A Grieving Mother’s Story of Survival

Debbie Centeno

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The Day I Died Inside

My life was wonderful. I had three adult children, a loving husband, and a job I enjoyed. Until one day my life flipped upside down. My name is Debbie, and this is my story.

One quiet summer night, my husband and I were getting ready for bed when the phone rang.

“Who could it be at this time of night?” I asked as I picked up the phone.

It was the call no parent wants to receive. We had to get to the hospital right away. My 20-year-old son suffered a pedestrian accident.

“How is he?” I asked. But the Chaplain only responded with, “Just come right away and bring someone with you.”

I immediately knew. I knew my son had not survived. On our way to the hospital, all I did was pray. I prayed so hard that this feeling I had was not true. That my son had survived the accident. Unfortunately, it was not so. My son died on July 9, 2007, at 11:38 p.m.

I felt as if someone had ripped my heart out of my chest. The pain was unbearable. I could only think about my son, how I had failed to protect him. My grief was so deep I had to be medicated with anti-depressants. I forgot I had a husband, a daughter, and a younger son. I closed my doors to the outside world and for the next six months, lived in a zombie state of mind. All I wanted to do was die.

Life was About to Change

It was on January 8, 2008, when my life changed. It was my son's birthday. He would have been 21 years old. I took the day off from work. It was one of those days where my grief was taking a toll on me. After the rest of my family headed out to work, I got up and headed to the kitchen to take the prescribed anti-depressants. With the pills in the palm of my hand and getting ready to pop them in my mouth, I heard a whisper in my left ear, “Mom, you don’t need those.”

Midway through, I stopped and just listened. I was alone in the house, but the whisper didn’t frighten me. Instantly, I knew who that voice belonged to. It was my son's voice.

“You are right, I responded. “I don’t need these.” Then I threw them away along with the entire content of the bottles.

It was that day I realized I had a choice. My son helped me understand I could either go down the path to depression or I could live. I could live for my husband, daughter, the younger son, and for my forever 20-year-old angel in heaven. Therefore, I vowed to help my younger children cope with their brother’s death and do for my son what he could not complete in life. With my husband’s support, my journey began.

My Life Had a Purpose Once Again

My son was a sophomore in college when he died. Therefore, in February 2008, I enrolled in college and completed my four-year degree in memory of my son. As my husband and children walked alongside me towards the hall where the graduation ceremony was, I felt the most loving energy ever. It was a long corridor at the convention center. My husband and children were to my right when I felt as if my son walked next to me on my left side. It was powerful energy. I felt his smile, happiness, and pride. I knew he was proud of me for accomplishing what he could not.

It didn’t stop there. My grieving process included daily journaling. Writing helped me since I wrote about my son, life, my angry moments, joys, and sadness. I recalled many conversations with him and wrote them down too. Especially those that involved things he’d like to do in the future. Therefore, I embarked on a journey to do as many of the things he wanted to do in life. I am finally at peace with his death.

Lessons Learned

Even after his demise, he taught me so many things about life. My son taught me things happen for a reason. “There’s no such thing as a coincidence,” he was always saying. I don’t have a clue where he got that from, but ever since I can remember, he said it.

My son taught me to appreciate every second of the day. He never woke up past 9:00 a.m. He always walked out of his room completely dressed from head to toe, as if ready to leave the house any minute. “Life is short and I don’t enjoy wasting time,” he’d say. My son believed it was a waste of a day to wake up later than nine o’clock.

My son taught me to have a positive outlook on life. He was a very positive person and yet in the adversity he would find something positive to cling to. Even when his car broke down and he had to ride the Lynx bus daily or “Lynx it,” as he referred to it. He once told me, “You’ll see Mom, one of these days I’m going to have a Mercedes Benz.” There was no concern about money for him. He was happy if he had it and happy if he didn’t. I laughed at the way he would refer to a hundred dollars as “pocket change.”

Even after his death, he taught me life is precious and we must live life to the fullest and not stress the little things or over anything we cannot control. But, most important of all, he taught me that the Spirit never dies because throughout all these years of grief, I’ve felt him every step of the way and for that, I am grateful.

Yes, I am finally at peace with my son’s passing, though I still miss him and will continue to for the rest of my life. I am thankful for being the one chosen as his mom to raise such a wonderful young man — a special soul. Every day I celebrate my son’s life and our lives because I know that one day we will see him again.

Originally published at https://travelerwows.medium.com/ on August 21, 2021.

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My writing journey began as a way to cope with grief. I realized I enjoyed writing and began a blog, Debbie’s Reflection (https://debbiesreflection.com). I also enjoy traveling. Therefore, as a traveler, I began another blog, Traveler Wows (https://travelerwows.com), in which I share tips on places, landmarks, and reviews on airlines, hotels, and restaurants. Thank you for joining me on my writing journey.

Orlando, FL
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