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First Hand: Jake's Story

One cold autumn day at the age of 15, I came home from a friend's house to the news that my grandmother had been hit by a train and killed (I use the wordgrandmothereven though she had basically raised me for several years and was more like a mother to me). Not six weeks later, I was summoned out of Geometry class to the news that my mother was found dead in her home at the ripe old age of 45 - needless to say, my teenage world (equipped with all the usual troubles of sports, acne, friends and GIRLS) was shaken to its core and that was the worst Christmas I hope to ever experience.

jake and annieI have no doubt that adolescence is difficult enough, but adding tragedy, grief and pain created quite the mixture for me. I felt guilty that I had not spent enough time with either of these mother figures, that I wasn't given the chance to say "I love you" and "goodbye" like many do with a terminal illness (of course this is not to take anything away from the difficulty of losing a loved one in these circumstances, which I have done as well). On top of the guilt, I was angry at almost anyone I could think of: myself for not somehow preventing either death, my mother's doctor for taking away her life with prescribed zombie-inducing drugs, the driver of the train for not stopping sooner or the transit company for not installing train crossing gates, God for allowing the whole mess to occur, and the list went on.

At 24, I now often look back in amazement that I made it through such a turbulent time, but I know that I did so with a lot of help and listening ears. My father and stepmother encouraged me to express my feelings, thoughts and emotions in several different ways including talking, journaling and being physically active. Of course there were times that I would hold my feelings in either because I didn't feel like talking or because I felt like I was burdening those who were listening, but my parents and brothers were great resources for me.

I found it difficult to talk with friends who didn't know how to act around me. It seems like they either pretended I had not experienced what I had out of fear of making me more sad (ignoring the proverbial elephant in the living room) or they asked me how I was doing and what they could do for me (these got overwhelming and tiresome in a hurry because there wasn't anything they could do, and asking how I was doing felt to me like an implication that I should somehow feel anything but heartbroken). Likewise, it didn't prove very helpful to speak with church leaders who expressed condolences but somehow expected me to feel better because I would see them again. It took quite some time for me to feel back to "normal" again, and to want to be around my peers because I felt like they just could not relate nor understand. For this reason, I felt a lot of comfort in being surrounded by my family who required no explanation and would let me heal according to my own timetable.

I can definitely say that my grief has lessened, and although it has not gone away (nor ever truly will), it has changed and shifted more from I miss them for who they were and what we had and the roles they played in my life, to I am sad that I could not get to know them as adults for who they are, and likewise, they do not get to know me and my future family. This shift began to occur probably when I was 18 or so and the initial "numbness" and shock wore a little, and as I began realizing the things we would miss out on in the future.

Relatively soon after the deaths, I tried hard to let go of guilt and anger because there really was nothing I could do as a young boy to change the outcomes; of course as I kept growing I let go of more and more of that anger and the only person I still hold fully accountable was my mother's doctor (for very complicated reasons). I do catch myself feeling guilty sometimes that I did not have the power to help prevent either death or the opportunity to let them know I love them, but I just live so that my life is a testament to that love and so they can be proud of the heritage that they left behind.