Ask any parent what they most fear, and the majority will confess that it is losing a child.
The death of a child or other close family member ranks as one of the top five worst stressors in life, according to the Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale.
Although Newburyport resident Barbara Hopkinson has endured the devastating losses of three children — one through a miscarriage, one son who was stillborn and another son in a crash — her recently released memoir is a story of profound hope.
This Sunday, at her book launch at The Actors Studio in Newburyport, she will talk about her journey from devastation to happiness.
Hopkinson recently self-published “A Butterfly’s Journey: Healing Grief After the Loss of a Child.” The book, which took Hopkinson five years to complete, is intended as a road map for all readers, no matter the details of their personal losses, for moving from grief to healing.
In 2002, Hopkinson received a phone call informing her that her 21-year-old son, Brent, had been in a sudden and severe motorcycle accident.
Her book is a ruthlessly honest account of the details of her son’s death, wake, funeral and her grieving process. Along the way, Hopkinson’s 30-year marriage ends, she changes careers, her other son flunks out of college, and, at age 51, she is forced to live alone for the first time. Her grief also led her to start The Compassionate Friends of Greater Newburyport, a local chapter of a support group for bereaved parents.
Guided by her strong love for her son, Hopkinson began to explore the “spiritual” realm. Through practicing meditation and forming friendships with sensitive intuitives, spiritual guides and mediums, Hopkinson said she received the comforting news that her son was happy.
“I never gave (the spirit) much thought before my son died,” she said in an interview. “But once I started reading about it, I felt in my gut that this is all a natural progression, as their journey, and you may not like it, but there are reasons that you don’t know.”
She describes her ongoing relationship with her son’s spirit as an unfolding understanding that transpired over the last seven to nine years.
“The first stage is validation. You ask, ‘Is that really my child?’ When you can’t protect your kids anymore, the first thing is to validate that they are OK, that their spirit is OK,” she said.
Hopkinson said she discovered through repeated contacts with friends who are mediums that her son was happy and that his growth and learning were continuing. She stressed that none of her advisers was paid, so they had no advantage in sharing information.
“The second phase is conversational,” she said. “I was trying to improve my own skills so I could almost have a conversation with him. ... I realized that he could get through to me. He is a very driven, persistent kid. He hasn’t changed a bit.”
Hopkinson said that the final letting go occurred when she understood that her grief was tethering her son.
“Bereaved parents feel guilty if they are not always sad,” she said. “I believe that we can help our children because I believe we can have a continued relationship. I still have a relationship with my older son. He finally got through to me, ‘Hey, Mom, you are tethering me with your grief,’ he said. Children do not want their parents to suffer. And they don’t want to be their parents’ caretakers. They still have growth and goals.“The third stage is understanding,” she said. “This is the healing phase.”
Hopkinson is beginning a new career as a spiritual grief counselor for bereaved families with her paperback, hardcover and audiobook launch this weekend. Her approach is unique in that it will offer the possibility of exploring the afterlife for bereaved parents and will also be an online service for counseling and networking.
“This approach is unique because it is giving people the chance to trust their intuition, try new things and to have some hope that they can have a continuing relationship,” she said. “It can at least help them to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hopkinson’s presentation on Sunday will include a book signing, a special presentation by local author Andre Dubus III and original music by Nancy Day.
If you go
What: Book launch for “A Butterfly’s Journey: Healing Grief After the Loss of a Child” by local author Barbara Hopkinson
When: Sunday, 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: The Actors Studio, The Tannery Marketplace, Mill 1, Suite 5, 50 Water St., Newburyport
More information: www.abutterflysjourney.com