Losing Joe and Finding My Way Through Grief

by Elaine Suarez


Grief. I once read an article that described how grief impacts life after losing a loved one. It said, “Grief is love with nowhere to go.” Initially, I didn’t get what it meant. I questioned why grief is connected to love when love is beauty and grief is suffering. I didn’t know or understand the depth of grief until now. I guess because it’s hit my life very hard, and I didn’t see it coming.

On May 28, 2018, at 11:14 am, my cell phone rang. I thought it was Joe because the call was coming from his cell and I had been trying to reach him all night. I was relieved until I heard the voice of a woman asking if I was the mother of Joseph Suarez. She proceeded to tell me that our son had died and his body was at the county coroner’s office. Our son, our beautiful, loving, larger-than-life son’s body, lay inside a coroner’s facility. And just like that, the world we once knew had disappeared into thin air. It was gone. Our entire lives changed, not just for me, but for my husband and our daughters, our whole family. Our girls lost their only brother and best friend. They were extremely close to Joe. He made them laugh when they were sad; anything they needed, he was always there for both of them. The three words, “I love you,” were continuously spoken. This has been just as difficult for them as it has been for us. My husband, I can’t even find a word to try and describe his pain. He lost his only son. It’s entirely different grief, Joe loved his dad, and my husband loved his son. He was the last person to see Joe the day before the phone call. Joe was going to carry on the Suarez last name to future generations. He meant so much to so many people. His grandparents, his godmother, godbrother, aunts, uncles, cousins, niece and nephews, friends, everybody knew Joe. His absence is quite apparent.

Joe was only 27 and still had his whole life to live, to find love and get married, to make his dream come true and start his own business. He wanted a family with lots of kids. I always told Joe he would be an amazing husband and father. His heart was so big and giving, and he loved children. Now, I was faced with watching every day go by, knowing Joe would never get the chance to do any of those things. I was terrified. Losing Joe was not supposed to happen. I wasn’t ready to let him go. None of us were prepared. I fell deep into depression after the first few months. I did not know how to do this survival thing. My daughters needed me, and I was failing them. I was completely broken.

Child loss brings a different kind of pain from grief. It took away the beauty of sunshine, the fresh scent of flowers when they bloom, the soft sound of rain, etc. It felt as though all the bright, beautiful colors were disappearing. Every color changed to black and white. That’s what grief did to me. It picked me up and threw me straight into a very dark place. I stayed there for a while, but I realized this was not my destiny. I could not remain in the dark. My life needed me, my children, my husband, my grandchildren, my entire family, and all those who have endured this tragic journey with me. I thought of Joe; he would not want me slipping away into that very awful, lonely place. He never liked to see me sad. Joe always knew when something was wrong and would tell me, “Momma, when you’re happy, I’m happy. Mom, when you’re sad, I’m sad. We are a team, remember.” So, I prayed for strength and pushed myself through the pain.

In October 2018, I began to write and started blogging about the loss of our son. From what I heard and read, writing is supposed to be therapeutic. So, I gave it a shot. After several months, I noticed it started to help me by taking thoughts from my head and writing it down; I call it “mind-dumping.” My head was overwhelmed with emotions and thousands of memories racing through my mind. It was essential for me to capture all of it, starting from that first day when I got the phone call to the present. It was more than therapeutic; it was powerful for me emotionally! And it gave me a feeling of peace. In addition, as a result of writing and sharing my blog online, I began to meet other bereaved parents who were just like me — lost in grief. Total strangers I will probably never meet in person, they soon became like family. Grieving parents, we are like a family in our suffering. We have a common bond; our child is gone. It doesn’t matter how they died or how long they’ve been gone because we all suffer the same excruciating pain.

Then, I started to feel a slight shift in my body and breathing. Before, the intensity of every bone always felt very tight. My body never felt relaxed, until now. Also, I would feel like I couldn’t catch my breath. Until now. All of these emotions started to feel lighter, just a little bit. Writing gave me this powerful feeling of control, I owned it and it was a good feeling. Through my writing, I began to read more. I read any article I could find on the loss of a child, loss of an adult son, what happens after we die, bereaved parents, grieving mothers, sibling grief, the afterlife, death, marriages after loss, anything related to those topics. I wanted to educate and learn more about life and death. It was important for me to understand what exactly happened to my son’s soul the moment he stopped breathing. I was not with him the night he died. His body was picked up at an apartment of an acquaintance, Joe was two to three minutes from our home. I backtracked every step he took that day, I had to know the details.

