By Deborah Cross Werner
On February 9, 2017, my sweet 27-year old son died of an overdose. The grief has been unbearable. At times I feel that my heart stopped when my son’s heart stopped. There is nothing more tragic than losing a child. My therapist said to me in our first session, “you must decide if you want to go on.” It was a tough decision but I decided that I wanted to be on this Earth for my other two beautiful children, loving husband and family; and to celebrate Jamie’s life.
After reading about grief, loss and death I realized there were a few things I could do to comfort myself when things became extremely difficult, sad and practically unbearable:
- Light a candle in honor of your child whenever you feel like it. (My sister gave me a candle inside a glass jar with a picture of our family on it.)
- Carry a picture of your child with you at all times. I have one in every purse/bag, most rooms in the house and in the car. Look at it, kiss it and touch it when times are hard. (For a long time my daughter tucked one in her bra.)
- Light sage and watch the smoke float to the skies.
- Build a memorial to your child. At first we had a huge one in our sunroom. It consisted of all Jamie’s favorite things, pictures, books, foods, cologne, superheroes, his football helmet, awards, etc. We even had notepaper so that family and friends visiting could write a note to Jamie. As time went on we moved the memorial to his room where we can sit and think of our sweet boy.
- Put fresh flowers in your child’s room as often as possible. It is amazing how a beautiful flower can soothe the soul.
- Visit the grave and decorate the grave even if the cemetery eventually throws everything away.
- Talk about your child, tell stories, do what he liked to do. For Jamie’s first birthday not on this Earth we did exactly what he would have wanted. We ate good food, we toasted him, and we were together as a family.
- Keep a journal. We lost my Mom a few months before we lost my son. A friend of my sister gave her a journal and said write your feelings, memories and whatever you want. My sister gave me a journal with his picture on both sides, titled JBW Memories. I write whatever I feel, whenever I feel.
- Stay in touch with your child’s friends. It is helpful to hear their stories and memories concerning their deceased friend.
- Stay close to family and spend time with friends who are supportive, understanding, positive and demand nothing from you while you are so sad and devastated. Let them take care of you! Most people want to help. Some will not know how to deal with your grief and will avoid you.
Believing that Jamie is with me all the time and at the same time in a better place helps me. I look for signs that Jamie sends me, a butterfly or cardinal and often he messes with us by doing something funny – for example on the day of his burial the deacon called him by the wrong name 3 times. That was Jamie telling us the religious part of the ceremony was not his thing.
- The neighborhood planted a tree in Jamie’s honor at the bottom of our cul-de-sac. We walk the dogs down to that tree, water it and realize Jamie lives on.
- We donated a bench in honor of Jamie on the towpath of the C&O Canal, between the two entrances to the Billy Goat A trail. It has his name on it, and we love to walk to it. Jamie would often take his dog Jak on Billy Goat A (even though dogs aren’t allowed on that trail). The bench is also close to the Potomac River.
Different people deal with loss in different ways. My husband worked on procuring that bench, and he now loves to sit on it and think about our son as he stares at the water. As a family we will tell Jamie’s story to as many people as possible, to anyone who will listen. We will educate people concerning mental illness and substance abuse.
Thank you, Rick and Debbie. This site is not only filled with beauty and wisdom – but it has a strong purpose rooted in a belief that simply fostering conversations can make a difference. The power of these conversations can’t be overstated because they serve to break down barriers and can enable all who are impacted to see potential for a future with less (even if just a little less) pain than today. We are honored to be on this journey with you and Morgan and Stephen, just as we were to be a part of Jamie’s amazing life. We celebrate and suffer every day -struggling to be there with and for you guys. With all our love, Tricia & Louie
This is wonderful, Deb. All helpful things for someone going through such a devastating loss. Your wisdom is so new, yet so sage. I hate that you have to know these things. I hate that your heart is broken. I hate that Jamie left us all too soon. Your James Werner Legacy Project is going to help others navigate this devastating problem that I hate that exists! But hate doesn’t help the world, love does, and that is what this site is. It is an outpouring of love for the memory of your beloved son, Jamie. Love you, my friend. K
These are such helpful ideas for others who are grieving. From when I first met him, Jamie was a live wire, energetic and multi-talented, so interested in life and people. I am moved to see all that you and your family are doing to help others through this project, in Jamie’s name.