocating out of water. My emotions unpredictable, my gratitude gone, my desire for life diminished. I lost my meaning. I stopped caring how others felt. I no longer wanted to be helpful to my humanitarian causes. I no longer wanted to live. Then Michael’s word struck me so deeply, “if we lived in a perfect world, life would never be extraordinary.” I realized in that moment with those words that everyone faces adversity. Everyone has difficult times. Everyone feels despair. But that is why the other times feel extraordinary. Without the comparison we would take life for granted. We would not envelop the special times or those precious moments that make us feel whole.

I will not kid myself or lie to you…I have experienced a pain so intense it feels like I am stumbling aimlessly with a spear impaling my heart but for the last two days Michael’s words have provided a peace and I feel comfort for the first time. Each and every time, I begin to feel the pang of sadness his words blanket me, if we lived in a perfect world, life would never be extraordinary.” Until this moment, I had lost my reason for being but I know that my son would not want that for me. He has two beautiful children who need to understand what extraordinary means. I had kept looking for signs that gave me permission to move forward. Each time I tested the universe demanding a sign they were presented to me but then I would want another and another. I disregarded them all. It wasn’t until Michael shared his insight that I finally got it. I cannot promise I will never feel sadness. In fact, as I write these words, my eyes well up with tears, but for today, for this moment, I will carry on in my son’s honor. I have always lived for him and my promise and commitment to him is that I will live for him now. I will carry on our message to help families live better. If you are interested and want to know more about our goal, please visit,

Again, I am eternally grateful to Michael for his words and to Katlin for his inspiration. Also, I want to thank my loving husband, Alan, for his tremendous support during this very difficult time.  And it is because of the support of family and friends that today feels extraordinary. Below is a poem my son wrote to me in 2004 which means so very much to me:
Katlin Shaw
January 2004

All I want is to get along,
But I guess I feel like I don’t belong,
I feel like I have no one to care,
But then I sit and think…you were always there,
To help me out with anything I needed,
Quick to forgive every time I pleaded,
So I guess my mind likes to play tricks on me,
Covering my eyes with anger through which I can’t see,
But deep down inside, I know what’s right,
And I cover up emotions every time we fight,
I know how mad you are at the things I do,
And how you want to help but I just ignore you,
How you want to spend time with me and I just say “no,”
Then I leave and sometimes don’t even come home,
I know all this builds up inside of you,
And makes you feel helpless and there’s nothing you can do,
“Sorry” doesn’t mean anything coming from me anymore,
So I’m not going to say it cause I’ve said it before,
But I will say I realize every time I lie, or cheat or steal it scars you inside,
And some of those scars will never go away,
No actions I make or any words I can say,
I wish I could take all the shit I’ve done back,
And erase it from memory and that would be that,
But what if one of us were to die today,
And the word “Goodbye” we didn’t get to say,
What if we never saw each other again,
No more hugs or laughter or funny looking grins,
No more “Bye, love you, see you tomorrow,”
And the last words you said would drown you in sorrow,
All that was left was pictures and memories,
The last minute we were together you wished you could seize,
Take back all the things you didn’t mean to say,
This is why we need to live for today,
Cause you never know if tomorrow will come,
And if it didn’t, I would feel pretty dumb,
That I didn’t get to say what I wanted to,
“You are the greatest person I know and I love you.”

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