I began to not feel so overwhelmed in my head. A tiny bit of calmness found me. Through all the reading, I learned about meditation. Specifically, grief meditation. I started to watch guided meditation videos on YouTube, and that’s when I discovered “Headspace.” It was incredible to hear someone I’d never met talk about things I was feeling and thinking; then my muscles became very relaxed. Falling asleep became somewhat easier. Meditating helps quiet my mind, it takes away all the noise.

Grief looks different to everybody, and we each deal with and push through it differently. I’ve met so many people on this journey; I joined a grief support group and these women have become my family. We help each other in so many ways, this group of amazing women gave me an outlet to cry and talk about my grieving for Joe. It’s a safe place to openly talk about how I feel. I looked forward to our Wednesday meetings. My mental state of mind was calming down. It was a good feeling while it lasted. I embraced those brief, happy moments. Grief always finds a way to knock me down, but I began to immediately get back up every time I fell. That too was a good feeling.

I met one of Joe’s teachers from high school. She introduced me to a new type of grief theory called “continuous bonds” — I immediately connected with it because it validated everything I was thinking with regard to my relationship with Joe. I realized just because my son is not here “physically” does not mean my relationship with him has to stop. I can still talk, cry, laugh, dream, and think about what he would do or say in those moments of despair. And I still keep his pictures on the walls for everyone to see and talk about beautiful memories when we have family or friends come to visit. Every day I “say his name” and celebrate any occasion as he would. I’m always searching for ideas to celebrate Joe and will continue to do so as long as I can. Our mother and son bond still exists, that will never change. I will always be a mother to three beautiful children. For now, I focus on today and wait for tomorrow to get here. It’s my purpose to be present for my living children, as well as honoring Joe’s life. Everything I’ve learned are small steps towards my healing. I have a long way to go, I know. But I will keep writing about this journey in grief until I have nothing left to say.

I strongly believe Joe’s presence is still with me. I know for sure it’s why I can still breathe every day and live the best way I know. It’s really strange. Sometimes I forget he’s not here because I talk about him a lot, laughing, dreaming, thinking of his larger-than-life personality. His spirit remains incredibly strong, and when I stop to think about everything, I get very sick. I fall. Then it starts all over again. That’s grief, it’s a start, stop, fall, start over again; a cycle that repeats itself over and over. That’s when I try really hard to reach deep down and pull out a happy memory about Joe and I say it out loud. Joe’s life existed; it still does. It just looks and feels different now. I don’t like it, but I can’t change it so I’ll accept what God gives me. That is a hard one to say.

Grief, I’ve come to learn, will never end. However, I feel I’m starting to understand a little better. Grieving has no timeline, there’s no end date. Healing is the same, there’s no date set to begin healing and there’s no specific time healing ends. I want to heal right now, but it will take time. I want to feel like my old self again, but I am no longer that person; grief changed me. I want everything to go back to the way it was before 5/28/18, but that will never happen either. I know what I don’t want, and that is to remain in sadness. Unfortunately, that comes with losing my son. What I can change is how I deal with it and I choose to deal with grief head-on. Therefore, I lean toward the things that can help me get to a better place in life versus staying in the dark, fading further and further away. And lately, I’ve noticed pockets of light, brief moments of laughter; I am starting to smell the tiniest bits of fresh air and a shade of color here and there. My heart lifts, even if it’s only for a second. I pray for more of those pockets to show themselves to me. Meanwhile, I keep walking forward the best way I know how.

Living without Joe is an everyday excruciating pain. It hurts just as deeply today as it did three years ago, but now there’s a subtle sensation of “lightness” surrounding me. If that makes any sense. It’s extremely difficult living without one of my children, but I continue to remind myself my bond with Joe continues; it just looks different now. I’m still breathing. My heart still beats. And, my strength comes from my daughters, my grandbabies, my husband, my family and friends. They give me the ability to believe in myself, to survive, and to hope. Joe gives me a purpose too, I see and hear his quiet messages. I love when I can feel his presence, I gain more strength from him. So I honor his life, it helps make the sadness bearable.

I walk this uninvited journey every day, hoping and praying I find my way through grief. It will take time, and that’s okay because I have a better understanding of this world of grief, and that is, “Grief is Love, but I have found many places in my life for it to go.”


For more information about Elaine, you can check out her website.


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