We are honoured to post this incredible story of loss and recovery from Katie Branter of Reset Well
I wrote this post-August 13th. I thought I'd share it here today, as it's the 2nd anniversary of Mateo's passing - Katie Branter
On September 18th, 2016, I lost my son. He was only 15 years old.
The devastation and heart-wrenching grief I felt at this loss was almost unbearable. I was now living by the utter devastation of losing my child and experiencing the unbelievably crushing and very paralyzing trauma of finding him.
My life was changed. In a big way.
Mateo was my soul connection. He and I understood each other. We knew each other on a soul level from day one. He was one of those people who just understood love, universal connection and being one’s utter and complete authentic self. He was a star child. I knew it then and I still do, now more than ever. He was one of those kids who took care of his little sister. He read to her, spent time with her, helped feed her and played with her. Unusual for a 15 year old teenage boy.
I so deeply loved this and respected him greatly for it.
Mateo was an empath and a highly sensitive person in every sense of the word(s). He had a rough time as he went through life. It seemed to be more difficult for him than most. He struggled with anxiety, especially social anxiety, health issues and fatigue. I tried everything I could to support him. Being a doctor of naturopathic medicine, I tried to look at the underlying causes of his symptoms and experiences. I found many. Nothing seemed to help.
Shortly before his death, we both figured out that our house, an old character house, typical of our beautiful city, was full of mould. I had been ill with a mystery illness ever since we had moved in to the house and so had he. I knew we had to move. I made the brave choice to talk to my husband about it and we decided to leave the house and make the move. For the next 6 weeks, my son and I stayed at a friend’s until we found a new place. It was such a gift to be able to spend that time alone with him. Since having my daughter, I hadn’t had much time alone and felt like this was a great opportunity for us to connect. And we did. We watched Netflix together, talked, had dinners outside and looked for houses. We were blessed to find a newer, beautiful, green LEED house outside of town. Mateo and I celebrated. We were finally given the opportunity to heal. We moved in, looking forward to enjoying our new place and swimming in the lake nearby, revelling in the beauty and nature that surrounded our hope for a better future.
3 weeks later, he was gone.
The days that followed his physical death were the most difficult days I had ever experienced in my entire life. I had lost my father at the young age of 6, so I wasn’t a stranger to loss. But this was different. I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive this one. How was I going to stay alive long enough to raise my young daughter, who was only 2.5 at the time, to find my purpose, heal physically, live the life I’ve always wanted and experience love and joy again? Would I actually be able to do this? To live through the deep, excruciating pain I felt, the trauma and the deepest, most significant loss I had ever felt.
I asked myself those questions often in those early days.
Slowly, moment by moment, day by day, I picked myself up piece by piece. I reminded myself that I had a choice. Would I let myself go, deep into the abyss of my pain, deep into the dark place that could keep me from ever emerging or would I choose to survive, and maybe eventually even thrive?
I remember sleeping on it. Literally.
I asked myself that exact question and dug deep, really, really deep.
I chose one day, to stay, to put both feet on the ground, feel the pain, move through it and see what I could offer this life I had chosen. I grew, noticed, took leave of my practice and asked my family for help. I let others help me. This was new for me and it was hard. I used my toolbox to help me move through the hard times and called on a counsellor I felt safe with. I saw her almost every week for 6 months. I am an introvert, so I chose my people carefully and they showed up for me in a big and beautiful way. I was shown love, understanding, space and grace. I had amazing support.
I said no to the things that drained my spirit and yes to the ones that filled me up.
The days I felt the grief so deeply that I couldn’t even move, I felt distant from him. The ones where I remembered us and the connection we shared, the love felt (feel) for him, I could feel his presence. This was interesting to me and wonderfully motivating. I wanted a deep, spiritual connection with my son and I knew what to do for that to happen.
I worked through the guilt, the feeling that this was, somehow, my fault and I chose to fill the space with something different. With love and hope, understanding and life.
I allowed myself the space to just feel the sadness and grief. To be fully present to it.
I said no to the prescription drugs offered by my lovely MD for sleep, depression, anxiety and I made a choice to truly FEEL the pain and sadness. And IT HURT. Boy did it hurt.
