I feel the need to share this with others for their benefit as well as mine.
I was a full atheist when my son died in a motorcycle crash at the age of 24. That was 11 years ago.
He was my only blood son and I raised him as a single parent for many years. He was my favorite person on the planet and we were very very close. We always had hugs and kisses for each other even when he was a teen in front of friends. :) He was the heir to the throne, my knowledge, and wordly possessions. I don't get to see him anymore and that pains me to my deepest core of being if I think too much of it. I feel that I am now a member of the club that nobody wants to be in and losing a child cannot be imagined fully by somebody that has not experienced it. Funny thing is that (even without a god) it is possible to live on with the right tools.
I was awakend by a deputy's phone call at 3:15 AM on Sunday, Sept 1st 2008 and he said that he was sorry to tell me that my "son is deceased". To this day, the blood leaves my face when I relive that moment.
My son Bryce was about the nicest guy one could ever hope to meet even with his foolishness at times like every human has. He was well liked, fun to be with, proud to be a hard worker, and he had married and fathered two children. They are the loves of my life and I have a wonderful wife and two step children who suffered the loss with me. My grand daughter is 14 years old and looks just like me. Spooky like.
I followed all of the usual steps of grief and was numb the first few weeks. Upon his death I had to immediately with family and friends, go to his house and finish some remodeling that he had started so that his little family would be comfortable. The bugle was sounding and I needed to be strong. It was work time which was a good diversion I guess. The oddest thing happened one night when I was sleeping in the guest room of my in-laws house during this remodeling week. I was alone in bed and I woke up because the table lamp next to the bed was on. I absolutely cannot sleep with lights on so I know I didn't leave it on before falling asleep that night. I turned it off and looked at the clock. It was 3:15 AM on the dot and was on Sunday. Exactly one week after I received the phone call from the deputy. The next morning I asked my in-laws if they had turned it on but they had not. Ok, funky switch on the lamp. I went to my daughter in law's house to work some more that day and during that day my nephew (a good friend to my son) said he wanted to tell me something that Bryce had told him recently. During a conversation, Bryce told his cousin that he is not really afraid of dying but he just hopes that it isn't dark. That tripped my out like nobody's business and nearly everybody that hears that story says that it was something that came from Bryce. I don't buy it one bit but I am intrigued by what seems to be synchronicity. That is the closest thing to supernature that I have found. Random, disconnected events that are tied to each other in a short amount of time. Fun to observe.
Gratitude saved me more than anything else. Family is good. Sharing your grief story is very good because you help and are helped. During the first month of my grief a random person I met told me that "it takes about 6 years after loss to feel right again". It's true although I couldn't believe it at the time. I had 2 years of horrible grief, depression and soul searching. I never prayed or any other BS like that. Instead I reminded myself of how fortunate Bryce and I were to have known each other for that time. I was grateful that he lived to the age of 24; had hopes and dreams; had beautiful children; he got to lie with and make love to a beautiful woman. I thought of the parents that have lost children at younger ages and how that would add to the sorrow. I thought of the man that I saw on TV that lost his wife, children and parents in a volcanic eruption that devasated his home and village. With burns over his body, he said that all he could do now is go on the best he could. When people would say that "he is in a better place", I would get angry because to me it is such a stupid statement. I knew and know that he is no more. That's ok. That's life.. and death. I cried for 2 years and thought of suicide but worked through it all over time with courage and dignity and I am a better person now for it. I believe that out of everything bad something good comes. Bar none.
Be grateful and find the good.
He's not really dead. As long as we remember him.
-- Dr. Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy
It's pretty clear that you've kept your son very much alive in your own memory, as well as appreciating the wife and kids who were so much a part of his life and, I have no doubt, still a strong part of yours. I really can't think of a much more positive way to deal with a tragic loss than that, to be honest.
Back in 2008, I lost a dear friend and lover to old age. It wasn't as though the event couldn't be seen coming, yet I found that when I learned of his passing, I really didn't have to grieve, because the memories I held of him were so positive and uplifting that I felt as though I still had him with me, after a fashion. If there were any sadness, it was in that there would be things I'd see in the paper or happen in my life that I would want to share with him and obviously couldn't any more.
To me, that quality of appreciation in retrospect is a lot more healthy a coping mechanism than presuming any kind of undemonstrated afterlife – enjoying the reality of what one had rather than the presumption of something one MIGHT get.