How A Bracelet Helped Me Find Strength After My Son's Death

by Erica Landis
Originally Published: 
A broken and worn-out metal bracelet with the word "love" engraved
Erica Landis

About two weeks after Noah died, a lady named Annie took this bracelet off her wrist and put it on mine. Her son, Graeme, had died two years prior. He was hit by a car. I love how she spelled his name. I told her so too. She smiled. She was at the point of counting in years. I was still at the point of counting in days, practically minutes.

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My husband Hal and I talked with Annie for hours. (As I typed that sentence, my tears instantly started to fall as I was taken back to that afternoon six years ago. Ah, the raw days.)

We looked at Annie in awe. How was she still here two years later? She looked like a normal mom.

When I picture her in my mind now, I see her as simultaneously stunned and serene, carefully choosing the right words to say to us. I remember being so desperate for a magical sentence. I hung on her every word. She said it all came down to love: “Love never dies. The only thing that is real is love. And our love for our children will now be different but the same.”

I struggled to have that make sense. Inside I cried, “Bullshit! I want Noah back!”

Annie took off the simple silver bracelet hand-stamped with “LOVE” that a friend had given her after Graeme died. She said it was now my turn to wear it. She told me that when I was ready, I would pass it along to someone who needed it.

Today, I struggle with the fact that I still don’t feel ready. I feel almost ashamed. I’m afraid to let that strength go.

We received letters and books and suggestions from other parents. Some found us. Some we found. A friend from high school lost her 16-year-old daughter, Mara, in a car accident. I had no idea. She sent helpful books and offered an eternally open ear.

My mother-in-law’s friend of 75 years lost her son, Tom, to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Never in a million years did I think she and I would have the death of our sons in common.

Many other pieces of wisdom from the “sad clubhouse” rolled in. When something would resonate with us, it felt like a little piece of hope dropped at our feet. A sentence to recite or thought to think to ourselves repeatedly when we couldn’t hang on much longer. Some made sense right away, and others didn’t make sense until a few years later.

“Don’t skip a step.” This made sense about a year later when I tried to force my OK-ness. You can’t. You will want to, but you can’t. You will go backwards and sideways and spiral out of control. I still abide by that one when I’m pushing myself too much, stretching myself too thin. For Hal, for Miriam, for family and friends. For me.

“You will think you’re going crazy, but you’re not” — this was told to me at Noah’s funeral by an old friend’s mother. She had lost her daughter, Susan, to cancer. Thank God I had that statement in my mind from day one. Nothing could’ve been truer. And it still is. I still lose my mind in the confusion and shock, over and over. It takes a lot of exhausting work to process the crazy and make friends with it. I think I have — most of the time.

We found that more mothers were doing the talking than fathers, so the resources for Hal were a little harder to find. About a year after Noah died, we learned about a professional entertainer and clown (just like Hal had been before the accident) who lost his son, Luca, in an accident. I found him on Facebook. I wrote to him. He wrote right back. I remember the first sentence of his email, something like, “Holy shit! I can’t believe this happened to you.”

We have been friends ever since. There is a language that parents who have lost children speak. A shorthand. They know that nothing is too crazy to say, because the craziest has happened.

Just two days ago, an old friend asked me for advice on what to say to an adult college student of hers. Her student’s 16-year-old daughter, Macy, had just been killed in a car accident. So I’ve been thinking about what to say. I’ve been asked to do this before. And I will be asked to do it again. I’m more than happy to do whatever I can. I feel it’s my duty. It helps me, and I hope it helps them too. Maybe the “LOVE” bracelet gives me that strength, and that’s why I still have it. If I had a million dollars, I would buy one for every hurting parent I know.

One gift you can all give to hurting parents is to say their child’s name. Never be afraid to say their name. It’s like music to our ears in a way. The most beautiful word. Synonymous with love.

I just polished the “LOVE” bracelet last night. I could feel Noah by my side as I did it.

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