Grief Journal: He’s Not a Statistic

Out of all the things my son should have been, a statistic is not one of them. 

Understanding that I don’t get to control the narrative around his death has been really difficult for me. There is what we believe and think about how he died, and then there’s what the community believes and thinks.

On the one hand, my son was such a bright light, that many people knew him—people I don’t even really know. His death was like a rock dropped into our little pond of a town, and it’s created ripples that go well beyond just our family. But the further out those ripples go, the less it’s about the loss of him—the fact that’s he’s gone—and more about how people think he died, and why, and what that represents. His death is lumped together with the loss of others, as a “symptom” of a problem—one that frightens other parents. 

Our community is loving, caring and inclusive, and trying very hard support its children. That’s an admirable and necessary thing, and I wish more communities would come together the way ours has. Yet, it’s really hard to read about programs, events, coalitions, and book readings around the topic of mental health and wellness. Not because I don’t support those things, but because in my son’s case, he HAD support from mental health professionals, his school, and his parents. 

I want to scream when he’s referred to (always in aggregate) as “one of four losses” or when the programs created are talked about as “in response to a time of tremendous loss.” 

Because none of these programs or readings or anything would have made any fucking difference. Sometimes, despite all the love and care and help in the world, terrible and tragic accidents happen to 10 year olds with zero impulse control or sense of finality.

Do I understand the impulse to do something? Oh, yes. Do I hope these efforts make a difference for others? Of course I do. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a knife to the heart every time my son is mentioned as a catalyst, even if it’s never by name. I rage that he’s become  a statistic, representative of a problem.

Would I feel the same if he had died from cancer, or in a car crash, or something similar? I don’t know.

All I know is, I’m not ready for his death to “be meaningful” or for people to say “at least something good has come of it.” I just want him. How will anything solve that?

Grief Journal: Happy Valentine’s Day

We have a no-first-person-shooter game rule in our house. One day my son informed me, “When I get a wife, I’m playing Doom, Halo and GTA!” To him, being married was a sign of being a grown up.

He was at that age where he didn’t like girls very much. He had plenty of friends who were girls—mostly those he had known for years, or the older neighbor girls—and played with them happily, but he primarily identified with his male friends. Developmentally appropriate, of course. His 4th grade teacher tried hard to ensure that he didn’t sit next to girls in class because he told her, “It’s not that I have a problem with them; I just don’t want to sit by them.” And anything we needed to do to keep him focused in class…

I’d remind him that I am a girl. He’d just roll his eyes and say, “Yes, but you’re my mom. You don’t count.”

He really liked the idea of growing up and getting married some day, though. Even though we told him he didn’t have to get married, or that maybe he’d want to marry a boy, he was quite adamant that he was going to have a wife and kids one day. I always told him he would make a wonderful husband and father. “I know,” he’d reply. He knew that he’d be good at it, because he’d watched how his dad did it. 

He never got to have a Valentine other than his mom. He never had that first crush, first kiss, first date, first love, first heart break.  

He would have made someone an amazing partner. 

Happy Valentine’s Day, my boy. Momma loves you. 

Grief Journal: Get Over It

In reading about parents who’ve lost a child, one idea keeps coming up: “It’s nothing something you ever get over, it’s just something you learn to live with.”

I understand that. No matter how much time passes, I cannot and will not ever be “over” the loss of my son. 

The way the phrase is most often used, “get over it” means to dismiss what happened, to put it in the past, that it no longer matters much. Someone loses a game or fails a test, we say, “Get over it; focus on the next one.” Someone’s feelings get hurt because someone else did something mean, we say, “Get over it; you can’t change them.”

I suppose in the context of learning from mistakes, rather than being defined by them, “get over it” has some value. But I will never “get over” my son’s death.

Like most people, my life (as the Doctor would say) is a pile of good things and bad things. So many good, positive amazing experiences have come my way. And some really horrible, awful things have happened to me, outside of my control and caused by other people or circumstances. Deep, fundamental betrayals. Sexual assault. Multiple miscarriages. Health problems. I was in the room when my sister was taken off life support and died. I slept on a hospital chair for a week while my mom came to understand that she was dying and would not see the next month. All the sad and bad things that can make up a life.

