You know that person whose smile is so bright it lights up a room? The kind of person with a warm hug or firm handshake and a laugh that comes from deep within? The person who knows how to pick you up when you need a helping hand to lift you from the floor of devastation or one who has that soft shoulder to cry on?
This summer, while presenting at the Navigating Grief conference in Albany, I had the amazing fortune to meet a man who embodies all of these things. His name is Mitch Carmody and his light is like a torch for those who grieve; a beacon of compassion that guides our suffering as if on a sail and a symbol of hope that tells of smooth waters to come in the face of suffering. They call him MrHeartlight.
Mitch and I later caught up on his Grief Chat radio program with Mo on KDWA. If you missed it, catch the audio here!
I am so happy to share with you one of Mitch’s stories about how he found joy and peace in the face of adversity.
Without further adieu, I present to you some of Mitch’s beautiful words…
In 1969 my mother reached out to me and, embracing each shoulder with her shaking hands, she said: “You are the man of the family now, Son; you need to take care of your sisters and the farm…your father has died.” I was 15 years old.
I never really did grieve or publicly lament my father’s passing. I was the kid whose old man kicked the bucket over summer break. I was embarrassed by the quiet looks of consternation and thusly became the clown, to laugh it off preemptively and avoid the glares. I put away the grief, the pain, and did not lament, or mourn my loss. It seemed almost too easy to pack away. My mother soon remarried; then feeling somewhat abandoned, compounded with the strong feelings to stretch my own wings, I moved away from home at eighteen years old.
Years pass by. I get married and have a child, our firstborn, our only son. Soon we were blessed with the birth of his darling sister; life again seemed joyful and felt like the fulfillment of a dream. Soon the dark clouds returned with the death of my only son. Nothing could have ever prepared me for the depth of pain that one experiences in losing a child. Nothing! The world stopped and everything I ever knew had now changed forever. I was lost in hopeless pain for many years. Father’s Day mocked my existence, for fate had slapped me in the face. Both my past and my future in fatal swoops were whisked away and I was left here in the present alone in so much pain. Why me?
It felt like I was playing a role in some Thomas Hardy tragedy, where I played the main character whose life was built on misfortune. I soon cracked under its weight; it broke my spirit and I felt hapless, hopeless, innocuous and miserable. I wanted to die. I had my daughter to care for and my wife who spoons my soul, but I had no zest for life, no passion, no feeling, no goal. I struggled hard to free myself from the web of self pity, and I dug deep into my inner soul; from attic to basement I looked within myself to find a way out.
In my head with angels’ help, I went back to the day my father died. I literally went back and relived the moment; I screamed and I cried. I finally lamented for my father and let out the buried angst hidden for so long. When that dam burst I could then make room for the lamenting of my son. Only then did my road to acceptance begin. Acceptance is not selling out, or letting go of their love, it is just accepting that they are dead and giving our selves permission to rebuild our lives the best that we can.
I finally grieved for my father and I am still grieving for my son. Accepting their death is not forgetting them, it is merely accepting the reality of life. You cannot have one without achieving the other. Accepting their death is not the end of the bereavement journey, it’s only the beginning.
We shall continue to grieve for associated losses from their deaths the rest of our life. Father and son banquets, hunting trips with the boys, working on cars together, sharing a beer or two, having a pair of strong shoulders to hug, so many potential moments that we shall grieve forever. No grandchildren, or great grandchildren, no retirement party, birthday parties or graduation celebration, no parties of any sort. We are always reminded that their lives were cut short and we grieve anew for what should have been.
Through the loss of my son and many family members I have learned much on the journey. I found that I love deeper, I smell flowers longer, and I savor the sunsets more. I feel the best when helping others and I thank God for my every breath. These are all good things to have come to me in the midst and aftermath of horrific pain. How sad it would be if we were not compensated in some way for our tragic loss, for life would then truly seem meaningless.
Through the loss of my father and my son I discovered the randomness of death. That death can hit anyone, anytime regardless of genes, the environment, or the best of efforts to stave off the sting of its reality. There is nothing we can do that can adequately prepare us for a loss of our loved one; nothing.
Do I feel sad on Father’s day? You bet I do? Do I celebrate it? Yes I do. I am proud to have been a son for fifteen years and proud to have been a father to my son for nine years. I am proud to be a Father for my surviving daughter Meagan. I am proud to be a grandfather. Everyday is Father’s day when you find yourself surrounded in love from this world and from the next.
Love and light,
~ Mitch Carmody
Mitch Carmody, GSP, CCP is a writer, artist, grief educator and a nationally recognized motivational speaker who has his own YouTube channel known as MrHeartlight. He is the author of several books, and hosts his own Radio Show “Grief Chat”. He is a Grief Facilitator for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S) of military loss, member of The Association of Death Education and Counseling (A.D.E.C.) and has served on the National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, the largest grief support organization in the world. His foundational philosophy is proactive living and proactive grieving.
Thank you, Mitch, for all you do to help heal worlds of hurt. With love and gratitude! ~ Annah Elizabeth