It has been said that the cells of our body change every seven years. I have then had three complete cellular changes in the 21 years since my son was killed.
I can truly say that I am not the person I was on that sunny 19th of July when the truck that accidentally hit him took the life of one lovely 18-year-old.
During the first seven years I learned many things I had not anticipated. It seemed that some of my friends and distant family could not even call after hearing of my son's death. The letters I wrote gently explaining to them what had happened were never answered. These people have since left my life too.
I learned how frightening losing a child can be. Even my doctor showed her discomfort as I began to cry in her office just a few days later, pressing herself against the wall in her efforts to escape my pain.
I developed a technique that gave me an outlet for the anger growing within me, using an empty plastic pop bottle to bang on the counter. I was so grateful that the faithful dog that waited and watched at the door for many months for my son's return was completely deaf and not startled by the banging.
She did sense when I was thrown to the floor by my grief and instantly, even in her blindness, sought me out and lay beside me while the many bouts of tears came and went, leaving me ready to resume life for a few more hours. Like Lazarus rising from the dead, I would wipe my tears and drive to pick up my grief-stricken daughter from high school.
I began to discover that my fear of public speaking did not include talking to other parents and families who came to listen to speeches on grief that I occasionally gave through Bereaved Families of Ontario. I recognized their vacant eyes and stony faces and knew that I might have a few suggestions to offer as safety ropes to hold their hearts to this earth. I was a veteran and could signal a light to guide their way.
Saying no to social engagements that had previously been fun occasions was becoming easier. I was beginning to pay attention to my inner voice that told me when I needed to be alone and when it was too much to put on a smile that I didn't feel inside.
I could not answer the usual "fine" when asked how I was doing. I tried saying "so-so" or "I am healing," but the words never seemed to express all the effort involved.
I began to write down the words that seemed to well up in my heart, and once placed on the page they lost their hold and left me feeling lighter. I now have many small booklets of poems and free verse that have written me out of my world of pain. They allowed me to scream quietly as each word eased my load.
My second cellular change brought music to my life and started my heart's true healing journey. The Celtic harp sparked this transformation. I started taking lessons with a teacher of young children on our street, after arriving at her door late one night and asking her sheepishly if she taught "big children too."
A year later, with a new harp and a new teacher, I began to discover the wonder and healing power of music. The harp's vibrations soothed me as I plucked the strings. Tears mingled with the tunes, yet I felt lighter and more at ease when I was done.
I was amazed at how the music seemed to convince my mind of my continued self-worth even when it was at its lowest ebb. If my hands could produce such beauty then there must still be beauty and worth within me.
It was a long journey - I had never had the opportunity to play an instrument. But my teacher's vast knowledge, and ability to reach students whatever their skill level, has given me a gift I can never repay. I tell her often that she has helped me be in the world and grow again.
Now, as I approach the 22nd year since my son's death, and finish another seven years of my cellular metamorphosis, I feel that I might have regained some of the cells I once had. I wonder if I am coming back to me.
The pieces of my heart that were so broken and dismembered seem to be finding a way back together. I see true appreciation for each day returning. I recognize the raw beauty of nature, my family, laughter and friends without the immediate sense of loss following.
I can now anticipate the future as I watch my daughter mother her children, and know that when they talk of their Uncle Jim in heaven, they too are growing to know this young man who was a cherished big brother to their mother for all of the 16 years she knew him.
My anger has been replaced by wonder at life's mystery, and a profound surprise in the human spirit and its resilience. I now know that I am able to fall to the depths of sorrow yet rise again with time. I feel that I have joined a group that I never wished to join, but I see that in allowing myself to live this journey in my own way - to experience the lows, the tears and the heartbreak - eventually my cells have brought me back to new beginnings.
I have trusted my heart on this path, and now I will embrace joy and happiness when it comes. I deserve this; it has been a hard-won battle.
Vicki Sainsbury lives in Oakville, Ont.