It’s Never Too Late to Find the Balance Between Grief and Joy
It was an event years in the making: Susan Brody, along with her husband and family, were flying to New York to celebrate their son’s White Coat Ceremony, a ritual that would mark the beginning of Medical School. Susan was determined to make it the joyous occasion her son deserved, a Herculean task given the trauma she had just endured. Only two weeks had passed since the funeral of her firstborn, Jordan, and the grief was all-consuming. Susan pushed her pain down deep enough to be able to honor her son Jason’s accomplishments and thoroughly enjoy this wonderful occasion, only allowing herself to collapse and take time to begin to grieve when she returned home to Denver.
Susan needed time to be alone and was so grateful to her wonderful friends and neighbors who brought over meals so she could take this time for herself. It was difficult for her to be in public while dealing with such a profound loss. Several people who had lost a child reached out to try to comfort her, but each well intended interaction ended with the person dissolving into tears, lost in their own pain, while Susan, still raw in her own grief, attempted to comfort them. The assurances that the pain of losing her child would ease over time, that life would go on, rang hollow when all she saw in them was intense grief – years, even decades, after this supposed healing had occurred. This is when Susan made a pact with herself, that she would heal enough to truly be able to offer support to others one day.
Jordan had been diagnosed with leukemia at seventeen. An oral chemotherapy drug gave her family hope that he would be okay, but he died suddenly, without warning, at the age of twenty-six. Susan found that she and her husband experienced their grief very differently. He retreated within himself, silently working through the pain, whereas Susan felt compelled to talk about the feelings that threatened to overwhelm her.
For Susan, this most devastating blow preceded a series of others, losing both her parents and a close friend over the last few years. A few years earlier, she had lost her brother to brain cancer and she and her husband had taken in his young, traumatized son to raise as their own. He went on to become a wonderful, happy adult the whole family is tremendously proud of, but getting there took years of love and patience. Susan learned, by necessity, to set her own emotional needs aside so she could be strong for everyone else. And that had worked, until her body let her know she had reached her limit.
Through the help of meditation and her work producing life history documentary films through her company Family Legacies Inc., as well as her civil rights activism through the Anti-Defamation League (she is now Regional Board Chair), Susan gradually began to heal. At one of her meditation sessions, she found herself drenched in sweat, unsure if minutes had passed or hours. It was the beginning of her body starting to process the pain she had been holding within her. She believes that having a strong purpose in life, which includes her love for her husband and sons, her meaningful work and her activism, is the key to healing and continuing to live a fulfilling, productive life.
On a recent trip to Kenya and Rwanda with her husband David, she set an- intention to “re-wild” her soul. Susan was struck by the challenge, as well as the necessity, of integrating and accepting the pain that would always be with her. The new goal was not to compartmentalize the grief, but to incorporate it into a different way of being as part of her story. She feels that the experience of traveling someplace new and different made it easy to truly live in the moment and served as a reminder to always take time to experience the beauty and wonders around her.
Today, when people ask about her children or how many children she has, she responds with: “I have three boys; one passed away.”
That is the truest answer—the only answer—she can give to that often difficult question. She will always have three boys, whether they are with her or not, just as she will always have the grief of losing a child alongside the joy of seeing her other boys turn into men she not only loves but admires. Susan hopes that she can use what she has learned to help others, both in her professional life telling and preserving family stories and also as a friend, offering support to those who need it when life takes a turn for the worse.
It’s never too late to find the balance between grief and joy.