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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Didn't Tell My Son Goodbye and I'm Glad

The last time I spoke to my son was the morning before the plane crash that took his life.  He was in a hurry, as usual, so we talked briefly, we both exchanged “I love yous” and  he told me he would call me later.  He never did. 

Ever since that day I have trouble with any type of goodbye.  I sometimes wonder if that is a result of the loss of my only child or if it was the result of an experience I had early in my grieving journey.

Site of Plane Crash; Bloomington, Indiana

Shortly after my son’s death I went to see a grief counselor and she insisted that I write a letter to my son telling him goodbye.  She felt that this would be helpful. She believed that because of his sudden, violent death I hadn’t been able to say goodbye before he died like parents of ill children.  This was supposed to be an exercise to help me to come to terms with the loss and finality of his death.  It proved to be an awful experience for both the counselor and myself.  I was infuriated that I was told I had to tell him goodbye.  Although I realized he was gone and not coming back I refused to say goodbye, I wasn’t ready and I didn’t know if I would ever be ready—and that’s what I wrote.  This wasn’t well received by the counselor because I didn’t follow the “textbook” response to the exercise.  She and I argued over this issue as I tried to defend my position.  It was exhausting for me at a time when grief was already taking my energy—but I felt strongly about it and would not back down.  He was my son, my only child, and no one would tell me to say goodbye to him.
This experience and several other unfortunate experiences with other experts and first-responders was what convinced me that I wanted to become a counselor and to specialize in grief counseling. No one can tell you how to grieve; no one can take on the work of grieving for you.  You have to find your own path on your personal grief journey.   In writing this post I found online a story about a woman whose only son was killed by a train in 2003.  Maria Malin wrote a book about her journey, called “When You Just Can’t Say Goodbye, Don’t.”  Maybe I should send a copy to that grief counselor.

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