Moving Through Tragedy: Alex’s Story

📷: Volkan Olmez

Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.” -Arthur Schopenhauer

“Please, I need to see him.” I begged in disbelief.

His family nodded silently in agreement, and a nurse led me to a white curtain, separating the realms of this world and the other.  

The curtain rings scraped against the rod as she pulled it open, revealing his motionless body.

“Oh Aaron!” I cried as I ran to his side, my body quivering and on the verge of collapse with every forward step.

I wanted to crawl into the bed with him. To hold him and comfort him and tell him everything would be alright. I needed him to put his arms around me, and tell me we were going to be OK.

His eyes, still partially opened, featured an undeniable gloss, like that of a newly polished diamond. As I looked into them, I saw a glisten of hope — a glimmer of life — as if one last tear could fall, one last breath could be taken, one last word could be spoken.

I clutched his left hand with my right hand, and laid the upper part of my body onto his. Goosebumps appeared across every inch of my body — replacing the warmth I had felt radiating from him only a few hours earlier.

Deep, rapid, uncontrollable breaths invaded my body as I pleaded with God.

“Please God! Please NO! GOD! Don’t do this to me! You can’t do this!”

I stood frozen, imagining Aaron waking me up in our bed after a terrible nightmare. The sound of footsteps roused me back into the present moment.

“My first born, my buddy, my baby son!”

It was the first time I’d ever seen his father cry. Silenced by the day, I rushed over and did the only thing my body would allow — I hugged him tightly with every piece of my being.

Standing back, my heart dropped as my eyes caught glimpse of Aaron’s changing body. His peachy-vanilla, silky skin no longer reminded me of a summer fruit in its prime. Instead, a dull purplish-grey roughness like a gnarled tree spread across his body.

But, I didn’t want to leave him. Even though part of me knew he was fading quickly, and slipping further and further away from this physical world, I still felt like he’d come back to me.

When I finally left the hospital I was in a daze of disbelief and confusion. Not wanting to be with anyone, I drove myself home. As I pulled into our driveway, a wave of loneliness hit me like a bullet in the back, sending chills down my spine. I walked through the door and heard nothing, and it was the silence that was the most damning — creeping into my bones and shattering any remaining hope.

I couldn’t face our room, so I ran into the bathroom and fell against the toilet dry heaving and vomiting until exhaustion paralyzed my body from making other further movements. Beneath me, the tile floor sizzled against my body the same way Aaron’s body had at the hospital. My head felt like someone was punching it and I couldn’t stop them, couldn’t fight back. So I laid there in defeat, hoping God would end my life too.

During that period of my life it’s hard to put into context words that could justify how I felt. And there were many nights I cried myself to sleep, never wanting to wake up. But, eventually I was able to find strength in my friends and family, and reassemble the pieces of my broken life.

Sometimes I still wonder why I had to lose Aaron. But, I know his death was not in vain. He positively impacted so many people during his short time on earth, myself included.

I’d like to share some of the learnings I experienced in the wake of his death, in the hopes they can help or bring comfort to someone else experiencing loss. 

The following four sections are my big takeaways that were crucial in my healing process:

1.) Fall into the Arms of Your Support System

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📷: Alex Reagle

On the day of Aaron’s death, I broke down sobbing so hard that all of my sobs turned into dry heaves. It was as if my lungs would collapse from within me, unable to sustain the torture and sorrow. I fell to the floor, and laid there unable to get up. In the background, I heard a ringing noise but I was so disoriented I couldn’t bring myself to move.

Knock knock.

Knock knock.

Ring. Ring.

Ring. Ring.

“Alex? Alex, are you in there? Please answer me!” I could hear a trembling concern in my mom’s voice as she spoke.

Breathing in, I filled my lungs with as much air as possible, hoping to either explode or calm down. I stumbled a few times before summoning the energy to walk over to the front door. With her hands cupped around her face, I could see the distraught look on my mom’s face as she peered through my window.

I opened the door, not ready to face her or anyone else, but that didn’t matter because my mom knew I needed her. Her heart felt my soul crumbling so she did what any mom would do — she forced me to get up, and to get out.

M-m-mom. Why did God do this to me?! Why?!” I demanded through sobs. “It isn’t fair. Why give me love only to rip it away?

