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Mom Talk: Navigating Tremendous Loss & Grief

Written by Alexandra Hall

Photography by Photographed By Emily Poole

We’re back with another round of “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Alexandra Hall talks parenting and growth through intense, palpable loss. -JKM

My five-year-old son, Barrett, has suffered a considerable amount of loss in his short life. From a beta fish named Nemo to our beloved family dog, Copper, the subject has been broached more than once. Most predominately was the death of his biological father—my husband and childhood sweetheart, Carl D. Hall III—when he was just four months. Loss and grief are complex subjects, no matter the age. As a parent, you strive to protect your child from harm, both physical and emotional. And, sometimes, you are powerless to do so.

The questions started shortly after the first day of preschool. We had spoken about it here and there, but it hit him harder after seeing his classmates’ fathers at pick up. Explaining to my son how and why his father died is something I struggle with to this day, and the questions have not stopped. How do I begin to explain something so complex to a small child? Something that was rather horrific and tragic, and something I still grapple with myself.

When I was six months pregnant with Barrett, my husband was deployed overseas in Iraq, and his convoy was hit. He survived, yet we dealt with extensive surgeries to save his legs, intense PTSD, and excruciating head trauma. Eight months later, as I was making our breakfast, he accidentally overdosed on his prescription pain killers and died. This past June marked five years since Carl’s passing.

War has side effects much deeper than we can see. Suffering goes to greater depths than the surface of those outer wounds. I live riddled with guilt, yet Barrett is the very thing that keeps me going every day. I am so glad he looks just like his father, even if it breaks my heart just a little bit. So, you can understand the dilemma I am faced with. This is all pretty heavy and complex to share with a toddler, isn’t it?

We have to walk through this topic gently, for both of us, finding our footing after heartbreak. I am constantly in awe of how Barrett has helped me heal and views life’s struggles with a new and beautiful perspective—one that only a child can have. For example, I met my now fiancé, Kyle, when Barrett was two years old, and naturally I was nervous about how he would take it. But, my little guy created a unique concept that was far easier for him to embrace than I imagined. He innately and almost immediately understood that he has two dads, one in his heart and one on earth. His relationship with Kyle, and our openness regarding his father’s death, helped him to process that loss. He began calling Kyle his “dad” and Carl his “father”—Barrett’s sweet way of making sense of a not-so-simple situation.

For most parents, navigating childhood is a constant learning curve. With Barrett, I don’t pretend to know all the answers. I’ve always tried to be as open as I see age-appropriate, and try to be as honest as I can with even the tough questions. I haven’t given “heaven” as the response to the countless inquiries of, “Where is my father?” I want him to make his own decisions about religion, and it’s easy to jump to that answer. Frankly, I don’t want easy. Barrett has forced me to make sense of our shared past, for myself and for him. I’m so grateful for our open dialogue, as it has made it hurt just a little less for all of us. All I can do is continue to honor the two father figures he is so fortunate to have, one here and one in memory.

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