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Embracing the Unreachable: Finding Peace in the Absence of Physical Touch

I recently found old journal entries from the weeks, months, and years following Noah’s death. My experience of losing my son pours onto the page, raw and honest, filled with my longing, confusion, and remembrance of a life so brief that it is hard to touch without the anchor of my pain. Yet, even back then my words were hopeful. In the depth of my grief, I also felt ever-present gratitude for my life and steadfastness in my knowing that the darkness of my grief was also a doorway to knowing my light. This truth has been my guidepost. And, as the years go by and memories begin to fade, I find comfort in sharing the teachings of Noah’s story.

It has been 16 years since I became a mama. My first child, Noah, came into the world and changed my life so profoundly that I have spent the last 16 years reflecting, learning from, and integrating the impact his life and death have had on my family, community, and self. My heart exploded into a million pieces on the day he was born. After 3 days in labor and 7 hours of pushing to get this tiny 4.5-pound baby out of my body, I felt a moment of fear when I first saw him. That feeling lasted for maybe a millisecond and was followed by the most overwhelming and encompassing sensation of love that I have ever known. This baby changed me in an instant! Nothing else mattered at that moment except for my new little family. Noah’s bright blue eyes saw deep into me and I felt understood, wanted, and needed in a way that I had been longing for my entire life. In Noah’s short precious life, he helped me know myself. To find confidence in my own authority. To find contentment in the mundane. To find stillness and simplicity in our life in the mountains. I became an adult on the day Noah was born. In his gentle, wise reflection, I began to see myself through his eyes, which were pure love.

Someday I will share Noah’s birth story because it made me a warrior and every woman should be witnessed in this great act of love, surrender, and strength. But, for today I want to speak to an aspect of grief that is so primal that we don’t often give it a voice. To lose the ability to touch a loved one after they have passed into the next realm is excruciating. After 15 years of grieving Noah’s death, I have found my peace with the new relationship that I have cultivated with my spirit son. I have found acceptance of his short life, his path and my own. I have worked through layers of trauma. I have spent over a decade in therapy to process, release and grow from my loss. I have found solace and strength in helping others through their grief. I have done all the things. I have sat on my meditation cushion for hours. I have moved and cried, expanded and contracted, fallen in love with myself and my life. And, no matter how much I have healed, nothing will ever take away the longing to hold Noah’s body in my arms. My senses feel deprived, and even 15 years later a part of my body rejects that I can no longer feel the warmth of his skin, the smell of his scent, and the feeling of connection that only exists in our human form. This is the heartbreak that grievers express as losing a limb - a part of your own body - when you can no longer touch or hold your loved one in your arms.

I recognize that I am naming this suffering without a solution to offer. This is something we learn how to live with. Even though we may be kicking and screaming along the way, we are also building resilience and resources to keep going when we are forced to accept the unacceptable. Our senses make us human. Our soul connects us to our loved ones far beyond when they are gone and this relationship we can continue to deepen and grow in their passing. This has been my experience with Noah. I feel him as my own personal angel looking over me. I feel him protecting my daughters from harm. I feel him as my spirit son and sometimes my elder. I feel him in every sunrise and sunset and in the beauty of nature. I feel him in my heart, but I cannot touch him with my hands.

This may be lifelong learning to accept the limitations of my humanity. I struggle with this on days like today when I miss him and wish I could hold him and feel the connection that only our senses can offer us. Yet, I know I am not alone in this pain. We live and then someday we die. No one is immune from loss. Everyone will someday experience the denial of touching someone they love. Thank god we have resiliency built into us. Thank god we have friends and family to hold us in our pain. It is often through our darkest moments that we find the greatest joy. So even though I don’t get to hold Noah in my arms, I can hold onto the gratitude for the ways he taught me to live when he was here and to love even more in his passing.

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