by Jennifer Scalise
The loss of a child is beyond comprehension for those who have not experienced it; no words can adequately describe the pain and agony that tears through your body. Most parents consider the possible death of their child as worst fate imaginable; however, unless they are faced with the unfortunate circumstances personally, it is impossible to fully understand. Outside of those who have experienced it, many have no idea how common loss of a child actually is. Before losing my daughter, I was completely unaware of the vast number of bereaved parents all around me—from my own backyard to the opposite side of the world—each one searching for the strength and inspiration to cope.
I recall over thirty years ago when my aunt and uncle were expecting their first baby. Our entire family was delighted. Sadly, in the third trimester, my aunt miscarried—I was devastated. It made me sad to envision their home filled with shower gifts for a baby that would never be. They went on to have another child shortly thereafter, but tragedy struck again when he was born prematurely and lived to be only one day old. Once again, our entire family grieved.
I have witnessed the pain endured by my 75-year-old great-grandmother whose 53-year-old daughter passed before her. When I was 10, my father committed suicide. It had a tremendous impact on my life but to this day. I still sense the unbearable heartache and grief that his own mother continues to endure, even now at the age of 94.
In 2009, while enjoying what seemed like a perfect day on our family vacation in Costa Rica, my world was blown apart when my beautiful 12-year-old daughter, Brooke, was killed in a tragic accident. While the past few years have been a long journey, I have come a very long way.
My experience spending time with other bereaved parents has helped me understand that although the age of our children may vary greatly, the pain associated with the loss is no different. It does not matter if the child is a newborn, a 12-year-old, or a 60-year-old adult—as parents, we expect to outlive our children and protect them throughout our entire lives. Letting them go before we pass, under any circumstance, leaves us feeling lost, devastated and deprived; suffering what I can only describe as the most unimaginable heartache one can experience. Fortunately, we are stronger than we ever deemed ourselves capable and although we will never “get over” the devastating impact of losing a child, we do not have to allow it to define or destroy us. Instead, we must let our hearts and faith guide us on our journey. I speak from experience and can tell you with confidence that I have gone on to find amazing peace, despite the catastrophic tragedy that claimed the life of my daughter. With the strength and wisdom I have acquired by overcoming this tragedy, I am able to share Brooke’s legacy in order to help others find a place of peace and comfort as I have.
It isn’t easy. Surviving the loss of a child requires tremendous strength and courage. Fortunately, there are many grief groups with bereaved parents to assist and an abundance of resources available. Because we all grieve differently, it is important that you find material that most relates to you. Your healing must be specific to your needs. Be selfish; do not let others tell you what you need to do. Only you know what you need. Don’t worry about being “socially acceptable” or fitting into “the norm.” Focus on making yourself feel good because that is what you deserve. For example, it has been nearly three years since my daughter passed and on occasion, someone will comment about it having been “a long time ago.” But to me, it feels like yesterday. Yes, I am sure that there are some who feel as though I need to move on, or that I talk about Brooke too much. I imagine them wondering why my house is still filled with her photos or why her room today sits, for the most part, unchanged. That’s okay. They can have their thoughts—they don’t understand—they haven’t walked in my shoes. I feel that I am doing well and grieving in a healthy way. For me, it is important to feel Brooke’s presence nearby. I do not want her boxed up and forgotten, so there will always be an abundance of her photos and belongings around me. Her love is endless; her reach forever touching others. Her spirit lives on through many and this is what makes me feel the best.
Another bereaved mother may feel completely different and that is okay. Individually, we need to determine what it is that helps us to cope—where and how do we feel the most peace? Despite what anyone else may think or say, we must continue to follow the road that leads us through our own individual journey of inner peace and healing.
The voyage of discovery comes from seeing things in a different way than you have ever before. Be open to new experiences and let your faith guide you. Within the first few days after the passing of my daughter, the puzzle pieces of her life began fitting together and I discovered many things that, believe it or not, I had not known about her prior to her death. I found worship journals, letters she had written to God only a few weeks before the accident, and countless other remarkable documents that made it all crystal clear. Deep down, her soul knew that her time would be short and Brooke was preparing for her journey Home. Strange things began to happen frequently that could only be explained as somehow being Brooke letting me know she was okay. The series of events I experienced led me on a spiritual journey in which I have traveled far to find peace and absolute faith in eternal life. I know for certain that death does not separate us from our loved ones. Although they are no longer with us in the physical realm, they live on spiritually. Through your faith in God, you, too, will find the strength and courage to overcome all of life’s adversities and carry on.
I stay connected with Brooke by setting aside quiet time each day. During this time, I reach inside myself and feel our love and cherish the memories. This process has been huge in my healing. By simply closing my eyes and reaching deep within myself in an instant I can take myself to a moment with Brooke. I can sense the tremendous pleasure and feel our love and connection as I vividly relive the memory.
The loss of my daughter has changed my life forever, but our souls will always remain united. I have found peace and gained a better understanding of the meaning of life. I will make the most of my life and continue to grow and appreciate life with my other precious children. I find peace and comfort in knowing someday we will all be reunited again for eternity.
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass;
it’s about learning to dance in the rain.
About the Author: Jennifer L. Scalise is a devoted, single mother who resides in St. Charles, Missouri with her two children, Blake (17) and Paige (8). After the accidental death of her 12-year-old daughter in 2009, Jennifer brought to life the Brooke Scalise Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has awarded over 50 church camp scholarships to a diverse group of youth in honor of Brooke. Alongside her efforts in building awareness regarding the dangers of traveling to third world countries, Scalise is an active member of Concerned Families for ATV Safety and continues to share her strength with others who have lost a loved one through various national and regional grief organizations. Prior to writing, Jennifer worked with the same fortune 500 company, FIS, as Vice President of Sales. Please feel free to contact Jennifer through her website.