Each of these experiences has changed me in fundamental ways. I move through this world shaped by the scars on my soul, and the pieces missing from my heart.

Losing Charlie has broken me. I’m like a glass vase dropped from a great height, shattered into tiny pieces. Putting those jagged edges back together so I can hold water again is a process and a long one. Would you expect that vase to “get over it”? To be and act the same? 

When people say “get over it,” what they really mean is “I’m over it; your emotions are making me uncomfortable.” Or, “I’m over it, so you should be, too, because my perspective is the one that matters.” Or, “Get over it, other people have had worse things happen and they’re fine.” (As if pain were a contest that one can win.) Or, “Get over it; you still have two children.” (As if I can’t mourn and mother at the same time.)

I’m not, and never will be, over my son’s death. It is too deep a wound. All I can do is take my battered soul and shattered heart and figure out how to keep moving through this world—how to live with the unbearable. 

Grief Journal: What Happens When You Die?

I don’t know what happens when you die. 

I’m not even sure what I believe happens when you die. I do know what I don’t believe, though—I don’t believe you go to heaven. Raised as a the-Bible-is-the-literal-word-of-God Baptist, it was clear even as a child that the Bible is at best, an unreliable narrator on the subject. Do we go straight to the afterlife the instant we die, there to be judged? Or do we “sleep” until Christ returns and raises the bodies of the faithful? (In which case, we are fucked, because my son was cremated.) And why are we judged? Isn’t it supposed to be that those who are “saved” go right to heaven? Except, it seems that there are also hierarchies of heaven, with different crowns and jewels? (In my church, we were taught that if you were saved you went to heaven, but your experience there was based on how good you were on earth.) And what about kids? Do they go to heaven even if they aren’t “saved”? The Bible is incredibly vague on this subject. 

In any case, I long ago left the church of my youth because I’ve never been able to stand hypocrisy. I left the god of my youth behind because after careful study, I decided that while faith is necessary for a fulfilling life, I was only going to have faith in worthy concepts. And the God of the Bible I know seems to be at best angry, jealous and petty, and at worse suffering from multiple personality disorder, with his loving side (Jesus) completely at odds with, and subject to, his vengeful, blood thirsty side. (Please don’t get me started on people who say “It’s for the best, God has a plan.” I reject the God whose plan includes the death of my sweet boy.)

But I’ve never found another religion or belief system that works for me, on either an emotional or logical level. The Summerlands and Paradise are similar to heaven. It’s appealing, this idea of being with our loved ones forever. I really like the idea of reincarnation or merging with the great Light; it fits in with the idea that energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed (until the eventual heat death of the universe, which honestly, is a problem for Future Me).

Death happens to everyone—and it’s truly the last frontier, the great unknown. Beyond functioning as social constraints and constructs, religions help us make sense of death. Even if you aren’t religious, the idea of an afterlife brings comfort. We need to believe we won’t lose the people we love. We won’t lose ourselves. 

I read about the idea of our universe as a hologram, and that the linear nature of time may be artificial, imposed by our meat prison. It’s actually comforting, because it reminds me that we know so little about the nature of reality. So many things are possible, including an afterlife, even if it’s not what we have imagined to date.

But I just don’t know. And I’m comfortable saying I don’t know. I’d like to believe that a light as strong and lovely and wonderful as my son cannot be extinguished. That it is him—not just a memory, not just the manifestation of my bone-deep longing for him—that visits me in my dreams. That he—not just the energy that was him, but his essence, his soul—still exists, somewhere, somewhen. And that we will be together again.

I have faith. 

Grief Journal: Happy 11th Birthday

The 17th would have been my son’s 11th birthday. This was one day after the six month “anniversary” of his death.

I had planned to write a post celebrating his life, because the post commemorating the fact that it had been six months since his death was full of grief and sadness. I found myself unable to write on his birthday because every time I thought about him, all I could think is what a waste his death was. Not just a waste of a human life, which is inherently precious, but a waste of all of the potential he had. 

11 years ago, when I gave birth to him on one of the snowiest days in years, this was not the future I imagined or wanted for him. 

I had a scheduled c-section, after six weeks of bed rest. In the recovery room, they laid him on my chest. He lifted his head, looked at me, then started scooting his way up so he could latch on to the nearest food source. His father and I marveled at how strong he was for a newborn, and laughed that this was a kid who clearly knew what he wanted. 

