The Journey of Loss

Two years ago as mother-in-law labored to breathe, I phoned hospice in a panic.

"She's dying!!!"

They answered with a question, "Is she in pain?"

"No! She's not in pain!" .

"Well, is it her wish to die at home?"


"So do you believe you are honoring her wishes?"

(deep breath)

"Yes!! I am honoring her wishes... why are you even asking me these things?"

The hospice nurse spoke softly, "Well, I am trying to understand if you are calling for us to help her, or to help you."

Oh. Truth?

I had called because I didn't want to lose her. I didn't want to miss her, and I didn't want to experience that pain in my life ever again.

I hung up and whispered words of comfort into her ear. Lovingly ran my fingers through her barely gray hair, and silently watched as her chest slowly stopped moving. The coroner came. He wrapped her body in a clear plastic bag and bumped the gurney down the stairs. I disposed of the hospice meds, and called my husband. When all the tasks were done, I sat outside on the rain soaked steps and cried for two hours. Nobody saw me cry for her. Not then, not now.

This is also how I responded to the death of my 20 year old son, in 2001.

Oddly, it was not the way I responded to the death of my other son, James, in 1994. I wonder if my heart was softer in 1994, or if the situation was different, or if I've simply come to believe that loss is natural part of life.

James was born with a few developmental delays. Back then, the only thing worse than being a single mother, was being the parent of a developmentally delayed child. At the time, they said his best hope would be an institution, or maybe a foster family might help him.

I married my husband when James was five years old, hoping it would improve the quality of all our lives, and it did, for a while.

By his high school years, James mainstreamed to a few regular classes, some even advanced. 1987 he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. I felt as though my heart was literally shattered. This child had overcome so much already that it seemed unfair to have more challenges fall upon his path but we had love, and a lot of hope, and James, well, he took it all in stride, regardless of how he was feeling. The four of us were determined to stay positive and make the best of the hand we were given to play.

In spite of our high hopes, he passed away in my arms, also at the age of 20, from complications of his illness. At the hour of his death, I remember dropping to my knees, sobbing hysterically, and asking my husband, "Where was this child's miracle?? He was born to a teenage mother, who had no idea how to parent, and yet he still managed to be a fantastic kid anyway. He overcame his developmental delays -- was even in advanced classes!! Then he got this horrible diagnosis and moved through his physical limitations with courage and grace, while still managing to be one of the most loving and compassionate people I have ever known. If anyone deserved a miracle in this lifetime it was him!!!"

My husband looked at me sadly, but with compassion, and said, "Don't you get it?? "That was the miracle". Indeed, it was. Miracles don't come in the form of lightning bolts or bright skies, but in the gentle form of how we connect with one another.

So often we ask for healing for ourselves, or another, yet it is sometimes difficult to remember that healing comes in many different and unexpected forms. A person may heal any number of ways, some of which we may not even understand. Life is the process and the journey of healing. It is not how we die, but rather how we live and manage our losses.

The loss of a loved one is not about strength or courage or any of the cliché's we all like to hear. Instead, it is about the daily gift of life, and our ability to connect and share with one another that encourages, no drives us, to overcome life's challenges.

I have no control over the death of another, but when I love without condition, and others love me in kind, well, in there lies the miracle of life and yes, healing. Truth of any kind, and especially the truth of true love, will set you free.

Copyright © 2007 Trish Hoglander
This is a speech I've given to motivate others through their journey of loss. I hope it can help you too.