I felt myself taken by the tsunami of grief that came and went. I let myself be caught in it and cried, no sobbed more frequently that I ever had in my entire life.
I allowed myself to fall apart gracefully.
I honoured my needs.
I honoured my waves of grief and said hello to anger.
I expressed my need for space to my family and friends.
They respected me in turn.
Slowly, I started to see the gifts he had given all of us ... the gift of unconditional love, of permission to take space for myself, the gift of gratitude for all those moments I had with him, our trips to the juice bar where he would philosophize and talk about the wonders of the world and we would just connect, our hugs, our connection during morning coffee/smoothie time— such a beautiful and loving soul. I missed him.
Slowly, I started to find glimpses of joy and happiness.
Through all the work I was doing I discovered a deep spiritual connection to myself and to Mateo. I could almost hear him walking beside me when I went into nature, I could hear him telling me that it’s time for me to really live, to feed my soul and to claim my worth.
I could hear him telling me that he’s with me and our family and that he loves me. He told me that it is really time for me to thrive.
There was something so calming and deeply healing about that.
Mateo had always been a very spiritual being and had once told me, at the tender age of 4 that the REAL trophy in life is LOVE and that I was his trophy. So now, with love, his and the love of my family and friends, I choose to heal. With all the tools I have, I will heal. I am healing.
I am called to share these tools with everyone I know, to support others in giving themselves permission to heal from deep loss as well.
I feel so grateful for the healing tools that I have used and that have helped me navigate this very difficult time. If you or someone you know is experiencing a significant loss, consider sharing these tools with them:
Aroma Freedom Technique: a technique developed by Dr.
Benjamin Perkus, a registered clinical psychologist, around the time of my sons passing. The Aroma Freedom Technique (AFT) uses the power of scent to gently shift awareness away from negative thoughts, feelings, and memories, and to initiate a positive outlook and attitude. Consider adding this to your healing process, it has been one of the most powerful healing tools I have ever used. Find a qualified practitioner to guide you through the step-by-step process. For me, this was one of the most effective and powerful techniques I used to let go of the stories that were keeping me stuck. AFT helped release the fear and guilt I felt around my son’s death, as well as the overwhelming traumatic response I was carrying related to the day of his death. I always feel more at peace after a session. For more information on AFT, go to drkatiebranter.com.
Give yourself permission to fall apart: In my opinion, losing a loved one, especially a child, can be one of the most difficult experiences, if not the most difficult a human can experience. We often feel weened to “keep it together”. I disagree. Our humanity can be truly felt after a loss and it is messy and chaotic - giving ourselves permission to be in the mess of our emotions is so important. I believe we can move through these experiences with grace when we allow ourselves to be in the mess of it all. I’m not saying staying in the mess, but truly experiencing the myriad of emotions and letting them move through you. This has helped me a lot.
Choose your support community wisely: When you lose someone close, you can feel very vulnerable. I definitely did. I still do. I made a choice, at the beginning, to let in those who I felt safest with. It was a very healing decision.
Take the space you need: I immediately took leave of my practice after Mateo passed away. I had been struggling with loving my work for a couple of years at that point, felt burnt out and knew I wouldn’t be of service to my patients if I didn’t care for myself first. I took the time to rest, walk, write, eat, drink and cry. It was a good decision, this choice has truly helped me heal deeply.
Grieve in your own way: I remember a friend wondering about whether I was ok and why I wasn’t asking for more help. What she didn’t realize is that I had chosen the people I felt safest with and was retreating from the rest of the world. That was my way, I stayed away from social media, social gatherings and worked on making my home a sacred space for my own healing. I needed privacy. That’s what worked for me. You may need something different, listen to what your heart says, the heart is usually right.
Walk it off and breathe: I took walks a lot in the early days, still do. The energy of grief needed the space to move through me, walking was one of the best ways. In TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine, we believe grief is held in the lungs. Walking and breathing, pranayama or just deep belly breathing, can really help calm the nervous system and aid in moving grief energy in the body. Remember that emotions are energy in motion, they need move.
