This week marks the sixth anniversary since we lost our son Reid, our only child, in a car accident. It’s never an easy time for us. Thankfully, it was one of those mishaps in which none of the three drivers involved was entirely at fault. Each made the kinds of mistakes we’ve all made. That has helped Jeff and me absolve them from blame.
Many people have helped comfort us and prop us up. Some of those folks have asked the obvious question: Why did this have to happen? Reid was such a great kid—handsome, smart, funny, and compassionate in that I-want-to-be-nice-without-seeming-nice macho teenage way. From what his teachers later told us, he was just coming into his own.
I learned pretty quickly that asking why why why and other unanswerable questions did me absolutely no good. What did make sense, all the sense in the world in fact, was to focus on the most obvious question: What now?
It started as, “What do we do now that he’s gone?” That was unimaginably difficult to confront. Gradually it shifted and became, “What can we do to honor Reid’s life and memory?”
Now, years after I decided to remember Reid by learning to live in service to others, the question has settled into, “What qualities can I nurture within myself, today, that will help me be the person I want to be?
In losing Reid, I felt as if everything I had previously been and experienced had been burned away, leaving the empty shell of my body. Nothing existed of my original self. Although friends might argue with that description, to me it rings true.
But wait. If the searing intensity of grief really reduced my former self to ashes, then a unique opportunity awaits me. I can rebuild myself, carefully choosing what to include and what to leave out.
This is the most sacred and difficult of spiritual practices. I would never have volunteered to embark on it. Having been plunged into it, though, and having tried to embrace it and learn from it, I can honestly say that it is cleansing my soul.
There’s no need to tell you here about the qualities I’m trying to cultivate to become a practitioner of selfless service. I write about them in my forthcoming book, and I regularly post thoughts about them in this blog and on my Seva Facebook page.
The important lesson for today—the most important lesson of my existence—is that given time, even the most unimaginable loss can be an avenue to a new life. Six years later, I am well into the journey down that path.