Foreword I am no one you ever heard of. I hold no advanced degrees and I’m not a nationally known expert on anything at all. I’m simply a mom who has traveled that dark road every mother dreads above all others—the death of a child. I learned some amazing things on that terrible journey. In that shadowland of loss and grief, I found myself face-to-face with all the demons that haunt humankind in our worst moments. Guilt, denial, despair, hatred, jealousy, rage—they all raised their ugly heads. But that stormy, uncertain path also led me to a new life. I came out of the darkness with a new context for being in the world in a much larger, more conscious and fulfilling way than I’d ever known before. Along the way, I evolved into a different version of myself, a better one I think. Given the choice, no mother would make such a trade. I would have preferred to learn all those lessons without sacrificing my son, Justin. But the reality is, no one escapes this world without experiencing pain and loss. Sooner or later, anyone who hangs around long enough will endure deep personal suffering, either by watching loved ones die, enduring grave illness or injury, or struggling with any of the profound losses and disappointments human beings may encounter in a lifetime. It really isn’t possible to compare one person’s pain with another’s—every broken heart is unique in its own brokenness. We all fall down. Sometimes we only skin our knees, but sooner or later, most of us sustain critical, soul-scarring injuries. What I’ve learned is that the most important lessons of our lives are often learned during the periods in between those falls. This book is about what happened between three pivotal events in my life, all of which happened during consecutive autumns (hence the title, Life Between Falls) · In September of 1993 my son, Justin, died at the age of 16 · In September, 1994, my dad died after a long, slow, wretched bout with colon cancer and was buried on my birthday · On the anniversary of Justin’s death in 1995, my grandmother died and my career as a professional writer began. The story of those years, in between falls, is a travelogue through the rockiest territory of my heart. It was a time that stripped away every shred of my self image. All the roles and titles and trappings that I once considered a part of my identity were taken away. It was a time steeped in the deepest suffering and the most profound pain I have ever experienced or can even imagine experiencing—a daily struggle with soul-scourging doubt, depression and despair. For the first time in my life, I understood how it could be possible for anyone to contemplate suicide. I understood for the first time how a strong, intelligent, middle class person could decline into homelessness and hopelessness. And yet, that year was also a time of deep transformation. From the yawning abyss of doubt and confusion emerged moments of exquisite clarity. From my wallow of rage and self pity, I was startled by occasional flashes of illumination. That year taught me that sometimes in life’s harsh crucible, through the process of burning away all but the essence of who we truly are, there ultimately lies the possibility of transcendence. This is a sad story with a happy ending, a book about a tragedy and the beauty that followed in its wake. I hope my story will help others who also feel alone and lost in their own dark night of the soul. I want to hold out a hand from the pages of this book and let them know that they are not alone. That what seems senseless and pointless and unsurvivable can also prove to be amazingly fruitful, purposeful and even joyful. And the worst thing that could ever happen may also end up being one of the best things that ever happened. That may seem like an outrageous thing for a mother who’s lost a child to say. Believe me, the words look uneasy on the page, even as I write them. There’s still a part of me that feels guilty to discover personal growth, happiness, peace and fulfillment at the expense of his death. How dare I say my life is better now than when he was alive? But another part of me, a deeper and surer part, argues that his death would be an even greater tragedy if nothing good came of it. If I can grow into a better human being through this ordeal, in some small way the world becomes a better place, and his spirit lives on in that goodness. If there is more peace in my heart, there is more peace in the world. If my struggle teaches me compassion, then there is more compassion in the world. If Justin’s death forces me to find my way through the darkest parts of myself--the fear and hatred and anger and self-judgment--and find the will to let them go, maybe humanity gets one, tiny baby-step closer to creating a world free of that darkness. During the last weeks of Justin’s life, he asked me about a symbol that was on a pendant he wore around his neck. He’d come across it in a shop at the Jersey shore and liked it enough to buy it and wear it along with his peace sign necklace, his trademark. Although he was attracted to the symbol, he didn’t know its meaning. It was the Chinese Yin Yang. I remember explaining that it represented the dual nature of all things. That there is no darkness without light, no positive without negative, no joy without sorrow. He said a curious thing then. He said, “I want to be a messenger of Yin and Yang.” And so he is. In so many, many ways, I see the workings of this ancient principle continuing to unfold through Justin’s life and his death. It reverberates through my own life, through the lives of our family and friends, through the community where Justin lived and even out into the world. And if you continue reading, perhaps it will also resonate with you.