Embracing the Cracks: Navigating Loss, Grief & Healing as a Parent

My life has been a series of cracks, each letting in new light. Each crack is painful, and even though we grow from them, most of us wouldn’t welcome too many. Still, they happen, and when they do, it helps to know that our acknowledgement of them can build character and resilience

Trigger Warning: this post contains discussion of suicide, grief and loss.

This blog piece is about life: the struggles, lessons and finding a way to notice all the beautiful things in it, even in the midst of challenges. During those times, when life is filled with pain, loss, shame, and doubt—a gentle nudge towards greater resilience, inspiration, strength, and especially faith becomes the foundation to experience a sense of well-being. As a parent who has spent many years navigating a journey of both my children’s and my own caregiver mental health, I have developed strategies to build resilience. Initially, it was to simply survive those tough times, but eventually, through a process of self-compassion and self-empowerment, it became about thriving and embracing life with gratitude, openness and joy.

Where My Journey Began

My story began 20 years ago when two police officers knocked on my door at 11:30 at night. They came to inform us that our son Gavin had been killed in a weather-related car accident. They continued to tell us that his girlfriend survived, and when I heard the word “survive”, for a split-second I thought they were talking about Gavin, but they weren’t. At that moment, I wanted to go backwards in time, but I couldn’t. I could only move forward, and continue to face many unforeseen challenges within our blended family of four children. This included a whole gamut of mental health diagnosis, as well as other tribulations related to school, the law, hospital emergency visits, a teen pregnancy and ten years after losing Gavin, our eldest son, Kyle, took his own life.

Throughout these years, I was always searching for resources to help them, and to help our family. It was during a mental health awareness event that I heard a quote by Leonard Cohen that resonated with me deeply: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”. It summed up for me how I was beginning to see my life – not only the struggles within my family, but my own purpose. Life was giving me experiences that could have either taken me out completely or motivate me to find that deeper meaning. I chose the latter. This was the inspiration behind creating YouthSpeak, a charity in its 20th year now that has reached over 350,000 youth and caring adults.

Embracing the Cracks

My life has been a series of cracks, each letting in new light. Each crack is painful, and even though we grow from them, most of us wouldn’t welcome too many. Still, they happen, and when they do, it helps to know that our acknowledgement of them can build character and resilience. This is a choice we have to make. Learning to embrace the cracks for the light they let in brings a sense of connection and meaning, like an anchor that creates a feeling of being grounded. It is this very thought alone that has centered me in difficult times.

I have also learned a few things along the way. One being that as humans, we have an innate capacity towards healing. But, we need to do that in the most gentle, loving way towards ourselves. It’s so easy to mentally beat ourselves up when we feel like we’ve fallen short in dealing with big feelings or when we’re not able to control outcomes. I’ve learned that sometimes, letting go of trying to control and simply trust, inadvertently makes you feel less out of control. It’s like moving into the passenger side and letting the universe take the driver’s seat for a while.

When your goal is to move a few steps further along your path towards greater well-being, you must recognize that these steps don’t always move in a straight line forward. Being self aware of the ways that your beliefs and behaviour patterns impact your interactions, decisions, and sometimes create blocks in your journey. You can notice these patterns by simply tuning in throughout the day to your thoughts that are under the surface, but are the driving force behind everything. It’s difficult to truly experience well-being without this self-discovery piece.

As you notice, without judgment, remember you can’t change your past story or all the circumstances of your current life, but you can change the story you tell yourself about who you are in your own story. You can also choose how you respond to challenges, both big and small. By shifting your narrative and your response, you begin to change your perspective, mindset, and ultimately, the trajectory of your future story.

This does involve an accountability which is about that willingness to look at yourself and make changes as needed. Also, investing in self-care, whatever that looks like to you, will strengthen your capacity to show up for those in your life as the very best version of you. Lastly, developing grit, perseverance and faith – while trusting that life is on your side as you keep moving forward. It’s a tough world we are in, so building a strong foundation of faith is something that takes courage and mindful attention, but fundamental to overall well-being.

As a closing thought, consider this: when you're in the thick of those times, where the cracks feel deep and painful, remember that light will eventually shine through. This light will give a greater sense of peace for yourself and your loved ones. And though in those moments it feels very dark, look back and recall times in the past when you got through and you came out on the other side stronger, brighter and more resilient in ways that you couldn’t have imagined.

Una Wright's picture
About the author

Una Wright, Founder, YouthSpeak Performance Charity – Una’s passion to give a meaning to her personal challenges, inspired the making of YouthSpeak and her Wellbeing Self-Care Workshops. Within her family, Una experienced many challenges related to mental health including the loss of two children. She has made it her personal mission to give a message to others of empowerment and to embrace their own story through coping strategies and a positive mindset.