We fell in love, and vowed to always love him. To keep him safe. To help him grow into the amazing person he was meant to be. To be the best parents we could. 

We didn’t know what would happen. How could we? When you bring your child into the world, you never, ever in a million years think that you will watch him leave it. 

10 years was not ever, could never, be enough. I will never again tell my beautiful son “happy birthday.” How can that be ever be okay?

I miss you, darling boy.


Grief Journal: Six Months

Six months.

Sounds like a long time, in some ways. In six months, my oldest son moved from 7th to 8th grade, grew four inches and is planning his high school classes. His sister became a first grader, and a fluent reader. When you’ve only been on this planet 14 and 7 years, respectively, six months really is a long time.

Not so when you’re older. Six months is just a drop in a bucket. Six months’ worth of tears is hardly enough time to drain away an ocean of grief. 

And yet, time pushes us relentlessly forward.

I don’t have a very good memory for people or places (just facts). My childhood is a distant blur. I’m not someone who goes searching for old acquaintances on Facebook because honestly, I don’t remember them—classmates, house mates, colleagues. I get requests on LinkedIn from people who quite clearly remember me and talk about what we worked on, and I have no clue. Even with friends and family, I usually remember the big, overarching stuff but not the details. 

One of my big fears is that I’m going to forget him. Not the idea of him, of course, but the real him. What he sounded like—his laugh, his voice. How his head cocked when you said something interesting (or stupid). The way his very presence raised the energy level in the room. How he could fold himself into impossible positions when involved in something—reading, watching a show, gaming. The loud, rising sound he made when mad or frustrated. The feel of him, all bones and angles and complete trust, when he cuddled. Those gorgeous eyes and incredible smile (with the teeth he hated to brush). What he looked like when he was happy, excited, mad, sad, frustrated… The connection we had.

We live in a digital age, so I have many pictures and even video of him. I know those will become part of my memory. I’m afraid they’ll become most of my memory. That I’ll stitch those static little slices of time into the reality in my heart that is my son, and lose what is real and true.

Six months later, and I’m holding on. 

Grief Journal: The Dark Lake

I took the last month off work; Monday is my first day back in five weeks.

It was a good time, from a work perspective, as it fell over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, when many offices are shut down for a few days, people take vacation, etc. Of course, it’s never an ideal time in a client-based business—someone always needs something—but I like to tell people, the phrase “marketing emergency” doesn’t really exist. I’m really grateful to my colleagues and clients for encouraging me to take this time and to be unplugged as much as possible.

And I needed it. I spent the entire first week crying, it seemed. Not that I hadn’t been crying before, but now it was all the time. Sometimes in wailing, sobbing jags that left me breathless and headachy; sometimes in quietly leaking tears for hours at a time. I gave myself permission to not hold it together during the hours when my kids were at school, and I definitely fell apart.

After that, we were off on our Christmas trip, and while I still cried every day, it was back to more manageable levels.

My therapist had suggested this time off because I was having such trouble functioning in daily life, especially work. I was unorganized, forgetful, impatient and of course, crying. Basically, I was drowning, not waving.

Most of my personal metaphors for grief are water-based. Right now, I think of my grief as the lake in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” In the book, the lake is underground, dark and foreboding. Harry and Dumbledore must cross the lake on a small boat to reach their goal, but the lake is full of undead, evil creatures. 

That’s where I am. My grief surrounds me, dark and disturbing, and it’s all I can see. I’m  bailing the lake by crying, but it disturbs the evil creatures living under the surface—guilt and anger and so much more.

I’m not sure five weeks is enough. I dread the thought of going back to work—especially as my very first day, I have to travel out of town. I’m trying to ease in by getting organized and caught up, but my brain is rebelling, refusing to focus or process information.

Yet, I must go back. I need to earn a living, and provide health insurance for my family, if only to pay for therapy. I need to at least start treading water.

I’ve always been the one to be strong, to do what needs to be done, to be the one everyone else can lean on. After my sister and mother died, that’s what I channeled my grief into. But I’m so tired. My lake of grief is so wide and so deep, and my little boat is worn and patched and starting to take on water.