The Double-sided Coin of Grief

The Double-sided Coin of Grief

A double-sided coin with two different and opposing sides adequately describes my heart after receiving the knock on our door that changed our lives forever. On August 13, 2012, our sons Aaron (26) and Steven (22) were involved in a fatal car accident. Our first-born son, Aaron, didn’t survive. Steven, our only other child, barely survived, and he sustained a severe Traumatic Brain Injury.

Since the day of the accident, my heart gravitates between the two worlds of indescribable grief from earthly separation from Aaron and being thrust into navigating the ever-changing turbulent waters of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). No parent ever expects this kind of catastrophic news. It’s that one coin you are given without permission that you want to flip into a wishing well begging for a do-over! 

Nothing prepares a parent’s heart for receiving double trauma news; the loss of one child coupled with watching your other child fight for his life. I vividly remember sitting in the hospital, feeling my heart flip-flop between the unbearable ache of earthly loss, all while knowing I couldn’t let the ache consume me. My focus had to be on ensuring that Steven received the best care available for recovery. I could not lose him. The words, “the life you once knew is gone forever” hung over our heads as bright as a blinking neon sign. Nothing would ever be the same. How could it?

Today, almost four years later, my heart remains out of rhythm. How could a Mom’s heart ever beat the same? It can’t and it won’t. In one heartbeat, I’m cheerleader to Steven encouraging him as he continues his journey without his brother, his best friend by his side. With the other erratic beat, I’m committed to ensuring that not one day will pass without speaking Aaron’s name as we share one of our beautiful memories of our first born son—our son who was born at a time when so many hearts needed healing from the loss of my grandfather and my husband’s father six months before Aaron was born. Those same broken hearts that were mended on Aaron’s birthday now need healing from the loss of Aaron…talk about double-sided! 

Before the accident, we knew little about TBI. Today it is our second language. Funeral homes on the other side of the coin should be reserved for our parents and those that have lived a full life, not our children. I refuse to use the word cemetery; we go to Aaron’s place where there is a memory stone and a place to leave flowers. Aaron has his place at our dinner table, and a light shines brightly every evening from his bedroom window, representing the light of radiant love that had shown freely from Aaron’s heart each day of his earthly presence. These demonstrations of love for our son don’t represent denial as some may think; they are some of this mom’s many coping mechanisms, acting as Band-Aids for her shattered heart. 

This life-changing journey includes lifetime memberships to two very opposite, but somewhat similar clubs. The cost of admission is astronomical, and it comes with a no refund policy. The members consist of others that have loved and lost. They have learned and embraced the role of caregiver. They have sacrificed. They have cried more tears than they knew their body could produce. They have screamed. They have asked, “Why?” more times than can be counted. They have begged God for a miracle and trusted Him each step of their journey. 

Above all we have learned to face each day with a new set of eyes, deeply inhaling the newness of all the blessings bestowed upon us. We hug freely, say I love you more often, judge others less, and take the time to offer a word of encouragement to other hurting souls. We all need reminding that we are not navigating through this roller coaster of life alone! 

If I could meet you in person and hear your story, I would challenge you to face each day with new eyes; those of a Noticer! I would ask you when was the last time you have noticed; really noticed the kaleidoscope of beauty all around you? I would beg you to change up your morning routine, from rushing off to conquer your to-do list to slowing down. Take a deep breath, be in the moment, and think in advance about how you can make a difference this day, just by adjusting your attitude to reflect thanksgiving for another day.

Trust me, I have replayed every possible “if only” and “what if” in my head; it doesn’t bring Aaron back, or take away Steven’s TBI, but it does make me thank God twice for the blessings in my life and for the brief, but amazing years I had with Aaron. Don’t miss a moment of being in the only moment that you are guaranteed. Make the most of right here and right now!

Posted on BrainLine July 18, 2016.

Comments (13)

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I am a member of this club for 8 years now. I try every day to have a positive attitude but it never lasts. I lost my wife 8 years ago to a TBI. I now have a small child that needs assistance with everything we all take for granted. She is profoundly disabled. I live with the guilt of maybe I should have let her go when the doctors and nurses daily would encourage me to remove life support. 8 years have pasted and the grief is crushing at times. We do have good days but those never last. Something always comes up 2 years ago open heart surgery and after a year of therapy things were looking up then 2020 hit and the lock down all our programs were canceled and the little bit of help I do get stopped and sent me into a depression but caregiving had to continue. I hate who I have become always having to be on guard when we venture out in public . And we stick out like a sore thumb a man pushing his wife in a wheelchair is hard to miss. Always feeling like I have to explain. For me asking for help is not easy, maybe because I am a man. I look for some repeatability with others but I have not met another soul doing what I am. I need respite, I need help, I need, I need,I need to stop complaining because I feel like I do a lot of that. Before this accident my wife and I were best friends she was my soulmate. We enjoyed being together. Life was so good. We laughed like lunatics often. We lost most everything except our love for one another that is still alive. I told her for years I love you and after 3 years she was able to say it back. My career, family and friends gone. Few have survived but many are gone , guess they cant take the change in us. Any its time to get the day going. Diaper change, medications, making breakfast, toileting, dressing. So God help me to count the blessings that are still here. To embrace the miracle of life give me strength to be the best husband caregiver I can be. Help me to find purpose in the pain. And strengthen all of those who are caring for loved loves.

My hearts and prayers go out to all of you, reading your stories and comments makes me count my blessings even more

It's a hard life. My first born was the driver to my Tbi son. She carries the scars emotionally for life. She left after college and rarely comes home. My son is nonverbal in a WC completely dependent. Husband unable to work to care for him. Everything's changed .

I am terribly sorry for the loss of Aaron. My heart hurts reading your story. However, as a server TBI survivor the best thing I can offer is that it will get easier and he will get better. It's tough but all you have to do is support him and he needs to want to recover. Set little goals to achieve big ones. Again, I'm so sorry but I admire you for being strong and recognising your son needs you. Best wishes xo

Thank you for sharing your story. On June 15, 2016 we lost our daughter Brianna on her 17th birthday in a tragic accident leaving our youngest daughter Halekay (15) nearly dying due to having multiple severe injuries including a TBI. This is all so new & raw to our family. I am barely able to get through the days. I am trying to stay strong for Hale to lift her spirits as we go through therapy but it's so darn difficult. People say that time will heal our pain even though my opinion is the pain worsens with each passing hour. Sending your family my heartfelt thoughts & prayers.

Thank you for sharing your story

Your story hit home with me in a way it never should. I too, lost my first born in a car accident that left my middle child with a TBI. This only happened this past February and the roller coaster and the tidal waves are non stop. Just this week I have forced myself to start walking and hiking and trying to live again. But it's always there, that grief for two different types of loss. It's always in my heart, my mind and right beneath the smile that has been missing its fullness since February. I would love to reach out to you personally if you wouldn't mind.

Thank you for sharing your raw and intimate story! All of us caregivers and those who have lost someone, recognize that all we truly have is the current moment to cherish and love; rather than be negative and disengaged! God bless!

Love you Mom!

This kind of raw, sensitive yet so strong kind of writing coming straight from the heart is almost a thing of the past.  Thank you for being real.  You are a light in a hurting world.  Keep sharing!  VaA

Beautifully written.  Thank you so much.

Thank you again for sharing your heart with so many--some who understand your pain and many, like me, who can't fathom..... We need your reminders to be noticers. Love you!