Let Love and Life Win
By Sarah Shin
For thirty something years of my life, I was spared from knowing deep, earth-shattering loss. Then I lost my mother and son less than two years apart.
When I was seven months pregnant with my first child, my mother passed away from cancer. I knew she wasn’t going to be healed here on earth, but I convinced myself that she would be here long enough to meet her first grandchild. She couldn’t stay that long. On November 4, 2012, my mother went to be with her Maker. I grieved the mother I lost and the grandmother my son would never get to meet. In losing her, I experienced a pain like I had never known. I didn’t think there could be anything worse…until I lost my son.
My beautiful son, Isaac, was born just two months after my mother passed away. My sweet Isaac. What a precious gift he was in our time of loss and grief, not only for me, but for my entire family. My heart overflowed with love and joy for the gift of my beautiful son. He was perfection, and I was madly in love.
More heartbreak shortly followed when Isaac was diagnosed with AML leukemia at just seven months old. My beautiful, innocent boy. How could this be happening? My world shattered and my heart broke in ways I didn’t know were possible. Isaac underwent seven months of chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant. He responded so well to treatment that I fully expected to bring him home from the hospital and start a new year together in 2014. Those hopes were crushed when Isaac relapsed just after his first birthday.
Relapse. No more treatment options. Hospice. Words that were slowly tearing away at the hope I was so desperately holding onto. Next to his death, those were some of the most painful days I can remember. I watched my precious boy fight this relentless disease, and there was nothing I could do to protect him. All I could do was surround him with love, fill his days spent in the hospital with as much laughter and fun memories as possible, and hope that he felt loved and secure.
On February 24, 2014, I held my beautiful son, Isaac, as he took his last breath here on earth. He fought so bravely, but the disease was aggressive and two months after his first birthday, our sweet boy went to be with his grandmother. I still don’t know how I survived that day or the days after without him.
I remember those early days of grief so clearly. When I didn’t think I could possibly survive the pain or even want to, for it was a pain that could physically bring me to my knees. When the ache and yearning for my child was more than I thought I could possibly bear. When the waves of grief were so impossibly huge and constant. I barely had a second to catch my breath before the next wave hit and brought me under once again.
I don’t quite know how I survived those days. I don’t quite know how anyone survives those days…but you do…you can…and you will. Very gradually. So gradually that you might not even realize right away that the moments and days are becoming a little more bearable, and the waves of pain and grief less frequent. Healing. It does come if you allow it and work through the grief. It’s hard work. It’s exhausting. And there are days you just want to give up and crawl under a rock and never come out. But you do. For yourself and for your child.
I thought of my son looking down on me, and I wanted to honor his life and make him proud. I didn’t want death to have the final say. His life mattered. His fight mattered. He was here and left a beautiful imprint on so many lives, especially on mine. I would not let death overshadow life. How could I choose not to live when Isaac fought so hard to? My precious boy who didn’t let cancer take away his beautiful smile and sweet spirit. Who gave me strength each day as we fought this disease. And who helped me to know the deepest love. Those are the things I want to hold tight to, not his death. Those are the things I want people to remember. His light will continue to shine bright, for not even death can extinguish it.
It can be easy to let grief consume you and just stay in it. For many months, I resisted joining the rest of the world again. They could move on, but I wasn’t going to. I rebelled at the thought of ‘moving forward.’ But as much as I fought it, life slowly drew me back in, and I started to allow it. I went outside, let the sun hit my face and took a deep breath.
I remember the first time I smiled after Isaac passed away. It felt foreign. I felt guilty. I cried. I didn’t want to smile, not if he wasn’t here with me. I wanted to cling onto my pain and my son. For in the beginning, grief and pain made me feel closer to him. It was how I held onto him, but in that moment, I also realized it was maybe possible to smile again. And it was okay. It was okay to smile or have a moment of relief from the pain. It’s okay. You are not forgetting or letting go of your child, for that will never happen, but it’s okay to let your heart start to heal and to live again.
I will always grieve that my son is no longer here with me. The pain can still grip my heart. As much as we loved and continue to love, I don’t think the grief or yearning ever fully goes away, but it can coexist with joy and living, truly living.
This is the life I was given, and as my son lived each day so fully with love and courage, I will try to do the same, until that sweet, sweet day I am reunited with him.
My precious Isaac, on that day, I will hold you so tight and never let you go.
Sarah Shin has been married to her wonderful husband Joel for four years. She is a mother to two beautiful boys, Isaac in heaven and Elias here on earth. She is striving to continue finding the beauty in this life and in honor of her son, raise childhood cancer awareness. Find her on Facebook.