I ran into my mom’s open arms, like a baby needing to be fed. She wrapped herself around me, and rested her chin against the bottom of my neck. I felt the sudden sensation of warm tears on my skin. Her right hand stroked the back of my head, and she held me until I pulled myself away.

Wiping my eyes, and then hers, she spoke softly, with the maternal warmth only a mother can:

Alex, I can’t tell you why this happened, but trust in God. He does have a plan, even if we don’t understand it right now…

Cloaked in her love and gripped by her support, I felt strong enough to get up and out of the house.

During those early months I relied on the unconditional support of my friends and family. Without them, recovering from Aaron’s loss would have been very difficult.

If you’re reading this and you have someone in your life who’s recently experienced a devastating loss, please let them know they’re not alone. There are things you can do to show your support even from afar — send a letter, call them, send flowers, go to their house and check in on them, bring or send them food. And, if you’re reading this and you’ve experienced a devastating loss please know you are not alone — you are loved deeply.

2.) Life is All About Love

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📷: Alex Reagle

When I arrived at Aaron’s service, more than 2,000 people were gathered. I was amazed by how many lives Aaron was able to touch in his short 28-years. Each person in attendance shared a story about how Aaron impacted their lives, and I was hit with a sudden epiphany: the purpose of life is love.

Aaron showered me with love, and he showed me what a gift it truly is. It was only after his passing that I realized I never understood or appreciated the importance of love until it was ripped away from me.

Even in the aftermath of his death, love is what picked me up in my weakest moments, and gave me the strength to get through another day. I relied on the love and support from my family, his family and my friends to get through those dark days. And now, I love without condition or inhibition because Aaron showed me life isn’t about maintaining your heart’s guard it’s about opening yourself up and loving completely.

If you’re reading this and you are or have experienced the loss of a loved one, I encourage you to open your heart and soul and let love in. Love is the ultimate healer, and it’s the ultimate purpose.

3.) Forgiveness Matters

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📷: Alex Reagle

Losing Aaron showed me how quickly life can change. One minute I was kissing him goodbye, the next minute he was gone.

Death is the ultimate revelation — it’s inescapable and looming, and that terrifies all of us. But, isn’t it scarier to think about transcending this life and leaving behind feelings of resentment and anger toward another person?

All of the negative feelings I had toward other people washed away after I lost Aaron. I forgave and let go because I realized there isn’t time for anger in this world — there’s only time for love.

Forgiveness matters. Forgiveness releases us from this venomous prison we enclose ourselves in when we hold grudges, hostilities and negative thoughts and emotions toward ourselves or other people.

If you’re reading this and you’re currently angry, resentful or in a negative state of mind regarding yourself or someone else — I encourage you deeply to forgive and let go. The person you will be saving is yourself, and you’ll have a better quality of life and peace of mind.

4.) Live Gratefully  

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📷: Alex Reagle

When Aaron passed away he was in one of the happiest places he’d ever been. He had a career winning week and was more thankful than ever for his home, friends, family and our relationship.

Aaron was fulfilled.

Aaron was happy.

Aaron was grateful.

And through Aaron’s deep gratitude, I was lead to my own — Aaron loved me like no other man ever had. On my bad days when I was feeling down and insignificant, questioning my decisions and life, he redirected me to have and maintain a positive outlook. And I wasn’t the only person he did this with. Anytime someone was down and out, whether it was a family member, friend or stranger, he would do anything he could to help them see life’s abundant blessings and bring love into their lives. He loved without question, and gave without expectation.

We often imagined what our future would be like — from where we’d get married, to how many children we’d have.

Had it not been for Aaron I wouldn’t have understood how a partner should treat their significant other. Had it not been for Aaron, I wouldn’t have experienced the unconditional partner-to-partner laughter, love and happiness I did with him while he was here.

For Aaron and our time together I am eternally grateful.

If you’re reading this, I hope you can walk away knowing how much of a blessing every single day is. Look around you — open your eyes and open your heart and announce or think about everything you’re grateful for. Your mood will instantly change, and so too will your outlook on life.

*This story was written with permission based on Alex’s perspective.

About Alex Reagle: Alex is a former teacher turned MBA student who is happily engaged to a wonderful man named Tim. Alex and Tim currently reside in the sunshine state and enjoy spending time outdoors, soaking up the sun and living life to the fullest!

 

 

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