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Rewind to early 2017, one of the most stressful periods of my life.
I was living part-time at Boston Children’s Hospital with my five-year-old son, Ari, while he awaited a heart transplant, and part-time at home with my three-year-old daughter, Lexi, and six-month-old son, Eli, and running a business.
My mom would say to me, “Erica, you’re under so much stress, and I’m worried about you. You should really try meditation. It would be a great thing to do for yourself.”
“Huh? Meditation?” I thought to myself, “What new age, mumbo jumbo bullsh*t. I don’t need any of that. I’m fine.”
That was my motto. In reality, though, I was not fine at all.
Fast forward to nine months later in 2017. Ari had died, just days after his sister’s fourth birthday and weeks before his brother’s first. I lay on the floor, meditating and finding peace for the first time in a very, very long time.
When Ari died, after a year-long struggle waiting for a heart transplant, receiving a heart, and then rejecting a heart, I felt like I wanted to die too.
Grief takes everything out of you. It’s exhausting. Fully-body exhausting. The kind where your mind is overloaded, you can’t move a finger, and you can barely roll over.
A few months after Ari died, my dear friend Jessica Lindberg, founder of the Ethan M. Lindberg Foundation, reached out to tell me about “Restoring a Mother’s Heart,” a retreat she was hosting for mothers who had lost children to chronic illness. Jessica invited me to attend.
I was scared to join. I didn’t know if I was ready. I didn’t know if I could open myself up and talk about all of the pain, hurt, anger, depression, guilt, and other emotions I felt.
But I said yes.
Before I left, I was telling a friend about it. She said, “I hope it brings you some peace.”
It wasn’t the first time someone had said this to me. When I went to Cape Cod or the beach in Maine, people would always say, “I hope you feel peace there.”
I hated that.
How am I supposed to feel at peace after my son had just died? What is peaceful about that?
The retreat involved a lot of yoga and meditation. We talked about the connection between our bodies, minds, and spirits—all three are needed to fuel your energy—and to experience healing, all three need to connect.
For me, each had broken into countless scattered shards. I was terrified to put them back together. I was terrified that healing meant that I had to let go of Ari somehow.
So, no, peace was not what I wanted. And yet, wanted or not, invited or not, peace stopped in for a brief visit during a Tara Mohr—inspired guided meditation.
It was a summer afternoon, and I found myself in the backyard with Lexi and Eli. Lexi was chatting with two of her girlfriends, soaking up the sun, waiting for the boat to come back so she could take it out for a girl’s cruise.
I was sitting and enjoying homemade lemonade, one of Ari’s favorite treats, that the kids made earlier in the day. It was 82 degrees and sunny with a light breeze and white, wispy clouds, the kind where you see alligators and continents and dogfights between X-wings and TIE fighters, all depending on how you look at them. Midafternoon is always a great time in our backyard, as the sun dips behind the trees, giving us just a bit of shade on the lake.
I sat. I sipped. I breathed. I soaked in a moment, feeling entirely present yet outside of time itself. I closed my eyes and felt the sun on my skin.
My eyes blinked open when I heard the boat motoring back to the dock. Mike hopped out and secured the boat ropes on the cleats as a wiry, blond, short-but-not-too-short 15-year-old boy hopped off with his wakeboard under his arm.
It was Ari. Fifteen-year-old Ari, hair half dry in the sun and wind after a run out on his board. He walked toward me, scars fading on his chest and belly, smile as mischievous and cheerful as ever, eyes as penetrating. They met mine.
And then I woke. I had drifted during the guided meditation, and that meant I felt…at peace.
This was the first moment since Ari died when I felt anything save despair. This was the moment I realized life could still go on. The grief was back, but I felt ineffably different.
Through the hard work we did throughout the retreat, I learned that peace didn’t mean moving on without Ari. Moving on is not the right sentiment, as it implies a leaving behind.
I was not leaving behind; I was journeying on with.
My relationship with Ari endured. I moved on from moving on and began to move forward. With peace. With Ari.
The peace I felt was just a glimpse, but ephemeral as it was, it happened. This meant something of great consequence: peace was, in fact, available to me. This time was simultaneously an end, a beginning, and a continuation of chapters in my life. Perhaps, most importantly, it was the sign I needed to tell me that my life journey would indeed now begin again.
Energy renewed, I left the retreat. While it had been only four months since Ari died, a weight had lifted. Purpose returned. Love returned. It was time to spread that love with others.
The first time I had ever practiced yoga or meditated was at this retreat. Since then, I’ve made it a point to do both regularly.
When I meditate now, I feel a deep connection to Ari, a peace that I carry with me, that has changed my life.