On Oct. 27, 2014, Lexi Behrndt's son Charlie passed away at the age of 6 months. Now, over a year later, the Florida mom is joining with others who have experienced loss to share stories of grief and "rising from the ashes" through a project she calls "On Coming Alive."
Behrndt invites others to write their stories of loss for the On Coming Alive website and social media accounts or share them with the hashtags #OCAStories and #oncomingalive. So far, hundreds have participated.
While many of the participants are parents who, like Behrndt, have experienced child loss, there are also stories of domestic violence, depression, death of loved ones, sexual abuse, rape, and homelessness.
"I named it On Coming Alive because to me, this was the process I was undergoing after a year from the pit of Hell," Behrndt told The Huffington Post. "I was living in survival mode, and I was terrified of taking the leap into truly living."
When Charlie was born, he was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart defect called total anomalous pulmonary venous return and underwent open heart surgery at 16 hours old, the mom explained. Though few expected him to survive, he lived for six months and 17 days until pulmonary hypertension and chronic lung disease ultimately took his life.
The year after Charlie's passing was "massively crazy," Behrndt said, noting that she finally gained the courage to leave an abusive marriage and raise her older son Lincoln on her own.
"I was navigating the world after losing Charlie as a newly single mom raising a toddler and just trying to get through each day of responsibilities," she recalled. "I ate a lot of ice cream, we took a lot of therapy beach trips and microwave dinners became our go-to."
As part of her recovery, the mom started writing about loss on her blog, Scribbles and Crumbs, and was humbled to see a small community of readers form. On Coming Alive was born out of her desire to give back to the readers who gravitated toward her words of grief after experiencing their own losses.
Behrndt told HuffPost that she wants people who have gone through the unimaginable "to know that they are not alone, no matter what they suffer and to know that there is always hope."
"I really believe that we'll all have pain in our lives at some point, and there is so much wisdom in the hearts of those who have known great suffering," she said. "The world needs to hear it and learn from it, all they have to do is listen."
Keep scrolling to read some powerful excerpts from "On Coming Alive."
Dari Nowkhah lost his son Hayden.
On Coming Alive/Dari Nowkhah
"While I probably never went through the grieving and coping process the right way, I did it my way. I helped my wife and continued to raise my children while thinking of Hayden all the while. I imagined him, looking down at his family, watching everything we did. Would he want us to stop functioning in any productive way? Would he want his brother and sister suffering because their parents stopped being parents? No. I had to honor him. I had to continue being 'Dad.' He’s always been in my thoughts. He’ll always be my little 'Hay Day,' as I called him, but I’ve survived because, as I said previously, I’m a very lucky man. I have so much to live for. From the day we suffered our biggest loss, I only had one option."
Franchesca Cox lost her daughter.
On Coming Alive/Franchesca Cox
"Great grief is the product of great love. And like love, grief has the capacity to grow. There won’t ever be a day you’re not grieving, but that doesn’t mean you are sentenced to a lifetime of misery.The experience of surfacing from the tsunami of Grief -- her anger and rage, her pain, her lies, her truths, her accusations, her sadness and depression -- was like being born all over again. I was experiencing life for the first time. My purpose shifted. My story was rewritten. A new chapter begun. I never felt freer in my life. I was living on a more saturated scale too. My bitters were more bitter, and my sweets were more sweet. Everything little thing had a if/and, almost like a constant tug of war. So many things have tears. When someone asks me why I’m crying, it’s almost never the whole truth I give them, but the truth is the existence after losing a child is the epitome of bittersweet. And every day until my last day, I get to choose to whether or not to let grief grow into something humanly impossible.Joy. And love. And this funny little thing called hope."
Alison Chrun's family was abandoned by her mother due to addiction and mental illness.
On Coming Alive/Alison Chrun
"The pain never goes away, but we grieve, and the pain becomes manageable, and we move on, we thrive, and we come alive. Yes, I grew up without the presence of a mother, but it didn’t crush me. I thrived and came alive through my struggles. Coming alive has meant being a wonderful mother to my children. To be the mother that I never had. To be the mother that I deserved. To nurture their hearts the way mine never was. And that has been the most healing process of my life. Through loving them, I’ve literally been reborn, and I’m more alive now than I ever dreamed I could be."
Sarah Shin lost her son and mother to cancer.
On Coming Alive/Sarah Shin
"I thought of my son looking down on me, and I wanted to honor his life and make him proud. I didn’t want death to have the final say. His life mattered. His fight mattered. He was here and left a beautiful imprint on so many lives, especially on mine. I would not let death overshadow life. How could I choose not to live when Isaac fought so hard to? My precious boy who didn’t let cancer take away his beautiful smile and sweet spirit. Who gave me strength each day as we fought this disease. And who helped me to know the deepest love. Those are the things I want to hold tight to, not his death. Those are the things I want people to remember. His light will continue to shine bright, for not even death can extinguish it."
Chris Jones lost his son to Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
On Coming Alive/Chris Jones
"Though I have come to know the pains of grief and loss, tonight my heart is overflowing with gratitude for the many good things in life. I am happier than I have ever been since I lost my son. Grief still screams inside me – and there are moments where grief is deeper than deep ... and I weep and weep. But I am also listening to the quiet whispers of gratitude. That gratitude is turning a once barren wasteland of sorrow into a garden of goodness. An invisible place of peace, not seen with the eye but a place where my mind and heart meet. Grief and gratitude are not so separate; at least for me, they’ve become one piece."