‘Goodbyes are harder now. When my son left for the military, he was 17. The next time I would see him would be when Chad died.’

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“Goodbyes are harder now. I don’t even think I realized how much until this weekend.

When my son left for the military three years ago, he was seventeen and I was excited for him. I was excited for him to go start his life and proud of him for choosing to serve his country. At the time, Chad had already been diagnosed but when my son left, there were no signs of any tumors on Chad’s imaging tests, and the naïve me thought we were in the clear. We were living our life like the storm had passed, and we were going to make it through unscathed. So, off he went to bootcamp, and my heart was happy.

Widowed mother's naval son standing with two girls and another naval officer
Diana Register

The next time I would see him would be when Chad died. And the time after that, six months later, at Christmas. During both of those visits, I was still in a fog. An ugly, deep, gray fog that was hard to breathe through. I couldn’t concentrate on much of anything, and even after he left, nothing seemed real. I was in a half existence, just going through the motions dizzy from holding my breath most of the time.

It’s been over two years now since Chad passed away. God, that’s still so hard to type out. It’s still so hard to believe. I still expect him to walk through the door sometimes. I still hold secrets and stories because I think he’s going to come home one day for me to tell him. I know he’s not coming back, but my subconscious still won’t let me believe it all the time. It’s a surreal state of living.

Police officers holding American flag over casket and police officer's funeral
Diana Register

This past weekend, I was lucky. After 1 year, 7 months and 4 days, I got to surprise my son when he was sent someplace close, at least close enough for me to jump on a plane and show up. I’m afraid to fly, you know. But, when Chad was sick, I didn’t have a choice and I jumped on as many planes as he did for treatment, as much as I could. I did it without thinking and without fear, because I just knew it was something I had to do. And this past weekend was no different. I had to see my son.

He was surprised. We got to spend some time together. On top of it, I got to see my step-son, his sweet family and my daughter and my mom as well. All was right in the world for 14 hours.

And, then it happened. He had to leave. I thought I would just walk him to his car, hug him and say goodbye, content with the visit and the idea that it won’t be long until I get to see him full-time again. But that didn’t happen. It was my turn to be surprised. This time, by how I felt.

It all came back. Panic. Fear. Tears. A lump in my throat. Heaviness in my chest. Fire on my skin. Why did he have to go?  When was I going to see him again? Why was I feeling this way? He’s just going back to ‘work,’ and he will be back. I reminded myself of that over and over. But, it did not keep me from wanting to grab ahold of him and pull him back and beg him not to go. I didn’t cry while he was leaving. I waited until he drove away, made my way into the bathroom and sobbed. My stomach hurt. I just wanted him to come back.

Widowed mother stands smiling with her son who joined the navy
Diana Register

I realized at that moment I really miss my kids. I miss them as they’re all living their lives, and I always have. But, I am so much more in tune with missing them now because I now know what loss feels like, and I don’t want to experience it again. I realized I am not the same as I was before. I have said before there is this break in my life; before Chad died, and after Chad died. And the ‘after Chad died’ me is still hurting, and I assume always will.

And, every now and then that hurt is going to seep out in ways I am not prepared for, and in ways I least expect. I am trying to get used to that. To prepare for that as much as possible. To expect it. To not be blindsided. To not be scared.

And to not let my fear get in the way of living.

Because not living, not flourishing and being scared for the rest of my life would be the biggest injustice to Chad I could possibly do. My children not living their lives independent of me would be sad and awful and something Chad would have never wanted for them. He would have wanted us to keep living. He would have wanted us to keep exploring. He would have wanted us to keep going. Just keep going. He would have wanted us to love, be loved, be adventurous, and achieve our goals. And he would have wanted us to do that in the absence of fear and regret.

Son hugging father who has since passed away
Diana Register

That’s what I intend to do. No matter how hard ‘goodbye’ is now, or how hard it is to let go, or how hard it is to believe this will not be the last time I will see them, or how hard it is not to be afraid of tragedy, we will keep going. We will keep loving. We will keep being loved. We will keep flourishing and we will keep being finding the beauty in the world.

We will not be victims of his cancer. No, one was enough.

If I can offer you one piece of unsolicited advice; do not let your loss defeat you. Do not give into fear. Do not give up. Say ‘hello’ with a smile and a warm hug and say ‘goodbye’ with a longer hug and a heart full of peace.”


This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her bestselling book, “Grief Life,” is now available in print and kindle. Experience love, laughter, loss and hope in this raw, emotional, honest look at grief. You can follow her work on her Facebook page. She has been chronicling her journey with grief in a series of stories for Love What Matters:

‘With his body full of tumors, he kept working’: Wife’s tremendous grief after husband’s cancer diagnosis

‘We pulled into the cemetery. It struck me we didn’t have anything to leave behind. As she opened the door, there it was. Two vials of glitter.’

‘I let my 15-year-old daughter get a tattoo, and no, I don’t care what anybody has to say about it.’

‘We do not think of dispatchers as heroes, but that night, Jeff was mine.’

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