Since I lost my son, Drew at 22 years old, to an undiagnosed medical condition, I’ve learned a lot about myself as I’ve navigated a treacherous and dark road. It has been a little more than two years now since I lost him. As I enter a new year and reflect on the road I’ve taken, I realized that I have evolved, become different, but better in some ways.
First, I found out that asking for help is not bad. People really do want to help and want to be there for you. Losing a child is a profound loss. You can’t compare anything to it. The onset of shock, disbelief, paralysis and denial is sudden and overwhelming, it makes you barely able to function. At the time, I didn’t know what to do next.
Friends, family, coworkers, strangers, and neighbors I barely knew all showed up and did things for my wife, my surviving children and myself that I can’t even express my appreciation for – and they kept asking what else they could do. We needed help and learned it was okay to ask for it. Compassion is an amazing thing to experience on the receiving end.
Professionally, I didn’t know what to expect while I started the early days of this journey. I found out I worked with a lot of people that showed me that coworkers and career-long business acquaintances are more than just colleagues, but friends. My boss let me do what I needed to do to take care of my family and myself. Colleagues and industry contacts showed up en masse to support my family and I for a long time, bringing food to our house, making sure we were okay and just understanding that some days were going to suck to be around me. They still check in on me, and my gratitude is immense.
Secondly, I found out that you don’t just persevere. You have to persevere with a purpose; otherwise you’re just surviving. There has to be an outcome to a difficult situation. For me, number one without a doubt was — and still is — to make sure my family was cared for in every area. That meant a lot of things had to balance better between my personal and professional lives. I made sure that I could be the best I could be in every aspect of my life. There were rough days and still are, but I do more than just survive now. I live with a greater purpose.
Third, I learned how to get back up. It’s like Rocky famously said: “It ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward.” There were many days, when I felt the hard hits from my loss kept coming and coming and were going to keep me from moving, period. I found out there was no way I could let my misery keep me down.
One thing that has been the most eye opening is the awesome power of being able to help others who are facing a similar situation. I wouldn’t say it’s healing, but it’s a powerful moment to know that you can positively impact someone else’s life in the worst possible time they are experiencing. It’s unfortunate, because you’ve had to live it to help someone else. Empathy can be a powerful gift. Only bereaved parents really understand what another bereaved parent needs. It has been a blessing to be there for others and help pull them through their early, stormy days.
More than two years later, those terrible feelings still rear their ugly heads now and then, but I handle them now much better. The last two years have also given me an introspective look at my future and my career. I have done a lot of professional self-evaluation along with personal self-evaluation.
I’ve always been an extreme Type A; now I’m just a Type A I guess. I am more in tune with myself personally and professionally. I know what I love to do, what my professional and personal passions are and work every day to achieve them and improve some aspect of my life.
I better handle the tug and pull that occurs between my personal self and professional self, knowing better how to manage the priorities that matter. It would have been great to understand how to better balance these priorities 20 years ago.
Ambition fueled me like high octane gas then. That career impatience we all experience early in our professional lives is something many of us feel we have to possess as opposed to understanding a career is a long-distance marathon. Don’t get me wrong, ambition is not bad. Ambition needs to be channeled, tamed and finely honed to achieve harmony with all aspects of your life.
Life is different now for sure. Rocky and, most importantly, Drew, would be proud. I’ve learned how to take the punches and keep moving forward — keep going with a purpose. Life is too short otherwise.
Drew loved to live life to its fullest. Looking back now, I’m glad he did. My wife and I say he had a great taste for adventure. I’ve learned more than ever to strive for that.
This piece was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse by Tom Mitchell, a former marketing executive who has held roles with Medhost, M*Modal, and Dell, among other companies.