“This is not how it’s supposed to be.” When you lose a child, the natural cycle of life is disturbed. We expect our parents to go first, us next, and our children last. But when the order is reversed, our world turns upside down in ways we cannot imagine. Christine Falsetti, CEO of KodaCon, a strategic marketing consultancy knows too well what it means to lose a child.
Her son, Ben, was 7 ½ years old when he lost his battle to cancer. I’d like to dedicate this blog to him whose wisdom was way beyond his years, to his courageous mom who agreed to let me write about this experience and to all the parents who have lost a child, unborn or born. I hope the next few words will give you hope and strength to continue on when you find yourself in the darkest place. And to all the parents whose children still walk this Earth as physical beings: cherish every moment you have with them.
1. Don’t hold back
“It’s difficult to move forward”, says Christine. “In the beginning, I felt like I was walking in slow motion on shaky ground. Slowly, I started moving through time and space at a more normal pace and on more solid ground.” Allow yourself to cry. Allow yourself to grieve. A woman may cry more and a man may get angry. Both are different pathways to processing grief. Our society often views crying as a sign of weakness. The truth is that it is one of the 13 natural urges described in Ayurveda, an ancient Eastern medicine tradition. Allowing yourself to cry and grieve is critical in the healing process.Don't hold back. Don't let things bottle up inside. Click To Tweet
2. Treat it like a roller coaster
The Kubler-Ross theory talks about a linear process of dying. In reality, it’s a rollercoaster ride. It’s not a linear process and there’s no timeline. Unpredictable emotions will surface at unpredictable times. “The first time I tell someone about Ben’s battle is the hardest. I call it “first contact”. It’s an emotional trigger. And I allow myself to cry when I need to even when I am talking to another person. The more I allow myself to do so, the faster I am able to recover.”
Christine realized that the grieving process was not just about the loss of her child but also about the loss of the familiar and the loss of expectations as a parent. Birthdays and holidays remind her of the loss of the familiar. And the expectations that her child would grow up, graduate from high school and go on to college drift away with his passing.
3. Rely on your network
“The power of the human network is undeniable. This is true for every aspect of life—personal or professional. We were amazed by the outpouring of human kindness and support we received. People took on more at work so I could be with my son, helped to look for alternative treatments, raised our spirit, came to visit, brought food and drove us to the hospital. These were just a few ways people helped. A friend’s brother who was stationed in Italy at that time even activated his network to send us postcards, photos and gifts of encouragement…we got so much support from people in our extended network. I have always been a believer in paying it forward. The reality of our situation made me an even bigger advocate of paying it forward.”
4. Create a routine
When it’s hard to move forward, it’s hard to think of having a routine. But routine is a powerful tool. Christine found comfort in morning walks to help cope with her loss. Even to this day, she walks 3-4 miles every morning at 6am before starting her day. Walking centers her and gives her a boost of energy and motivation.
She has also integrated contemplation into her daily life. Every day, she spends 2 minutes sitting quietly and letting her mind release what does not serve her well. She repeats the serenity prayer about courage, peace and acceptance in her solitude, which goes like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
5. Search for the light
The will to plan for your future may come from the source you least expect it. Christine’s dying son gave those words of encouragement to his devoted mother for a life without him: “Mom, when I die, I want you to have more kids. I love having a younger brother and I don’t want Jake to miss out.” And so she did…she and her husband adopted 2 siblings after Ben’s battle was over to grow their family.
6. Find ways to celebrate life
After the passing of her son, Christine set up a foundation, “kidsSTRONG” to improve the lives of children touched by cancer. Being there for other families was part of her healing process. She wrote a lot about grief, organized activities in hospitals, delivered toys at Christmas, and much more to bring some light into the lives of these children and their parents.
To this day, Christine and her family celebrate Ben’s birthday on April 18 and honor his life and courage on August 20, the day he lost his courageous battle to cancer.
7. Choose wisely how you use your energy
“I’m happy” were the only words Ben wrote in his journal while he was going through massive chemotherapy in preparation for what was to be his first bone marrow transplant. That’s when Christine realized that even in the middle of hardship, we have the power to choose. “Always choose love and happiness”, she advises. “Treat others well, give back to your community and tell people how much you love them.” Not only has this become her philosophy for life but this is how she approaches business, too. This experience has made Christine more mindful about time and what she wants to do with it.Choose wisely how you use your energy. Click To Tweet
Christine, thank you for opening up about Ben’s story and its profound impact on your family. My sincere gratitude and appreciation for all your efforts to help families with children touched by cancer. Shine on!
As I was finalizing this post, I received the following message from Christine. And with her permission, I’d like to share it: “August 20 is the tenth anniversary of Ben’s passing. Hard to believe that he would be headed into his senior year with all his friends this year and graduating high school. We miss him everyday yet he reminds us of the love and joy that are present in our lives everyday.”
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