Spend time in nature and look up at the stars: Mateo’s safe space was always nature. He loved it, found solace in trees and the woods and felt drawn to it. I believe nature is a natural anti-anxiety and anti-depressant. The more we connect to our life force, the trees and ground, the more we have the opportunity to move through traumatic experiences and reset our energy body. We had recently moved to a beautiful place close to nature. This helped me heal. If it’s summer, spring or early fall, schedule a night where you know it’s going to be clear out and make a date to lay down on the grass and watch the stars, find some friends or family to do this with. I believe this is one of the most healing and magical experiences.
Take care of your physical body: Being a doctor of naturopathic medicine, I believe in the power of nutrient-dense foods, movement, and plant medicine. I believe this combination can support you through a deep, difficult experience and that it is almost integral to overall healing through tragedy and trauma. Get to know what feels good for you, listen to your body and respond to your body. This doesn’t mean you’re going to be saying no to your comfort foods and/or doing a special detox at this time. This is not the time for that. Minerals are what you need right now, because it takes a lot of energy to grieve. Fruits and vegetables can be very healing at this time. Trauma can slow down your body’s digestive system, so consider mindful eating and adding in more colour and variation to your diet. If you can’t even think of food, have someone you love check in with you, make you a fruit or veggie salad and sit with you while you eat together. This helps you feel supported and gives you both the chance to connect. This experience, in itself, is healing.
Write: My sister bought me the book “The Artist’s way” by Julia Cameron, a classic workbook in supporting and igniting the creative force. In my opinion, creative force is our life force. We are all creators of our own reality, I believe. In this book, she encourages participants to write 3 pages everyday, in the morning. I started that very soon after Mateo’s passing and continue with this practice today. I write letters to him often and find this ritual very healing. I know somehow, somewhere he is listening.
Find your purpose: You may already be clear on what it is you’re meant to do on this planet. That is amazing! From what I’ve experienced in my practice and in my life, this is not usually the case. I’ve always known that I had a purpose but I haven’t always been clear on what that was - how I’m supposed to use my gifts. I thought it was to be a doctor of naturopathic medicine. I now know it’s in the healing realm but something slightly different. I had been searching for the gift of clarity for years and only recently have I discovered what I am meant to do. It’s taken a lot of work and coaching, but as it crystallizes, I feel hopeful, more excited and passionate for life and a joie de vivre that I haven’t experienced before. Knowing my place in this challenging life, especially after Mateo’s passing, is helping me heal on every level, physically, emotionally and spiritually. There are so many ways to start this journey, find one that feels right for you. The book “Designing your life”, life coaching, personal development classes, the support to finding your purpose is pretty much endless, you just have to search and stay with the process. I’ve been blessed enough to encounter and join the Purpose Project™️, a wonderful group of amazing people helping others find their purpose. For more information on this project, join their Facebook group at The Purpose Project Community.
Now, I spend my days working on my passion project and new online health transformation business www.resetwell.com. I’m listening to my needs, clearing the way for my own healing and spiritual health to emerge. I walk, play with my daughter, spend time with family, find the small joys in life, rest to heal and remember Mateo with love and appreciation in my heart. I still miss him deeply, I always will. Although the pain has lessened, grief, it seems, has its own agenda. So when it shows up, now, I invite it for coffee and meet it like an old friend. Greeting it with love and understanding. Is it always easy? Not at all. But I know, in my heart that I have what I need to survive this experience and maybe even thrive.
Tonight, we have the opportunity to experience a meteor shower. 2 years ago, a month before Mateo’s passing, we had rented a small cabin on a lake and also had the opportunity to lay on the grass as a large, extended family and witness a similar meteor shower. It was one of the most magical nights of my life and I do believe of Mateo’s too. I remember him talking about his fascination with supernovas and astronomy in general. He loved it. He shined brightly when he talked about it. So, tonight, I will look up at the stars again and know in my heart that he will be the one shining the brightest, like a wink from the sky, saying “hello mom, I love you”.
I feel loved, I am blessed. I have been given the gift of unconditional love, a gift I will cherish forever. Thank you Mateo.