I’m Better because You Were My Son

Dr. Elizabeth Ríos
5 min readOct 3, 2022

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Author with second son, Daniel Jeremiah Rios who passed away on his 23rd birthday 9/22/22

I recently learned that there is no word for a parent that loses a child. In the article the author shared this:

A wife who loses a husband is called a widow.

A husband who loses a wife is called a widower.

A child who loses his parents is called an orphan.

There is no word for a parent who loses a child.

That’s how awful the loss is. [emphasis mine]

– Jay Neugeboren — An Orphan’s Tale — 1976

It’s been approximately 11 days since you transitioned from this world to the heavenly temporary home that author of Heaven, Randy Alcorn states “is a place where joy is the air you breathe.” That brought me so much joy but it didn’t take away the gaping hole in my heart from not having you with us on this side.

This is all still too fresh and too raw. I am still numb. I am still in disbelief. I thought I had more time with him. He had come through so much in his 23 years. 30 surgeries, diagnosis of hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. He managed to overcome so much. But then 2020 not only ushered in a global pandemic, it ushered in a personal crisis too. My son went into the hospital for a gall bladder removal which floored me as his only sustenance was a special drink via g-tube. Then in Oct 2021 he got his first ever pneumonia and he was never the same again. The doctors thought he was going to die then. But he even overcame that! It was in 2022 that we first heard the words “gastroparesis” which is believed to have caused the continuous unobservable pneumonia from acid reflux that caused my son so much discomfort and I believe the final straw for his little warrior body that had fought so much for so long.

I am still in a state of shock from losing my beloved son. I want to do nothing. I feel like I don’t care about anything. But I know in my heart that I must go on and live out all the lessons that our silent prophet taught us. Although, I am in pain that I could have never imagined, I am forever marked by the existence of my beautiful boy and know he made me a better person in so many ways.

  1. His Life Makes Me Want To Be There “for real” For Others. Nothing sorts out the people in your corner like crisis and especially death. In the last 11 days, people who I only know through social media put skin in our relationship by not merely saying “tell me what you need?” (Hint: Bereaved folks will hardly ever reach out to do that, they don’t even know what they need!) but they showed up for the ministry of presence (at our son’s celebration of life) and some of them we haven’t seen or talked to them in years! Others, sent us sizable donations for expenses we didn’t even know we would have. And yet others, like my sorority, were so intentional and thoughtful about bringing over packaged food (because not everyone wants to eat home-made food from people they don’t know), toiletries, snacks, etc. This has taught me to really be there for others in their dark nights of the soul. A text, comment on a post is nice but it doesn’t really cost to do that right? I want to show the people I love how much I love them like I have been showered with love in this dark time.
  2. His Life Makes Me Not Want to Have Any Regrets. One thing anyone who knows my husband and I know…we loved DJ hard. There was never a moment that we were not kissing him, telling him we loved him, nuzzling with him or just talking with him. While I miss him terribly and miss being able to do all that with him, I have no regrets as a mom about how I loved him. This has taught me to not fear rejection and just love the ones I love just as hard. To tell the people that matter to me that they matter! I don’t want a loved one to pass not knowing they were loved by me. I don’t want to regret not loving fiercely enough.
  3. His Life Makes Me Want to Live a Life that Deserves a Reunion with Him. I believe DJ is in heaven and that one day, if I live right and honor God with all I say and do, I will see him again. I have never been more motivated to not only live a Godly life but to desire heaven. This has made me look to God even more not for explanations but for solace, and direction. Could I be even more spiritual? I learned I could be.
  4. His Life Makes Me Want to Continue to Make a Difference On This Side of Heaven. Although, I have always wanted to make a difference in this world and have tried to contribute to making it a more better and just place, I learned that I don’t have to do anything grandiose to make an impact. My beautiful boy who could not talk, walk, or see, impacted more people than most people I know. Grieving my son makes me want to live like DJ would have wanted me to. Not taking everything so hard (an enneagram 8 characteristic), but chill a little. Smiling more than pouting. Opening up to others instead of distrusting so much. Making memories and bringing joy to others. I am also thinking of what I can do practically to help special needs families in his name. Stay tuned for that!
  5. His Life Makes Me Want to Value Relationships Even More. Honestly, people have let me down in so many ways in my 57 years of life that I had given up. I used to say to my hubby, “us four and no more.” It hurts to be betrayed or dismissed. Having my son by our side for 23 years, has made me realize that God has also blessed me with some friends and family that have gone above and beyond to love me and my family. I am so grateful for the way so many loved on my baby boy and in the last 11 days how many have loved on us in our heartbreak. I also know I haven’t met everyone in my life that will be a major part of what God has next for me. I am going to try my darnest to believe in the good in people and value the relationships I DO HAVE versus the ones that have been broken.

For all of these things and more, I am better for having had 23 years with my amazing, beautiful, baby boy…Daniel Jeremiah Rios. Yes, it is an awful loss for a mother to have to bury her child but my son lives on in everything I will ever do from this point on. And yes, there is no name for a mother who loses a child but for this mother who had this special child, you can call me BLESSED.

One thing I can confidently say, I am better because he was my son.

I will be kinder, I will smile and laugh more. I will bring light to dark places and I will do it not only as an ambassador of the Kin*dom but as the mother of a very special boy who lived and changed me forever.

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Dr. Elizabeth Ríos

NY Diasporican thinker/writer, former pastor, church planter educator and Jesus & justice advocate. Wife and Mom to two boys (one in heaven).